Since April 2016, the Funeralcare team at Co-op Digital has been working to make life easier for our colleagues at our funeral homes across the UK. Our aim has always been to reduce the time our colleagues spend juggling and filling in paper forms so that they can spend more time with their clients – people who are grieving for their loved ones.
It’s been awhile since we wrote an update on our work. Back in August Andy Pipes, our Head of Product Management, said that we were rethinking how we deliver our at-need funeral service (an ‘at-need’ service is the immediate assistance someone might needs after reporting a bereavement).
At that point we’d built:
- a ‘first call’ service that logs details of a death and automatically alerts an ambulance team by SMS to take the deceased into our care
- a funeral arrangement service which captures the client’s decisions, the costs, and keeps colleagues in various locations from funeral homes and the central care centre updated
- a hearse booking system, staff diary and staff assignment service
- a coffin stock control system, and a way for clients to browse the existing coffin range
- an audit system that captures certain steps in the service
Since then we’ve been busy testing with colleagues and iterating.
We’ve added new features
As we’ve learnt where the gaps are in the service, we’ve added new features. They include a digital mortuary register and a digital belongings log to record possessions.
Deceased can come into our colleagues’ care at any time of the day or night and it’s vital the funeral director knows where that person has been taken. To help, we’ve developed a digital mortuary register so that ambulance staff can book the deceased in and the funeral director can see where the person has been taken.
Another new feature is a digital belongings log. Often, when someone is brought into our care they’ll have jewellery on them or other personal belongings with them. This means that when a funeral director at a funeral home gets a call from the grieving family to check up on jewellery, they don’t immediately know what the deceased came in with because the paper record is with the deceased at the mortuary. To make this easier and more efficient, we introduced a digital log instead of needing multiple phone calls between different locations.
Live trial and user testing
We’ve been testing in 2 ways. From September to November we continued to visit funeral homes all over the country to observe how colleagues work but we were also doing usability testing on each of the individual features in the bulleted list above with colleagues in mock labs. We tested and improved each feature separately until we thought we’d built enough of a service to be valuable to colleagues. At that point, in December, we rolled out a beta trial in Bolton.
We asked colleagues in Bolton to use the service in parallel with their current process which involves whiteboards, post-its, paper diaries, fax machines and the old, often painful-to-use software. Letting them use it for real is the best way to learn what’s working and what’s not. It drew our attention to 3 major things we’d overlooked during usability testing.
- We thought we were being helpful by preloading the local churches and crematoriums but we hadn’t given colleagues the option to create new ones.
- We found that the calendar couldn’t cope with all day events.
- We discovered that colleagues help each other out so having restricted access for specific roles creates a problem if someone is off ill and cover is needed.
Testing the beta with a small number of colleagues helped us catch problems like these before we rolled the service out to more people.
Trialling the service in Edinburgh
We want our service to be useful everywhere but we’ve been told many times by colleagues that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ funeral. They vary from region to region for reasons including local traditions, operational set up, affluence, traffic as well as legislation. Because our aim is to give time back to colleagues so they can spend it with their customers, we need to create something that works for all users not just our colleagues in Bolton. That’s why we are launching our at-need funeral service trial in Edinburgh in March.
We’re still learning
The beta has shown us that funeral arrangements are made up of multiple interactions like choosing flowers, booking venues and signing off obituary notices. Funeral arrangements are iterative with lots of tweaks along the way, so iterating the design is the only way we can cope with all the new things we keep learning.
We know that standard software packages don’t solve every problem. By involving colleagues throughout we’re building something that meets their needs and will improve things for both colleagues and their customers.
We’re transforming the Co-op Funeralcare business but we believe that what we’re doing here will actually help transform the entire industry. To help us do this, Co-op Digital is working towards having a dedicated digital product teams within the Co-op Funeralcare business.
If that sounds like something you’d like to help with we’re looking for an agile delivery manager and a product manager.