The Partnership Podcast

Digital solutions with Declan Maguire

April 21, 2021 Golden Charter Season 1 Episode 22
The Partnership Podcast
Digital solutions with Declan Maguire
Show Notes Transcript

Scottish SAIF's 2nd Vice President played a key role in SAIF members' increased use of technology over the pandemic. He talks about using digital tools in the pandemic and beyond.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to the Partnership Podcast. Digital solutions have been more important than ever over the past year. This podcast itself is evidence of that, and we've heard from several funeral directors on digital marketing over recent months. Today we're speaking to a key figure in SAIF's increased digital work, Declan Maguire, Scottish SAIF's second vice president and treasurer, director at Anderson Maguire in Glasgow, and outside of the profession he works as a business consultant.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:33] Declan helped pioneer much of SAIF's use of tools like Slack and Webinars, which continues across National SAIF to this day and has helped support independents to work digitally, more widely over the pandemic. Today, we'll be discussing those efforts and how different funeral directors are approaching digital tools.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:56] So, Declan, nice to see you again. How are you?

Declan Maguire [00:00:59] I'm well, thank you, Malcolm. It's great to join you on one of your famous podcasts.

Malcolm Flanders [00:01:04] Excellent. Good man. That's a good start, thank you. OK, Declan, let's get straight down to it, and let's start with the the pandemic. In the early days, how did you first get involved with supporting SAIF members with digital communications? Did you spot how important they were about to become or did it grow organically?

Declan Maguire [00:01:24] Well, Malcolm, I think there was an organic move towards technology for many years within the profession. And I suppose if we look back 10 or maybe even five years ago, we've seen significant improvements in both generic software options, but also the funeral operations software that's available. So I think gradually there has been an increasing use of digital technology. But obviously with the pandemic, it became clear to SAIF Scotland Executive early on that we needed to find a way to communicate with each other quickly, to discuss and decide how we were going to address this evolving and fairly unknown situation. Now, I've used Slack for many years in business development, and it seemed like a good fit for us. So we took it on as a trial for a few weeks and it was clear after that time it was working for us, and so it was something we thought "it's time to roll this out to the members."

Malcolm Flanders [00:02:22] Right, and I'm interested just in the initial reaction from the Scottish SAIF members when you started to roll this out. How challenging was that?

Declan Maguire [00:02:31] I think people took it up well. I think at the time we were, all of us, we were all starved for information. And I think as well, we may not have known at the time, but we appreciated the contact with other members, and knowing what they were doing. Because things like PPE at the time were becoming scarce. So it was always good to learn what other people are doing, where they were going.

Declan Maguire [00:02:55] So when we brought this forward, our opening step was to release an email to say, "this is now available, follow the steps, and if you need help, jump on the phone." There was a phenomenal uptake and I was genuinely surprised how quickly people logged in, downloaded the app and started communicating. So, it was fairly quick. And before we knew it, I think within about four weeks, 80% of the membership, which was which was phenomenal. And that allowed us to communicate with the members, but I think more importantly, allowed members to feedback straight away to us and then communicate with each other. So it became a kind of a fully rounded network.

Malcolm Flanders [00:03:40] So, one year on, how do you think the funeral profession is actually doing then? In the main, I mean, you're seeing funeral directors are comfortable with these tools and is there a lot of variety in how people are actually using them?

Declan Maguire [00:03:54] Yes, it's a great question. I would say so, yes. I think in any profession or any sector, you will have a percentage of people who are fairly tech savvy. You will have those who need a little bit of a hand just to get going. But there will also be people who might not be engaged with social media or any particular software solutions, and we need to give them a bit more guidance and a bit more support to get there. I will say that the overwhelming majority have taken it up and run with it, even with a little assistance. But you're still going to find some people who need a bit of time. And that's why we thought the Webinars were a great idea, because it's something that they could watch, they could play back and they could, you know, work with the software as they viewed it. So it seemed like a very good solution.

Malcolm Flanders [00:04:41] Yeah. And I've been on a couple of those Webinars, I agree, they're very helpful, actually. And just out of interest, on that point around how well it's sort of been adopted now, I guess within individual businesses, you might have different generations who are more used to using it. And I guess it's about the whole team?

Declan Maguire [00:05:00] It is. It is and actually one of the things, the outcomes from this, as we rolled Slack out nationally, we started in Scotland and then it moved to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, we made sure that there was an availability of support there for them. And so often we would receive a phone call from a member to ask for help. And it was interesting to see and to experience the different generational perceptions of the software trust levels. But I was pleasantly surprised at how many people who you would not immediately assume would be fully engaged with it, were posting within the first five minutes of joining, which is absolutely fantastic. And that's what it's there for, is for them to engage with SAIF and to engage with the business centre and other members.

Declan Maguire [00:05:49] So it was interesting, but I think further to that, there were numerous occasions where I was quite taken aback by companies who had taken Slack, for example, as one of the solutions and fully integrated it into their business. So this was something that they were now utilising to communicate with their own staff. They may have a staff member in a private ambulance who know how Slack so they can receive instructions digitally, and then they have people in the branches, so there's probably a reduction in duplication in the workload, and an increase in efficiency as well. So I was delighted to see a lot of members now using it within their own businesses, as well as some of the other solutions we've demonstrated on the Webinars.

Malcolm Flanders [00:06:34] Right. That's really good news. Great. Thanks. OK, so if we think about best practise, what sort of changes have you helped with specifically and witnessed in practise get introduced to funeral director businesses.

