While technology can enhance how cemeteries function in their day-to-day operations, such improvements aren’t improvements at all if they’re not matched to the actual experiences and needs of a particular cemetery. To achieve this, the IT vendor and the cemetery must collaborate to identify and fulfill those critical needs. That means time spent on-site with the owners and operators of a cemetery, with the people who do the day-to-day work, the people who will benefit the most from technology solutions.
Tim Kolasa, Executive Director of Gethsemane Catholic Cemetery and member of the CCC Technology Committee, agreed with this and offered his Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania cemetery as a training location. Shaina Mack, Accounts and Projects Manager from webCemeteries, spent a full week on-site, working closely with Tim and his staff to learn all that she could about Gethsemane’s processes, how they are currently utilizing technology, and in what areas this can be improved.
For Shaina, it was a week well spent. “It surpassed my expectations. I learned more about the day-to-day operations of a cemetery than I thought I would. It was wonderful to work alongside the team and witness their process.” And Tim and his staff did not hold back. Shaina was able to observe not only administrative operations, but was also allowed to observe interment and maintenance operations. She sat in on pre-need, at-need and after-care appointments with families.
One of the things she learned is that technology is used in virtually all areas of cemetery operations. Office staff generates all work orders, contracts, and burial records electronically. These records can be accessed by the ground staff at all times on their smartphones or tablets. “This has eliminated the need to pass paper documents back and forth,” Tim explains. “Not only does this make record keeping easier, but it ensures those records are accurate. No one is walking around with a document that’s outdated.”
During her time with Tim and the staff at Gethsemane, Shaina was able to determine areas where existing technology could better be utilized, as well as offering entirely new solutions. “The team periodically references original paper source documents. We reviewed options for scanning these documents and indexing them into the main database for backup and ease of access.”
Another area of improvement is in sales. “Currently our Sales Counselors are relying on property map books to identify available property for families. This process requires keeping multiple copies of the maps and records in sync to ensure correct options are being shown to families.” Tim is in the process of implementing a sales application that shows real-time available inventory and incorporates immersive 360 degree ground level images of available properties that could be shown to families in the main office or even on tablets or smartphones. “This would save counselors time and also eliminate the need for the old property map books. It’s our hope to go entirely electronic over the next several months. This will greatly increase our efficiency and accuracy.”
Gethsemane’s staff members aren’t the only ones benefiting from technology solutions.
Shaina noted that the one area where technology has its most obvious impact is where it meets the families. Tools like the public burial search available on Gethsemane’s website and their mobile app gives families the power to always find and locate their loved ones. “While I was at Gethsemane, I attended a memorial service for a recently deceased gentleman. After he was entombed in a glass niche wall, the family stayed and chatted about their other relatives buried in one of the cemetery’s mausoleums. When they asked a member of the staff how to find them, he pulled up his phone app and led them straight to the mausoleum.” If not for the digitization of records and the use of mobile apps, this family might have had a very different experience.
Tim agreed. “Hands down, the mobile availability of our data is what impacts visiting families the most. By supplying our grounds staff with smartphones or tablets, they can quickly look up the location of anyone buried in the cemetery. This essentially makes them part of the customer service experience we try to provide from the pre-need sale to the after-care appointment and beyond.”
Another benefit of these tools is they allow staff to show families property available near their loved ones. This not only educates families on the benefits of pre-planning, it provides another point-of-sale for the cemetery.
When considering technology solutions for any organization, the goal of those solutions is to simplify the process and enhance the level of service. But, technology alone isn’t the answer. For a cemetery to properly serve families, it is critical to first have staff members who are competent and compassionate. Second, these staff members need the appropriate management process to run the cemetery. Finally, once the right people and processes are in place, technology can be applied to support and amplify these components for successful, streamlined operations. Technology is the last piece of the puzzle, not the first. And that piece can’t be placed until both the IT vendor and the cemetery have a clear view of what the whole picture should look like.
Even in areas where Gethsemane’s technology is lacking, their team is still successful because they have the right people and processes. And in areas where technology was added to the equation, efficiency was gained, service was enhanced, and an already effective ministry shined brighter.
For Tim, the week he and his staff spent with Shaina was a big step in the right direction. “This has been quite the learning experience for both parties. Walking Shaina through our process and talking directly to her about our needs and areas of improvement has been really helpful. She learned a lot, and so did we. The level of cooperation between both our companies has been wonderful.”
Collaboratively created by Tim Kolasa, Executive Director of Gethsemane and St. Mary’s Cemeteries in Berks County, PA and Shaina Mack, Accounts and Projects Manager at webCemeteries.com.