We explore how a digital-first approach underpinned by cemetery software can help to overcome some common challenges for Council cemetery operators.
Understanding the Consequences of Errors in Cemeteries and Crematoriums
| Read time: 5 mins
Understanding the true cost of errors
As the saying goes, mistakes happen, but when it comes to cemeteries and crematories, errors can have a profound impact not only on the organisation and its staff, but on families and customers.
Imagine, for example, a family visiting a loved one's grave only to find that the plot has been mislocated, or that having visited the same grave for years, discovering that it actually belongs to someone else.
Jun 2021: $20 million lawsuit filed against cemetery for misplaced remains of daughter. Family had been visiting what they believed to be grave for nearly two decades.
Or similarly, your team, having secured a pre-need contract, discovers at time of need, that the plot has been double-sold and is unavailable?
...or incorrect record keeping creating compliance issues, and more time than spent on routine tasks; communication breakdowns leading to misunderstandings between staff, creating inefficiencies and bottlenecks, slowing productivity and affecting morale.
How might we then quantify the impact of those errors, not only in terms of your financial viability and reputation, but in terms of emotional distress, and the effect on those you employ?
With that in mind, we explore the true cost of errors for cemetery and crematorium operators - why they happen, what the consequences are and how they can be mitigated through proactive strategies and the implementation of a cemetery management system.
Why do errors happen?
Unfortunately errors do happen - they happen for all sorts of reasons, and quite often, they are completely avoidable.
To put it simply, cemeteries and crematoria have a lot of moving parts - all of which need to be working together in order to maintain the integrity of the whole.
We’re all human, and all subject to making mistakes, but within the complexities of cemetery and crematorium operations, the likelihood of these happening can be increased by a number of factors. Here are just a few of them:
Effective communication is crucial to ensure operations run smoothly. And so, ineffective communication channels or breakdowns in communication between departments or staff members can often lead to errors. Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or inadequate transfer of information can all contribute to the mishandling or slowing of services that can ultimately result in poorer experience for families.
Disjointed systems and data
As we often say, disjointed systems pulling information from a variety of sources mean that staff play the role of detectives, piecing together information to complete the whole picture. Multiple data sources can often provide conflicting information, while systems that aren’t linked or updated in real time can also result in double or triple entry - all together contributing to low confidence in your data.
Inadequate methods of record-keeping
In a similar way, poor or outdated manual record-keeping practices, such as incomplete, inaccurate or hard to find documentation can also result in errors. Likewise, changes in record keeping over time with missing or incorrect information about interments, burial plots, ownership records etc. can lead to confusion over available inventory and doubt over exactly who is buried where.
Time Pressures and workload
We all feel time pressures at work from time to time, and within cemeteries and crematoria, high or increasing workloads, tight schedules, can cause time pressures, which if not managed correctly, can create an environment where tasks are rushed, critical steps skipped, or important details overlooked.
Lack of standardised processes and procedures
Without clear, standardised processes, inconsistencies in how work is carried out, or how data is captured can occur. With no clear guidelines or procedures in place, tasks may be carried out differently across departments or important steps overlooked, again leading to miscommunications, a lack of uniformity in service delivery, or errors in handling and processing documentation.
Lack of training, compliance monitoring and quality control
A ‘threefer’ here, all related and all with similar outcomes. Inadequate training may result in a lack of the necessary knowledge and skills to handle complex procedures, use equipment properly, or adhere to best practices. Without quality control measures in place, the resulting errors may go unnoticed or unaddressed, and without proper oversight and auditing processes, in place specific non-compliance issues may go unnoticed, increasing the risk of regulatory violations.
What are the consequences of errors?
Together, these errors have wide-reaching, real-world consequences. Let’s dig a little deeper into what that ‘true cost’ looks like.
How might we quantify cost adequately? We might consider the financial or reputational consequences to your organisation, with seemingly small errors having a ripple effect leading to consequences that may impact your financial stability and long-term sustainability. Similarly, we might consider the legal implications of non-compliance from a regulatory perspective, or of lawsuits brought about from families who have experienced a negative experience.
We might also consider cost in terms of legacy protection and the implications of the loss of the historically and culturally significant information you hold; or to your daily operations - what, for example, happens when paper records go missing, are damaged or lost - what would you do and how would you mitigate the risks of that happening?
