What to do after a death: how we used service mapping to understand our clients

[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

many team members listening as theyre talked through the service mapWe 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.

Our approach

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

photograph of team standing in front of a white board of post it notes and sheets of paper on the floor listening to tom speakingWe 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.

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

Getting aligned with a Membership service map

We launched our new Membership in September 2016. It’s a really massive and complex area of work and spans all 5 Co-op businesses from Food to Legal Services; Insurance to Funeralcare and Co-op Electrical. Our role at Co-op Digital is to support those 5 areas by making stuff as simple as possible for potential members to join and existing members to get stuff done and join in.

Anyway, since we launched, the Co-op Digital Membership team has been working hard to improve the online and offline experience for members and potential new members.

A ‘journey map’ for product teams

Six months ago, product manager Derek asked our team, plus Matt Edgar from Stick People, to map out the granular interactions of the membership experience on a wall in Angel Square. The digital team uses this to prioritise and keep track of the work they’re doing. On a weekly basis, they gather around the wall and update it with work in progress, problems, research and data.

It’s working well and gives the digital team a good level of autonomy.

user journey map on the wall in 1 Angel Square

However, because there are lots of people working on Membership who don’t necessarily work in digital, this level of detail isn’t understood by everyone. (Which is ok, digital isn’t everyone’s expertise). The map is also stuck to a wall so it’s not accessible to some of the wider team.

So we figured we needed a separate but related, digital as well as physical, higher level service map. It would include all the work on membership, not just the online part of it, and it’d be accessible to everyone. This way, absolutely everybody who needs to know, can be in the know.

Different user, different service map

So that teams and stakeholders can get an overall view of the activity that’s going on, Lawrence and I started mapping out the framework for a service map, or blueprint, to help everyone see the end-to-end experience, both online and offline.

Using this framework as a foundation we held a workshop with the delivery teams, the marketing team and the data science team to add what we know. And what we don’t know.

delivery teams and supporting functions adding to the map

The Membership service map covers everything from when a customer becomes aware of the membership proposition, through to the sign-up process, earning and then spending rewards, choosing a local cause and voting at the AGM.

photograph of Membership service map.

The purpose of the high-level service map is to:

  • see all the steps within the end-to-end journey
  • highlight what we know about user behaviour and service at each stage (quantitative and qualitative)
  • highlight colleague and touchpoint interactions at each stage
  • highlight metrics and data we track at each stage
  • show all the known work being carried out at each stage

The service map will add value because it will:

  • give us a single source of truth
  • make it easy for stakeholders to understand membership and engage with it
  • make our work visible to the rest of the organisation
  • show pain points, opportunities, recommendations for testing
  • help teams see what other sub-teams are working on and work together effectively
  • be the focus of membership service decision making in the future

Service mapping at the Co-op: it’s early days

Service design is a fairly new way of thinking and working at the Co-op but there are plenty of examples around the business of how useful this role can be.

The Funeralcare digital service uses a service blueprint to map the complex business of arranging a funeral from the colleague, logistical and customer viewpoints. And the Leading the Way team has mapped out the overall colleague, customer and product experience in stores.

What now?

Going forward we’ll use the map to monitor the service and make changes. The team will continue to work with the wider business to improve the service. 

Jack Fletcher
Interaction designer