| Read time: 5 mins
Situated in the North West of England, Wirral Borough Council serves in the region of 320,000 residents, and operates 9 cemeteries, the largest of which is Landican Cemetery and Crematorium - one of the busiest in the UK.
We recently welcomed Cemeteries and Crematorium Manager, Lisa Parkes who shared how digitally transforming their cemetery operations with PlotBox, and the implementation of the Funeral Director Portal, helped to streamline processes and improve their services.
Here are a few key takeaways from our discussion:
The challenges of paper-led processes
While Wirral operated using a software system, they weren’t fully computerised - so while entering documents, they were still using a paper diary for all of their cremations - of which there could be up to 20 per day.
Given that there was only a single diary, this could cause a number of potential issues:
Not only was manually booking cremations a large part of the staff’s duty, but posed a risk, should, for example, the diary go missing, or where opportunities with available chapel slots were missed as a result of funeral directors forgetting to cancel bookings.
Importantly, it also meant that there was no audit trail, in the event a challenge was made as to whether a booking had been made.
Maximising capacity is key for any cemetery or crematorium, so missed slots could mean not only lost revenue, but have the knock on effect of delaying funerals that could have had an available slot.
The paper-based system also created challenges for funeral directors in booking slots out of hours and at weekends - having to physically come to Landican to make a booking in a separate diary - not something they would always be able to do.
This also meant that Monday mornings could be a busy time for staff as they worked their way through the backlog.
As with many cemetery operators Wirral used paper maps, many of which were not in good condition. However, even where they did use digital maps, these weren’t showing exact locations. Having been encouraged to use the council mapping systems, they still were unable to narrow down to a specific size.
This meant that when looking for a cemetery management solution - GIS mapping was an important factor.
Learn about digital mapping with PlotBox.
The power of the pivot
As with all deathcare service providers Covid-19 had a huge impact in terms of ways of working as Wirral sought to deliver services with increasing demand under exceptional circumstances.
Having carried out an operational risk assessment, the team were isolated, working remotely to keep staff safe, while helping to ensure business continuity.
Because processes were paper-based, again, this caused a number of issues.
Lisa, for example, wasn't able to have a daily visual of their booking diaries to monitor the number of cremations taking place - important, because as with other local authorities, they were having to report on capacity on a daily basis.
That also meant staff having to scan and send Lisa all of the diaries at the start of each day, or if too busy, that meant Lisa driving to the office at night, taking necessary precautions.
In this way, the pandemic necessitated a change in the original timeline of their digital transformation project with PlotBox.
Wirral opted for a modular rollout, allowing them to get the cremation module up and running quite quickly. Staff were then able to adapt quickly, learning the new system as they went along - having provided them with the flexibility to meet the challenges of an evolving situation.
Learn more about crematory management with PlotBox.
The Funeral Director portal
The introduction of the Funeral Director Portal essentially helped bring the Wirral’s FDs into a new world, and in practice, the success of that was in large part due to the onboarding process Wirral carried out.
Learn more about the PlotBox Funeral Director Portal.
Key was letting funeral directors know what the plans for the future were - explaining what was happening a good 3 months before implementation - and acknowledging and addressing any queries or concerns well in advance of go-live.
Mindful of introducing a big change all at once, Wirral selected 30 local funeral directors, split into groups who then tested the portal.
This not only helped to make them feel integral to the process, but provided essential feedback that could be used to make any necessary amends. This also created a healthy competitiveness between funeral directors, as no one wanted to miss out, spurring on the success of the portal and its roll out.
Information and training were also made available throughout this initial testing phase, during which time Wirral could monitor for any issues such as double bookings or glitches, providing them with a greater level of control.
The success of the Funeral Director Portal can be seen in terms of its usage with well over 90% of bookings coming through via the portal - dramatically reducing the Monday morning backlog and phone calls.
The feedback from funeral directors has also been positive. When meeting with families, instead of having to say that they will get back to them once they’ve spoken with the crematorium, they can now log on, go through available times and provisionally book slots.
In terms of the benefits to families and residents, it now also means that they’re now not having to wait over the weekend for a time slot - making it a much more seamless experience.
Having access to real-time, digital data has allowed Wirral to monitor their bookings - something that was more difficult to do with a paper-based system. This greater visibility of capacities, staffing levels, and cremation numbers over time - now allows them to look ahead and think strategically about how to best meet fluctuating demands on time and resources.
Thinking of visibility in a very literal sense, PlotBox now provides Wirral with a complete view of their cemeteries - with instant access to graves and related information, even when working remotely.
Of the many benefits this provides, Lisa is now able to zoom right into a grave, see what it looks like and without going into their registers, the team are able to view who is interred in the adjacent graves. This is of great help when advising grounds crews in directing where work needs to be carried out within the site.
PlotBox is also helping the cemetery team to streamline their processes for carrying out risk assessments.
Where previously, tests were being carried out using a pen and paper, which were then brought into the office and logged on spreadsheets, now the information can be logged directly into the system using the PlotBox app on a tablet device.
Photographs can also be taken and uploaded directly, with a timestamp, helping to create a clear audit trail.
Linked to other information within PlotBox’s main operational system, this has also helped the team to plan ahead - what they need to do one month vs the next month in our safety checks - efficiencies that all together, provide time savings that allow the team to focus on other tasks.
Landican now has all of its cemetery data fully verified, as well as newer sections in their outer cemeteries.
In practice, that process involved the PlotBox team out in the cemetery space, physically verifying data points, checking the plot records seen on the ground against the digital data that was migrated from the current system, as well as taking photographs of every headstone.
Interestingly, members of the public inquiring what they were doing provided an opportunity to educate on the benefits of the process, of improving the accuracy of the records and of improving the service.
Discovering available inventory
For Landican, the reports created throughout the data verification process highlighted a number of plots that could potentially have been added back into their inventory (having been marked as not available in the original data set).
That has made graves available for sale, and, importantly, the team are now able to sell to people wishing to be buried close to relatives, who may not have purchased plots at the time.
Another benefit of PlotBox is that it now allows the team to scan documents - something which the limitations of their old system didn’t allow for.
That provides a number of practical time savings. Burial records received can now be scanned, providing a signature on the record. When a memorial comes in, instead of going through all of the paperwork, the team is able to simply click on the documents, open up and check the signature.
In all, for future burials it’s taking away a lot of the back and forth of moving between different screens, as well as allowing the team to be more responsive in answering queries.
With PlotBox, Wirral can now connect their community with their loved ones in new ways. They can now, for example, email photographs of their graves to family members who either don’t live locally or are unable to visit. Similarly, with people coming into the office looking for a grave, the team can now print a map out for them, which includes a picture of the headstone with easy to follow directions.
This also reduces time spent by the team, who previously, in order to provide directions, were looking up old maps, photocopying them and writing on them which graves were nearby so they could find the graves themselves.
As a final takeaway, with Lisa and the team at Wirral, it has always been clear that there is a real cultural ambition - that they want to push ahead, that they are receptive, flexible and adaptive to that change.
And they’re seeing the benefits of the system for themselves - seeing how it can not just positively impact their roles, but those of their funeral directors, masons and other stakeholders.
Click below to watch the conversation in full: