| Read time: 7 mins
Having identified the need for the digital transformation of their burial services, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council Environmental Health implemented the PlotBox Funeral Director portal during the height of COVID.
We spoke to Environmental Health Manager Gareth Lennox to learn more about the benefits the portal has brought about to their team, their Funeral Director partners and the families they serve.
Tell us about your role and that of the Cemeteries Administration Office
My role is quite diverse. I’m from an Environmental Health background and following recent changes, I was given the task of managing Cemetery Administration, along with Corporate Health and Safety.
When I took on the management of Cemeteries Administration there was a small team of two who managed the booking of burials and memorial management across the council’s nine cemeteries.
At this point, my focus was to ensure that we had resilience in this area and in building the capacity of other admin officers to support cemeteries during times of absence. It soon became clear that one of the biggest enablers to achieve that was to update our cemetery management system.
Why did you decide to implement PlotBox?
There were two main reasons. Firstly, as part of the council’s digital strategy, there was a requirement to move as many systems as possible online to meet the changing needs of our customers. While our current solution had been carrying out its function for a number of years, it simply didn’t meet that requirement - not being online or digitalised.
Secondly, we were still heavily reliant on paper. With only two of our main cemeteries on our computer-based system, I wanted to ensure that all of our information was accurately captured, digitised and accessible remotely via the cloud. Our paper maps were also deteriorating and I wanted to ensure that they were protected, and with no risk of them being lost.
We were in the process of finalising our market research, and having consulted with a few other Local Authorities, were very impressed by what PlotBox could offer.
At what point did you opt for the Funeral Director portal and what influenced your decision?
COVID accelerated the transformation process for us. It became clear, very quickly, that we needed a solution that would enable us to manage our burial booking processes remotely.
Thankfully, with the Funeral Director portal, we were able to adopt a modular rollout, having it in place before the full solution. That allowed us to adapt to our new ways of working quickly, rather than having to wait longer to implement the entire solution in one go.
The newfound ability to work remotely allowed us to assist our Funeral Directors in making bookings with minimal disruption. It was a significant improvement to our systems at the time during COVID when we were in full lock down - really aiding both sides.
Prior to implementing the portal, what did the process of arranging a burial look like and what were the challenges?
Prior to introducing the Funeral Director portal, we managed all bookings via telephone or a drop in service, which was a significant drain on time and resources - both for us and our Funeral Directors. It also generated a lot of paperwork, which without the proper systems in place, could take time to process.
In my conversations with Funeral Directors, one of the biggest returning challenges they faced was the ability to make provisional bookings ‘out of hours’. It was important, especially for the family in their time of need, to have the ability to make the necessary arrangements ‘in the moment’.
That 24/7 access has always been important, and up until implementing the portal, wasn’t something we could provide.
And of course, come Monday morning, the office was incredibly busy as the team picked up bookings for bereavements which took place over the weekend. That additional time also presented additional pressures on our grounds teams, who were reliant on receiving paperwork in good time.
What was the implementation process like and how did you manage the process of change?
The pace of change was very fast, as necessitated by the demands imposed by COVID, that, and our staffing resource meant we had to take a different approach.
As we were in lockdown without the same level of contact with Funeral Directors, we realised we needed to change to an online system quickly. Without knowing exactly what would be happening with COVID, providing Funeral Directors with the ability to come on board was something they were grateful of.
In terms of onboarding, they responded well, and we worked closely with them to ensure they were comfortable with any changes, addressing and resolving any issues they may have had.
Where there were any teething problems, we took feedback and amended, or made changes to help support them as needed. The documentation was all there, and once we got them up and running with it, it worked OK.
The buy-in from staff was also very good. They realised that we needed something in place and saw it as a step forward. Change can be daunting, and from our own perspective, it helped that the system was straightforward to use. It's a step by step process, and not overly complicated, which was really beneficial.
I also found that the support we received from Plotbox was fantastic. Where there were any difficulties, we had somebody online to chat to within a few minutes to sort the issue.
What was the response like - did you meet with any challenges or push back, and how did you overcome them?
Some Funeral Directors weren’t as comfortable at using the IT as others, and some were concerned about booking burials online in the case something got lost.
In the beginning, some found that they were unhappy that they were unable to book the slots they wanted, which was something we worked with them on. That was due to us blocking out slots to allow time for staff to move between cemeteries - something which has become very useful in helping us to manage our resources.
That said, it comes down to assisting, encouraging and explaining the positives that the system can bring. New processes and systems are rarely implemented without at least some push back, but it’s about remaining patient, positive and seeing the benefits that it brings everyone.
What does the process of funeral bookings look like now post implementation?
At this point we have probably 99% of our funeral directors working on the portal and have seen a massive improvement. The process is far more streamlined, and much simpler.
One of the challenges we faced pre-implementation was getting all of the paperwork we needed; post-implementation, we’re now getting that information much earlier.
Where we previously had seven or eight forms to complete, we’ve now reduced the application for a burial to just one page which can be completed and sent along with the online application. This allows it to be processed much quicker and easier than before, freeing up time for staff.
How has it changed your own process and your relationship with Funeral Directors?
As I said, it has definitely reduced our physical paperwork and made our processes more efficient, and has reduced the overall time spent booking burials.
For our Funeral Directors, that’s a conversation they’re now able to have straight away with families. They can open their phone and look at potential slots and times. That provisional booking goes a long way to helping the family - rather than having to wait over a weekend or until the next morning, they now know that that process has begun.
In terms of our relationships, I believe they have improved, and the feedback we’re getting is that having that 24/7 access really does assist them in serving families in the best way possible.
How easy is it for your teams to use?
The team have settled well into using the portal and find the burial booking process much easier now. Where we previously had two staff managing cemeteries, we’ve now brought other team members on board who are helping to manage, take bookings and process burial applications. This has really benefited our whole team by providing greater resilience, when people are off sick or on leave, and offers other duties to staff for experience and building their capacities.
What are the main benefits you’ve seen by implementing the Funeral Director Portal?
For our team, it has meant less paperwork, and a much more efficient delivery of our service and interaction with Funeral Directors. Getting paperwork sorted in a more timely way not only helps the office staff, but also provides the team on the ground with more time to manage their day to day activities.
The Funeral Directors have definitely benefited from the 24/7 access. It allows them to agree and provisionally book with families at an early stage, rather than spending time on the phone or coming into the office to sort out burials - ultimately giving them more time to spend with families at need, and helping to provide a personal touch.
In terms of families, I believe the benefit comes from the efficiency of the service - the less time and uncertainty, the less unnecessary or additional stress for the family.
Would you recommend the FD portal to other bereavement services providers and why?
I would 100% recommend the PlotBox Funeral Director Portal.
As mentioned, it allows us to provide a more efficient and direct service and has reduced our paperwork and physical handling of the bookings process. The ability to have slots available online 24/7 has been hugely beneficial to Funeral Directors.
The support from PlotBox has been fantastic, and it is a massive benefit to know that support is there when you need it - especially when bookings need to be confirmed quickly. PlotBox is helping to moving burial services forward which is key in aiding collaboration between councils for the mutual benefit of all.
Watch how the PlotBox Funeral Director portal is helping to transform customer service in The Wirral: