[Arranging a funeral] is the ultimate distress purchase made infrequently by inexpert, emotionally vulnerable clients under time pressure… Clients don’t know what to expect, spend little time thinking about the provider and feel under pressure to sort things quickly.
Funerals market study by Competition and Markets Authority
Organising a funeral is difficult and complicated.
To get a better understanding of how people do it and where we can make it easier, we were tasked with mapping out the full experience of arranging a funeral using a technique called service mapping.
Service mapping gives you a holistic view of both your product or service and your user. You don’t focus solely on individual interactions, but the whole emotional and practical journey as the user interacts. There are few areas of life that need this type of consideration more than planning a funeral.
Here’s how we did it, and what we learnt works well in the process we followed.
Work with people who know more than you do
We had 10 days. The people we involved were subject matter experts from Co-op Funeralcare and IT; marketing experts, plus us – a user researcher, a designer and a content designer from the Digital team. Having people from as many disciplines as possible involved helps to give the map a broader perspective. We spoke to funeral directors, the police, and people who’d recently arranged a funeral. We also analysed live and historical qualitative and quantitative data.
Never lose focus of the subject matter
Understanding funerals requires empathy and we wanted to keep this at the forefront of the map to understand what people were feeling, thinking and doing at each point in the process. This empathy also helped keep us grounded in the real user experience and the heightened emotions that go with arranging a funeral.
There are many ways to approach a service map. We started by validating our assumptions. Here are 2:
Assumption 1: A second funeral is easier to arrange.
Not necessarily. Some practical considerations might be less difficult but depending on the relationship with the deceased, the emotional journey could be completely different.
Assumption 2: People shop around for a funeral director.
The common misconception is that people search for a funeral director online. But often, people already know which funeral director they’ll use based on recommendations or choose one simply because it is local to them.
Choose a user journey and follow it through to the end
We had to agree on the most likely client journey, otherwise we’d work on hundreds of maps with different viewpoints of ‘arranging clients’. The map should always evolve as you work. It moves and shifts and changes as you learn more. Thoughts and ideas change as you go through the client’s journey with them.
Pretty soon we had a massive map on the wall charting a typical journey from the beginning of the process to the end. What is the client feeling when they make the first call to tell us that someone has died? How do they feel when they meet the funeral director? Do they know how to register a death? And how do they feel on the day of the funeral? Understanding this means we can better understand this experience from the client’s point of view.
We uncovered many pain points – registering the death being a big one.
How people pay for the cost of a funeral was another huge issue. This led us to explore funeral poverty further. We found that most arranging clients want to ‘do the right thing’ by the person they have lost and will sometimes honour all of their wishes even if they can’t afford to pay for it.
Think about the practical and the emotional
Many people are in a heightened state of emotion, but how this manifests varies. There are recurring feelings such as worry, sadness and anxiety in the run up the funeral and often a sense of loneliness afterwards, when people call and visit less and life goes on. And we learned that grief is not linear.
Don’t forget the data
Using data from actual funeral arrangements we found interesting behaviours about arranging a funeral. The assumption was that the arranging client had a meeting with the funeral director or arranger soon after the death, discussed all or most of the details of the arrangement and that was that. The next time we saw them was on the day of the funeral.
But using analytics and Metabase we found it’s not uncommon for clients to have up to 6 arrangement meetings.
This makes total sense. You wouldn’t arrange a wedding with one meeting, why would you be satisfied with one meeting for a funeral? People don’t arrange many funerals in their lifetime and don’t always know what will be asked of them in the arrangement meeting. They might be distressed, so forget to ask certain questions or want to amend choices later.
Learn from what people actually do, not what you think they do
To us, the arranging client is the one who will pay the bill, but this doesn’t mean they make all the decisions on their own. We discovered whole families and groups that were involved in planning the funeral. This means different points of view, opinions and ideas. Only 1% of people know all the wishes of the deceased when arranging a funeral, and a third of people don’t even know if the deceased wishes to be buried or cremated, according to the Cost of dying report, 2018.
Take the map back to business
Once we had our map it was time to draw out our insights. We drew out high-level themes and opportunities then worked with the wider business to focus the 60+ opportunities into things that were new and would set us apart in the industry and other things we just needed to do. These were not features in their own right, more starters for 10 that needed further investigation into appetite and feasibility, which is exactly the result you want after working on a service map.
Tell your story well – and often
One thing to prepare for when you finish a map and have your insights and plan is to prepare to talk a lot about what you discovered. We presented the map to at least 12 groups of about 20 people each from around the business and we’ve been asked by external individuals and businesses to talk about it.
Tom’s tweet about the map has had a lot of engagement.
I’ve spent 3 weeks with a small team making a ‘service map of a death’ to try understand all the things people need to do when a loved one dies. It’s been fascinating. Is there any appetite out there for me to write up about method/process/the weird things we found? #userresearch pic.twitter.com/WUKmDSgIrY
— Tom Walker (@WalkerUXRanger) March 11, 2019
This could be because people are as fascinated about the subject matter as we are, but also service maps are a very tactile way of drawing out key opportunities and pain points. Done well, they can attract a lot of attention.
We’re now prioritising and working on the ideas and will be testing and learning from them over the next few months. Hopefully, we’ll have more to tell you then.
Rae Spencer, Lead interaction designer
Tom Walker, Lead user researcher
Hannah Horton, Principal designer