The cost to your business
From legal battles and compensation claims, to the costs of rectifying errors - mistakes can have a significant financial impact on your business. Consider, for example, the expenses involved in corrective measures such as reburials or monument replacements resulting from misidentified burial plots or mishandled interments, and the potential legal fees and settlements resulting from lawsuits and compensation claims.
Then consider the reputational damage that may incur, with negative word-of-mouth, social media backlash, and online reviews deterring potential customers, and resulting in reduced revenue. How difficult would it be to rebuild that trust and restore your reputation?
Reputational damage, customer dissatisfaction, or the loss of existing or potential customers needn’t only come from headline news items - getting customer service right first time is important.
Errors in record-keeping or communication leading to the incorrect information being provided to customers can also cause frustration and dissatisfaction, while poor service delivery, such as errors in scheduling, or during the sales process can lead to negative experiences for families, resulting in a loss of trust and future business.
The cost to your operation
From an operational perspective, errors in cemeteries can cause significant operational disruptions. Critically, inaccurate record-keeping may lead to potential safety hazards, where risk assessments are not carried out to schedule, or plots or memorials misidentified, posing health and safety risks to staff and visitors.
Oct 2021: Mother killed when 2,000 pound monument toppled over, according to lawsuit.
Specifically, errors in risk assessments can of course have wider implications in terms of non-compliance with regulatory requirements, and the ability to meet accepted industry standards.
In more general terms, errors in record-keeping can also have an impact on requirements for accurate record-keeping of interments, ownership, cremations, grave plans and other relevant information.
In the shorter-term, inefficient processes, mismanagement of resources or poor communication can lead to a number of service disruptions, for example, delays or interruptions in burials or cremations, or work orders not being carried out correctly.
Additionally, errors in scheduling or coordination may lead to conflicts and overlaps, creating logistical challenges that impact operational workflows.
Errors also cost time - time spent investigating the issue, reviewing documentation, reconciling discrepancies and communicating with affected stakeholders - all diverting resources and attention from other essential tasks, and potentially causing delays in other aspects of cemetery and crematorium operations.
We could go on, but importantly, working within an industry with empathy at its core, what does that cost look like from a human perspective - both for your families and the people you employ?
The human cost
Errors can have profound human costs, exacting an emotional toll on families - creating additional layers of distress during an already challenging time. As mentioned, misidentified or mislocated burial plots can lead to visiting the wrong gravesite, impacting the ability to gain closure, or disrupt the ability to properly memorialise loved ones.
Mishandled remains, such as misplaced or mixed ashes due to mislabelling or errors in record-keeping can also cause emotional pain for families who have entrusted their loved ones to the care of the facility.
Inaccurate record-keeping or communication errors can also result in delays or mistakes during memorial or funeral services, compounding grief and straining relationships, eroding trust and leaving a lasting impact on perception.
In terms of your staff, a culture in which errors are common can negatively impact morale and productivity, creating a stressful working environment and affecting team dynamics.
And importantly, being committed to providing empathetic care, when errors do occur that affect families, they may feel personally responsible, experiencing guilt or even anxiety.
May 2023: Cemetery lost track of where man was buried says lawsuit.
How can we reduce the risk of errors?
The main causes of errors within cemeteries and crematoria quite clearly point to a number of strategies we can put in place to mitigate them. Here are a few ideas:
1. Implement a Cemetery Management Software System such as PlotBox that integrates all of your essential functions with digital mapping systems into a single platform. All of your information in one place, updated in real time and accessible by everyone from anywhere means streamlined processes, smarter workflows, improved record-keeping accuracy, better visibility of your inventory and enhanced communication.
2. Establish clear policies and standard operating procedures (SOPs), regularly review and ensure they’re communicated to staff;
3. Invest in staff training and education and encourage ongoing professional development to keep everyone updated on industry best practices.
4. Establish robust quality control measures to monitor and review processes, procedures, and data accuracy, while being sure to conduct regular audits;
5. Improve communication and collaboration by fostering a culture of open and effective communication among all staff and departments;
6. Conduct regular risk assessments and implement mitigation strategies that look for safety hazards, compliance risks, and operational vulnerabilities.
7. And importantly - actively seek feedback from families, visitors, and staff to identify areas where errors commonly occur and implement measures to prevent them happening again.
More than the bottom line
The true cost of errors for cemeteries and crematoria extends far beyond financial concerns. The human impact on families and staff, the risks to longevity, and the protection of legacy all emphasise the need for preventing errors.
By understanding why they happen and recognising their implications, we can work towards introducing better practices.
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