If you were weeks away from dying and wanted to arrange your funeral, new regulations might mean you would not be able to buy a funeral plan. This is because buying a funeral plan only a few weeks in advance can cost more than arranging the funeral after you die. The Funeralcare digital team want to help people in this situation, and we did so by interviewing people to learn about the complex needs associated with planning for a funeral with a terminal illness.
New regulations have changed the way people can buy funeral plans. People are now asked questions about their situation before they can buy one. One of these questions is, ‘do you have a terminal illness?’ This isn’t something funeral plan providers had to ask before. The reason this is asked now is because a pre-paid funeral plan could cost more than a funeral arranged in the next month or two. Asking if people have a terminal illness is meant to make sure they don’t pay more than they should for their funeral.
This affects hundreds of people a month
In November and December 2022, 405 people told us they had a terminal illness by answering the question in the funeral plan journey. We also heard that our call centre could be turning away people who want to buy a funeral plan but cannot, because they might have an imminent need.
Because a funeral plan isn’t appropriate for someone who is likely to die imminently, the Funeralcare design team did a discovery to see how we could help them by understanding what they needed. We wanted to make sure people in this position could still plan for their funeral, if that’s what they want to do.
We did a discovery to learn more about:
- what happens when a client wanting to buy a funeral plan says they are terminally ill
- what happens when someone wants to arrange a funeral or record their funeral wishes before they die
- the difficulties we face having conversations with clients about how we can support with end-of-life planning, their will, power of attorney and other legal advice
User research with vulnerable people
Finding people to speak to in this position can be difficult, but those who say yes to taking part in the research tell us they do it because they want to help others. Our user researcher recruited people who have a terminal illness and people who are supporting those with one.
We did 20+ hours of interviews with:
- 2 terminally ill people
- 5 family or friends of people who are dying
- 2 people who work in end-of-life care
- 4 funeral arrangers
- 12 stakeholders across Co-op Funeralcare and Life Services
We also analysed hundreds of phone calls into our sales team. We surveyed more than 300 Funeralcare colleagues to find out more about their experiences. And we did an extensive competitor review to see what other funeral providers were doing in this space.
What we learned about people with this need
Planning for a funeral while the person is still alive is really hard. This is not a pragmatic, forward-planned purchase they can forget about once it’s done. This is a highly emotive experience for people and the mindset is very different from someone buying a pre-paid funeral plan.
When someone knows they’re dying, it’s not just them involved in the planning of their funeral. It can be a collection of family and friends, often with one person taking the lead and supporting them. Third parties can also be involved, such as hospice workers, charities and support groups.
Everyone has their own approach. Some want it sorted, some cannot bear to think about it. We found that the person who is dying and those caring for them often had different approaches.
Some were more passive and less willing to talk about what they want.
“We needed someone to tell him off and tell him to remove the burden from us.”
Others were more actively involved in discussing what they wanted.
“She’s got notes on her phone, of all the things she wants at the funeral. She’s always adding to it.”
Those who want it sorted know exactly what they want and plan it sometimes without speaking about it with family members. Some take longer to plan these details, maybe being inspired by a song on the radio or an item of clothing they’ve come across. They know they need to let family members know where to find things when they’ll need them.
Funeralcare colleagues always want to help
Research conversations with our Funeralcare colleagues highlighted they’re already helping people in this position plan their funeral on paper. They want to do whatever they can to help when someone comes into a funeral home. They do their best with what they have, and they do it well. The work we do next after this discovery will hopefully make this easier for them and for people who need this.
Listen to your user, however hard it might be to hear
To create the best services for Funeralcare, you must listen to your user. Even if it’s difficult. Even if their stories are hard to hear. Listening to them is never going to be harder than what they’re going through.
This project was approached with huge amounts of sensitivity and some bravery. We all had to face into these difficult questions and conversations and be comfortable talking about this topic for concentrated periods of time.
Look after each other
This discovery was challenging. The conversations we had with people with a terminal diagnosis, and their families can be difficult to be a part of. Witnessing their anticipatory grief was upsetting. We’ve also been affected by death individually in the team, so we were extra careful to check in with each other every day and allowed ourselves a pass out if it got too much.
What we did next
Next, we did a design sprint. We got key stakeholders and Funeralcare colleagues working together to find ways we can help our colleagues help people with an imminent need for a funeral. Look out for our next blog post on how working collaboratively helped us to save hours of individual meeting time, get to the best ideas faster and create universal support progressing the work further.
Our user researcher, Jamie Kane, gave a talk about the research we did at a recent Content Teatime, watch the recording of that event, which features 5 talks all about designing for death, dying and bereavement.