Using our data to improve Guardian, our Funeralcare digital service

Guardian is our digital service, designed with, and for, our Funeralcare colleagues. Next week, it will be live across our 1,059 Co-op Funeralcare branches.

That’s every single branch in England, Scotland and Wales.

At this point:

  • 4,014 colleagues across our 1,059 branches in England, Scotland and Wales are now using Guardian
  • 30,425 funerals have been arranged using the Guardian digital service so far

But the Digital team’s work isn’t complete. We’re working to continuously improve the service for our colleagues and their customers and one way we’re doing that is by looking at the data.

Improving the journey between the ‘first call’ and funeral

One of our key performance indicators in the Funeralcare business is around how much time the deceased spends in our care. Typically, families want their loved one’s funeral to take place as quickly as possible, so often, the shorter the gap between the date of death and the funeral equates to higher customer satisfaction.

From the ‘first call’ when a family member rings up to say they’ve lost a loved one, colleagues take details and the deceased is then in the Guardian system. As they move through the care process, the time they spend at each stage is calculated automatically as colleagues use Guardian.

Guardian then pulls that data through to a dashboard so we can monitor performance easily. Being able to break down the process is really useful in terms of seeing our average time for each stage – it helps us see where we’re excelling and where we can improve.

Giving colleagues autonomy

Giving time back to colleagues so they could spend more time with families has always been the most important outcome of Guardian. Everything has been focused on that.

Ideally, we wanted to build something that would help colleagues deliver the same number of funerals more quickly, ie, colleagues spent less time organising, note taking and communicating details to other colleagues, and more time with families who are going through a tough time.

Empowering colleagues to see for themselves where they’re excelling and where they could improve gives them autonomy and helps them manage themselves. Each branch will have access to their own data so they can see how they’re doing. The data is presented in small chunks and includes things like: number of customers served, breakdowns of the types of funerals, hearse and limousine use, customer satisfaction scores as well as a breakdown of the time the deceased has spent in each part of the process. 

One place for data

Back in early 2016, when we started to identify user needs, we knew we could solve a lot of problems if we could record information about the deceased and about their upcoming funerals, and make that information available to the colleagues who need to see it, at the point they needed to see it.

Early user research found colleagues inventing their own, paper-based systems to log details of the deceased and organise funerals which was time consuming. But above all, it was limiting because colleagues couldn’t easily share their notes with people who worked in the same funeral home as them and it was even trickier to keep external homes in the loop.

Paper processes limit who can work and where they can work from. Some recent feedback from a colleague highlighted this. He said: “What I like most about Guardian is that it means I get a better work life balance – I can go home and finish admin there, rather than having to go back to the office. I get to spend more time around my kids.”

Making data accessible to the right people at the right time

Because Guardian’s data is stored in one secure place, we can use it to help out other areas of the business.

For example, before Guardian, customers would call the central Funeralcare number on the website and come through to the customer service centre. Advisors weren’t able to answer respond efficiently to phone calls like: “My mother came into your care over the weekend. It was all a rush at the time. Which funeral home is she in?” This kind of information would only exist as paperwork in-branch. Advisors can only transfer the caller to a local branch, but this isn’t always the best experience because there’d be no guarantee the branch would answer.

We’re starting a pilot next month, looking at giving our call centre advisors access to relevant information on Guardian, so with a few clicks they could find out quite a lot of reassuring detail for the family of the deceased. For example: “Your mother came into our care last night at around 2am, she’s now at the Rochdale home. Would you like to speak to your Funeral Director?”

What we’ll look at soon

Now rollout is almost complete, we’re looking at what we could do with the data coming out of Guardian. We’ve been asking:

  • How could we optimise the 1,275+ vehicles in Funeralcare-owned fleet?
  • Can we predict the volume of demand for individual branches so we can ensure more customers are served first time in-branch?
  • Can we enable more customers to be served first time on the phone by leveraging the customer service centre?
  • How could we optimise the order and delivery of ten of thousands of coffins annually?

They’re all interesting problems to solve. The hard work isn’t over yet.

Jack Gray
Product Lead

Guardian update: rolling out, listening to feedback and fixing problems

We’re conscious that we haven’t blogged about Co-op Funeralcare for a while so this post aims to give an overview of what we’ve been doing and how it’s been going.

Co-op Digital worked with subject matter experts from Co-op Funeralcare to design and build a digital service which would give time back to our Funeralcare colleagues by taking away arduous admin and keeping customer data safe and secure. You can find previous posts about our progress on this blog.

The service is now called Co-op Guardian.

We’ve started to roll out the service

The last time we posted back in August, 29 branches and around 110 colleagues were using Guardian. Since then we’ve been gradually rolling out. Here are the latest figures:

  • 1,948 colleagues across 563 branches in England, Scotland and Wales are now using Guardian
  • 16,642 funerals have been arranged using the Guardian digital service so far
  • we’ve rolled out to 18 of our 36 regions
  • 12 regions are receiving training at the moment and we’re checking tablets are working and that wifi is in place

It wasn’t easy from the off

When we began the initial roll out there was a lot to contend with. Some of the problems we ran into were consequential and some were mistakes we needed to learn from.

We found we needed to:

1.Extend wifi coverage

A lot of our funeral homes were based in old buildings with thick walls and, consequently, the wifi was weak. We upgraded our coverage so it doesn’t just work in client-facing areas but also in places such as our mortuaries and garages.

2.Make initial training groups smaller

We learnt quickly that our approach to training colleagues up to use the service needed to change. We had too many people in a room at one time and too few people to support them. Now, there’s a maximum of 8 people per session so that each colleague gets the support they need and their confidence is much higher at the end of a session.

3.Give managers more support

We started out giving managers high level training and asking them to support their colleagues. But this put teams under too much pressure. Now, our Learning and Development team give managers much more comprehensive training so they feel more confident supporting everyone in the branches.

4.Improve communication and access to online help

To tell colleagues about updates and changes we had a ‘what’s new’ section within the digital service and we offered support through guides on the intranet. However, we knew colleagues weren’t using either of these things. So, we’ve created a ‘help’ section within Guardian which lets colleagues search and find the help they need and has a much more user friendly layout. It’s also easier for us to update.

This feature had more visits within the first 2 weeks than the intranet did in 7 months.  

Kind words: we’re making a difference

Introducing a digital service into this very traditional profession hasn’t been easy but we’re getting there. The feedback we’re listening hardest to comes from the people who use Guardian everyday: our colleagues.

We asked some of the first colleagues who received Guardian training what they’d say to colleagues who were about to start using the service.

“If you can buy something online, if you can book a holiday you can confidently use Guardian.”

“Having to learn something new in such a short space of time can be a bit daunting but once you go onto the system and see how easy it is to use, that anxiety goes straight away.”

Hayley is a Senior Care Logistics Manager who is based in Crewe care centre.

Exciting problems to solve

We’ve learnt a lot over the last 2 years and these last 6 months since we exited beta have been a really steep learning curve. Now, not only is Guardian getting better with every release, roll out is smoother and training is more colleague-focussed. All of this helps our colleagues trust the service, and we’re getting better data that helps us make improvements for Funeralcare colleagues and their customers.

In the next few months we hope to:

  • complete roll out
  • build data tools to help predict demand peaks
  • explore the option of giving customers access to Guardian
  • look at extending Guardian to also capture funeral wishes and pre-need funeral plans

The Guardian team

We’re looking for engineers to work on the Guardian team. Visit our jobs page for more details.