Hello. I’m Andy Pipes. I joined the new CoopDigital team in February as a product manager. Product managers design and build digital services that help Co-op customers, members and colleagues solve real problems.
CoopDigital is helping the Funeralcare business rethink how we deliver our at-need funeral service. The funeral business is a care service at its heart. It’s a traditional industry. It’s safe to say the internet age hasn’t really influenced its practices and delivery mechanisms.
The Co-op is the UK’s largest funeral business, arranging 90,000 funerals each year. We look after families in real distress. We play a key part in helping communities deal with loss.
I’m proud to have met and and work with some wonderful colleagues from around the funeral business. They do an amazing job caring for our clients, despite having to fill in lots of paperwork and struggle with technology that can sometimes get in the way rather than help them do their jobs.
CoopDigital is working to design a whole new service for everyone involved in Funeralcare. One designed to make these processes simpler. Do more on behalf of colleagues. Communicate better with clients. And we’re designing it alongside funeral directors, ambulance staff, call handlers, and funeral home managers.
This is Robert Maclachlan. Robert’s the new National Operations Director for Funeralcare. He’s been in the post just a bit longer than I have. His vision for a new operation for Funeralcare couldn’t be clearer: Give time back to Funeral Directors to spend with clients.
Meet Hayley. She’s one of dozens of funeral directors the CoopDigital team has met as part of our ongoing research. Hayley can spend six hours sorting out admin for every funeral she organises. Filling in forms. Checking on vehicles. Ringing round to find the right coffin, flowers.Confirming who’s officiating, who’s driving, who’s bearing the coffin.
In Hayley’s hands is her “system”. It’s a plastic folder full of all the paper forms she’ll fill in for each funeral. It works for her. We’ve met other colleagues with similar home-grown systems. But every piece of information buried on paper in that folder is a piece of information a digital service could act on.
So there are some big problems we want to solve. Above all, we want to create one simple to use system so colleagues can organise a funeral from the first call right to the last detail. Designed to accommodate the fact that every funeral that our colleagues conduct is unique.
The CoopDigital team practices ‘user-centered design’. This means we listen to and observe the people who will use the service. Our research team visits our colleagues in the field constantly to make sure we’re able to empathise with their concerns and challenge our assumptions about how we’d solve their problems. Three Funeralcare employees work full-time with our designers, researchers and developers in Manchester. An analyst from the Funeralcare IT team has joined us, so that we can introduce user-centred design and agile delivery to the in-house technology squad over time. We’re working together every day to help get the service just right.
Week by week we tackle a different area to work on, from receiving the first call announcing a death, through taking the deceased into our care, to booking transport, ordering coffins, and sending confirmation details to clients right the way through to creating an invoice and tracking payment.
On the walls of our workspace, we build out a picture of the emerging service. For each development period (a ‘Sprint’), we start with a clear picture of the user needs we’re focusing on. Then we sketch out a “flow” of the goals we’re expecting those users to be able to achieve after we’ve done that week. For instance, in the first week, we wanted someone receiving a call about a death to be able to log the most important details easily, and retrieve them later. Beneath the flow diagram, we list a few things that we’re most interested in learning as we test the service with colleagues in the field.
When we’ve built a small part of the service we take it out and test it in our funeral homes to see what the people who will end up using it think. If something’s not working we go back and change it and we’ll keep doing this until we get it just right.
We’re now 17 weeks into our journey. Here’s what we’ve made so far.
A First Call service that logs the important details about a death, and alerts an ambulance team to take the deceased into our care.
A Funeral Arrangement service that helps Funeral Directors capture all the clients’ decisions, plays back costs to the client, and keeps everybody updated about all the things that are still to be completed.
A hearse booking system, staff diary and staff assignment service.
A coffin stock control system, and a way for clients to browse the existing coffin range.
An audit system that works towards complete transparency about every important action in the service; a clear chain of care and traceability.
Various dashboards to show important “health check” measures for the business. Like busy times of the day for calls, and the % of contacts who are still waiting for an arrangement visit to take place.
Since we work fast, test often and iterate constantly, we understand that what we produce might not be right first time. Some of the areas of the service I am screenshotting above have been revised five or six times during the process.
But already we’re seeing how the service we’ve built will save time, do helpful things on behalf of colleagues, and present Funeralcare staff with useful information in a way they haven’t seen before.
As we start to trial the service alongside the existing process in a real funeral home over the summer, we’ll see what’s working best, what still needs tightening up, and where we need to really focus next.
I’ll report back on where we take the service over the coming months.
A side note
If you’re interested in doing work like ours, please get in touch. We’re hiring more product managers, designers and developers to join our growing, dedicated team.