Declan Maguire [00:06:49] I think, and probably starting with the software that we've demonstrated on the Webinars,  probably Trello is one of the best examples of this. So we did a Webinar with Trello, and I think the option we showed was how can you use Trello, which is kind of a productivity tool, it's almost like an index card list, but it's digital. So it can sit on all of your staff's mobile phones or tablets or PCs. And it's the central point of organisation for everyone that they can contribute to. And I think the option we demonstrated was how to use Trello was a mortuary book.

Malcolm Flanders [00:07:27] I remember that.

Declan Maguire [00:07:28] And I thought that was quite a creative approach and it would open people's minds to its use. But what I noticed was members were actually taking it two or three steps further. And we've now seen the staff rostering being used. I think there was one last week, it was ashes management was being run entirely off Trello within a member's business, which was amazing. And I did ask, can we demonstrate this, using what you've done? Because what we try to do is just show them an example of what it can be used for. And if they want to take it further than that is absolutely fantastic. And that's the entire point of the webinar. So I think that was a great one.

Declan Maguire [00:08:05] Probably another one we've looked at in the past is Typeform. It's an online form that you can use for customer surveys. And that is increasingly important as we move forward, it's really valuable to get feedback on your business and find out what you do well and what you could improve on. And I've seen so many wonderful examples of Typefrom being used within companies to find out what they're doing, but also internally with their own staff, to ask their staff "what could we do better as a business?" So it works on two levels. So I think that was just two examples of some of the benefits that we've seen within businesses.

Malcolm Flanders [00:08:43] And they're great example. Thanks. And actually, just just thinking aloud, as you were talking there, I was wondering, if a particular business that you've either met or you've helped has an issue or a question, are they still getting in touch with you or is there a different way of getting that support?

Declan Maguire [00:08:59] Yes, they can they can reach us on Slack or they can contact the business centre, and we'd be happy to to get in touch and and talk them through it. And yes, they are still getting in touch. We launched two Slack channels for funeral businesses last week, which was very exciting. So it's great to see that they're continuing to adopt these solutions, some months after we held the Webinar. So it's great.

Malcolm Flanders [00:09:23] Good stuff. Thank you. OK, as we know, regulation's a big topic at the moment. So as we approach it, customers are rightly at the front of the regulators minds. Now, do you think digital options help you do the right thing for families? And are there any changes that have been, particularly family led that you've observed?

Declan Maguire [00:09:44] Yes, a good question. I mean, I think under regulation, and we're still at the consultation phase, so we don't know the exact detail of where things are going to go, but we know roughly, there will be a need for transparency of process. There's no doubt about that. And we have to record the steps that we take when we engage with families. So I think digital can assist with this, but ultimately we are face-to-face business. That's where our strengths are and that's where we shine the most. It's about finding the right way to maintain, and show that quality, but also integrate digital recording into our processes as well. So there will be options there.

Declan Maguire [00:10:23] As for family led, I think we'll see that over time. I think that we have almost through the pandemic, we've been forced into a situation where we have to utilise the telephone much more, for making arrangements. But Zoom and the Microsoft Teams are the options to engage with families. As we come out of that, we'll begin to see that return to a face-to-face scenario, but again, there may be some learnings that we've had along the way, where digital can probably address some issues around consent, where we have to most likely record consent for at need  or pre need, and digital can help with that because it's a good way to record that somebody has said yes to taking an action or providing a service.

Malcolm Flanders [00:11:07] OK, great, thanks. So let's look forward now, and let's hope things start to ease in terms of lockdown, but do you have specific next steps in mind? I guess, is the priority to get funeral directors more consistently comfortable with their digital options, for example, or do you have specific tools you think are worth focussing on?

Declan Maguire [00:11:30] I think our priority for the moment is obviously to continue our Slack rollout. And I think, much like what will the demand for digital as we move forward with regulation, as we come out of Covid, I think it will be interesting to see what's retained. But I would say, probably one of the biggest catalysts for the Webinar series has been funeral directors posting questions to us and asking for solutions. And there's a couple of members in particular who are remarkably creative at coming up with puzzles for us to solve with software. And that has actually helped us probably understand a little bit more about the different needs from different companies, and then address them through the Webinar. So I think our priority first, get Slack rolled out fully, but then, you know, as we go, we'll continue to ask people, "what do you need? What can we help you with?" And then provide a solution for them.

Malcolm Flanders [00:12:29] Great. That's very clear. Thank you. OK, finally, last question. So what changes that you have seen in the last 12 months as a result of the pandemic, do you think, are going to remain in place because they're transformative to the way we were used to doing things?

Declan Maguire [00:12:45] I think there's one big one, and I think that's online death registration. It's been an amazing thing to have seen put in place so quickly, when I think for some time I've often felt it should already be in place. It's now there and it's working. It's good for families, is good for funeral directors. It makes a lot of sense. So I'd say for now the big one, online death registration has been a fantastic innovation and we very much hope that it stays in place.

Malcolm Flanders [00:13:13] Fantastic. OK Dec, well, on that note, thank you ever so much. Brilliant insights and wish you well over the next few months as you continue on this journey. Thank you very much.

Declan Maguire [00:13:25] Thank you, Malcolm.

Malcolm Flanders [00:13:31] Thank you for listening to another Partnership Podcast. You can find out more about SAIF's digital worker info at and Golden Charter's digital dupport by contacting me at You can also contact me about the podcast if there's anything you would like to hear about or get involved yourself. And remember, our entire archive of over 20 episodes is at Where we've looked at the evolving role of digital technology several times over the past year. Until next time. Thanks again. And I'll talk to you again on the Partnership Podcast.