Maintaining personal contact at the most sensitive times
Funeral director utilised Three’s services to relieve some of distress for customers
Padraig Sheerin, head of SME with telecoms group Three Ireland. Photograph: Naoise Culhane
One of the more upsetting impacts of coronavirus for many people has been the restrictions placed on funerals. Family members and close friends have been unable to attend services for loved ones and even burials have been off limits for many people. Funeral directors around the country have been utilising the latest communications technology to relieve some of this distress.
“We have always stayed up to date with technology,” says Michael Thompson of Waterford City-based Robert Thompson Funeral Directors. “We were one of the first funeral directors in the world to launch a smartphone app in 2011 and we keep our website updated regularly.”
This forward-thinking approach has been beneficial this year. “We were designated as a frontline essential service, so we never stopped working as the restrictions came into force,” Thompson notes. “It made communication even more essential. The nature of funeral services means that the first phone call from a family member to arrange services can come at any hour of the day or night, so we have to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
That level of personal contact is very important, he emphasises. “People don’t email to make funeral arrangements; everything is still about the personal contact. We still conduct a huge part of our work over the phone, whether that is speaking with the close family or making arrangements with the clergy for funeral services.”
The company had moved its telephone system over to Three Ireland’s 3Connect solution before the virus hit. “Fortunately, we had implemented 3Connect, which is a cloud-based voice telephony system that routes calls over the internet,” Thompson explains. “We’ve set up the system so that outbound calls display our main office number at all times, even if the call is coming from a company mobile. This way, our clients can see that the call is from Thompsons, rather than an unfamiliar number. It’s a small touch, but it’s about being sensitive, too.”
“Thompsons embraced the technology very quickly and very effectively,” says Padraig Sheerin, head of SME with Three. “It’s very subtle from a client perspective. Funeral directors are interacting with people at a very sensitive and sad time and the technology sits in the background giving them the ability to take calls anywhere. They can make and take calls at home or anywhere else and the client is oblivious to all of that.”
The practical benefits of the 3Connect system include ease of call handling. “We used to handle inbound calls with a switchboard service, which read out a recorded message with information about funeral services that day,” says Thompson. “However, it was a cumbersome process to keep that automated message up to date with new, changing information throughout the course of the day.”
That process has been made much simpler with the cloud-based 3Connect service. The firm is also saving on the cost of the four fixed-line phone connections which it had before moving over to the Three solution.
“You no longer need a phone system on site with the 3Connect solution doing everything in the cloud,” says Sheerin. “All the old fixed lines are replaced with a single connection with an unlimited number of users. It is not dependent on service availability in your area, all you need is a broadband connection. You can scale it up and down infinitely. If you need to take extra people on during busy periods you can add them as users for a few days or weeks and then take them off the system as required. You only pay for what you use.
“Using traditional systems, call forwarding is difficult and expensive,” he adds. “A forwarded call is actually a new call from the phone system to the mobile which adds cost. It also means it doesn’t contain information on the caller. That’s all dealt with seamlessly by the 3Connect solution.”
Technology has also played a role in the firm’s overall response to the pandemic. “It’s amazing what they have done,” says Sheerin. “Social distancing has changed the whole dynamic of funerals and Thompsons and others have been live streaming funerals to address that.”
“That used to be mainly for the benefit of relatives who live abroad and who weren’t able to travel for the funeral,” says Thompson. “But now they’re able to see the arrival in church, the Mass and sometimes the burial, either live or by watching the saved feed.”
“We hear the term omnichannel communications bandied about quite a lot, but this is a very practical example,” Sheerin adds. “Thompsons is using its website and the 3Connect phone system along with personal contact to deal with its clients during this very difficult time.”