An Examination of Software Applications Used in Funeral Homes Today
The funeral industry is not for everyone, but it is a solid industry with healthy projections for future growth (Anderson, 1997). While funeral homes have some needs that are unique to the industry, many of the administrative and processing tasks associated with their operation are similar to virtually any other type of business today. This paper will provide an overview of what office automation and group collaboration software is used in a typical funeral home today. An analysis of the advantages and disadvantages for each software application is followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Background and Overview. A consequence of the transition of the American economy from manufacturing to service-based has been a sharp increase in jobs that require direct, face-to-face interaction with the final customer. In various industries today, different positions increasingly require the careful projection of certain types of appearances in order to be viewed as professional; in particular, funeral home directors are supposed to project a somber and dignified demeanor (Abraham, (1999). In these face-to-face exchanges, the customers' perceptions of quality depend on customer approval of how well these demeanors are projected, and the extent to which the professional was able to devote his or her time to their individual needs (Abraham, 1999). Clearly, if a funeral home director does not have the mechanisms in place to ensure that each customer receives this level of attention, the customer's perception of the quality of service will be adversely affected. Moreover, many people who seek services from funeral homes will be at an emotional disadvantage compared to other types of industries that do not have the final disposition of a loved one's remains as their end product.
Administrative and Processing Needs of a Typical Funeral Home. Although the end product of funeral homes may be dramatically different that most other industries, most funeral homes will still have the need to fulfill many of the same administrative tasks that are associated with any type of business. For example, almost every funeral home will have payroll taxes, inventory, word processing, promotional literature, and other standard administrative needs that can be met by the use of off-the-shelf small business management software packages. Beyond these standard requirements, there are some unique needs for funeral home directors that are being addressed by software vendors today. According to Brown (1999), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has implemented regulations that now make it easier for consumers to comparison shop for funeral services, but these new regulations also directly affect funeral directors; Brown says, "The FTC Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to give pricing information over the phone and provide you with a price list if you come in person. It also allows you to purchase caskets -- the single largest funeral expense, averaging $2,500 -- from outside vendors without the threat of a carrying charge" (p. 129). Maintaining a funeral home's price list on a company intranet would provide a ready solution for this newly implemented requirement, allowing a funeral home director to potentially capture an additional share of the market compared to his competitors.
Software Solutions for Funeral Homes. Microsoft and other major computer providers generally provide a standard suite of software tools with their products that can be easily customized for the specific needs of a funeral home (pers. obs.). Likewise, standard software accounting packages such as Quicken are appropriate for many funeral homes' accounting needs today (Mccoy-Pinderhughes, 2001). For additional assistance in itemizing funeral costs, POWERsolutions has created a software package called "PreNeed" that retails for about $40; this software package provides funeral directors (or consumers) with a step-by-step guide through the decision-making process; the program also generates a final report for comparison purposes (the author notes that comparable reports can be developed by using a basic word processing or spreadsheet program) (Brown, 1999). While funeral homes can manage to get along by using off-the-shelf software programs, there are a number of applications specifically designed for the funeral industry available today. For example, Association Computer Services, Inc. has been a funeral home software vendor 1985 (The Professional Programs, 2004), and SRS Computing Solutions (Funeral Home Software, 2004). Another company, Mortware provides funeral homes with custom software that allows easy data entry, rapid form generation, as well as a number of add-ons that funeral home directors can select for their own unique needs. According to their promotional literature, "For the past 14 years, Mortware has provided the funeral industry with a complete and fully supported, easy to use program that facilitates and simplifies the entire administrative process from start to finish" (p. 2). The fully loaded Management Package by Mortware includes the following:
Funeral & Merchandise Management Database
General Price List with Contract Generator
Designer Folders & Cards
Accounts Receivable/Payable & Cash Receipts
Bank Reconciliation & General Ledger
Free Support for 1 Year
Additional options and features are also available
One funeral home that embraced automation is Wade Funeral Home, an 87-year-old company located in St. Louis. According to Mccoy-Pinderhughes (2001), this previously family-owned company conducted all of its business without the use of computers by handwriting contracts and records and preparing all of its payrolls manually. The previous funeral home director had outsourced the accounting function, and there were no healthcare or insurance benefits available to employees. Nevertheless, the company's reputation as courteous, caring, and professional allowed it to prosper while other funeral homes were being forced out of business. The company's owner decided to sell the family-owned business to Perpetua Inc., an African-American acquisitions firm that specializes in the deathcare industry. The chairman and CEO of Perpetua, Slivy Edmonds Cotton, said of the acquisition: "The funeral owners and directors of yesteryear did not look at the profitability or the efficiency of the company. Granberry felt that Wade provided the highest quality service, without the services of modern technology, at the lowest possible price" (he had not raised prices in 15 years) (Mccoy- Pinderhughes, 2001, p. 105). Based on the previous experiences of the Perpetua executives, they recognized that Wade Funeral Home was the perfect candidate for automation. Following several months of negotiations with the previous owner, Cotton says the owner "talked to us for eight months before making the decision to sell, and he felt, and probably still feels to this day, that the installation of a [computer] system would not make a 'bit of difference' in the operation of the home. However, we knew that our customers could benefit from a resource such as the Internet that would allow them to gather information and consider their options in the privacy of their own homes" (p. 106). As noted above, customer satisfaction in the funeral home industry demands a high level of face-to-face interaction that cannot be replaced with technology; nevertheless, Cotton suggests that technological innovations can only serve to improve the quality of the process and the bottom line: "We essentially wanted to bring the industry -- one that has been traditionally cloaked in secrecy -- into the 21st century while preserving the legacy and integrity of each home" (Mccoy-Pinderhughes, p. 106). This corporate philosophy appears to have paid off in major ways; following the acquisition by Perpetua, Wade's year-end 2000 revenues exceeded $3 million.
Following the buyout by Perpetua, the new company launched an informational Website (www.wadefuneralhome.com) to help its consumers in the preplanning and planning stages. According to Mccoy-Pinderhughes, "Software for the funeral home industry has been installed on the in-house PC network, and an employee 401(k) plan has been introduced, along with health and insurance benefits" (p. 107). The success being enjoyed by this funeral home by adding technology in a human-interaction dominated industry makes it clear that funeral…