Jan 06, 2022
To all of our friends and clients, we wish you a happy New Year! From all of us here at ASD, we hope you and your loved ones have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2022!
If 2020 was the year to knock us down to our lowest point, 2021 was the year we all began to rebuild the very idea of normal. Like a sandcastle facing the raging tide, this idea had to be reconstructed again and again over the course of the past 12 months. Indeed, we are all still rebuilding it. Many of us can probably recall a specific memory from this year when it became apparent that returning to “business as usual” was not on the horizon for the near future.
The last two years have been extremely difficult and taxing for those who work in deathcare. The pandemic has tested the funeral profession in every conceivable way. Nevertheless, funeral directors have answered the call and risen to the mountain of obstacles this virus has presented. While funeral professionals are rarely acknowledged as essential heroes, your tireless efforts are seen and appreciated by those who understand just how vital your work is for all of humanity. We have had a front row seat and have never been more grateful to be able to serve such a dedicated, service-hearted group of individuals. Thank you for all that you have done this year to help heal the wounds of so many grieving families.
For many funeral professionals across the nation, this year has been a surreal blur. We can certainly understand if you do not look back on 2021 with any great fondness. Dealing with the constantly changing guidelines related to gathering restrictions and mask mandates while trying not to burn out from handling so many cases has caused stress and trauma for all those who work in deathcare. Still, there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful that 2022 will be a better year for everyone.
Take for example what we observed in our call center this past holiday season. In the summer and fall months, we were forecasting a surge in death calls to occur during that time period based on what we dealt with in 2020. We worked tirelessly through those months to prepare for this, growing our workforce, establishing a remote training model and making many updates to our system at large to support this crucial goal. As we approached the end of the year, we observed 15% fewer deaths than at the end of 2020. While the new omicron variant may be more contagious, many studies (as well as ASD’s death call statistics) indicate it is far less deadly than previous variants. We wanted to share this news with you as we feel it offers a compelling reason to feel optimistic for the future.
While we can’t know with any real certainty what 2022 will bring for our profession, we are committed to remaining a reliable partner to funeral homes and have adapted our answering service to fully meet the demands of our current times. Like a lot of companies today, ASD has experienced a lot of ups and downs in 2021 but our response to these challenges has made our company stronger and more resilient. We know that these days it is more difficult than ever to put your faith in others and we understand that being entrusted with your funeral home’s sensitive calls is an enormous responsibility. We want to remain transparent with you about what goes on behind the scenes at ASD to give you peace of mind knowing your communications are in good hands.
One of our biggest goals at the start of this year was to empower our clients with tutorials and learning tools to help them make the most out of their experience using our answering service. Before the pandemic, ASD had plans to offer in-person seminars for funeral homes across the country that focused on our technology solutions. This was to be an extension of the live app demonstrations we present at funeral home association conventions. However, this year we adapted our plans with the understanding that this was no longer a practical approach for our current times. Our focus was to make it as easy as possible for funeral directors to conveniently learn how to use the many different features and tools they have access to as an ASD client.
In early 2021, we began releasing our Quick Tip videos. Each video focused on a different technology solution we created that can help funeral directors to enhance their communications and save time. The videos are all just a few minutes long and provide helpful, step-by-step demonstrations of how to accomplish goals such as replying to your ASD messages, updating your on-call instructions or customizing your notification settings. Click here or on the image above to explore our Quick Tips series and be sure to let us know if there is a topic you would like us to explore in 2022.
In Spring, ASD achieved several important milestones. In early April, ASD’s Web Form WatchDog™ feature was added to 1,000 funeral home websites. With this feature, time-sensitive inquiries submitted through the funeral home’s ‘Contact Us’ form automatically generate an alert within ASD’s notification system. This safety net ensures funeral home web queries are answered in a timely manner and are always sent to the designated on-call funeral director.
ASD achieved another important milestone in May 2021, recording the 10,000th version update to our company’s answering service system. ASD’s Vice President and Family-Member Owner, Marty Czachor Jr., first custom-designed our company’s state-of the-art telephone answering computer system back in the mid-90s. Since that time, it has been updated with numerous enhancements. From the early days of call forwarding, to the addition of the ASD Mobile app integrations and the evolution of our company’s remote capabilities, ASD’s funeral home answering service system, otherwise known as StationMaster (“SM”), has proven to be highly adaptable and customizable. Each version update represents a new stage in the development of ASD’s technical solutions for funeral homes.
Another noteworthy event to take place this past spring was ASD’s participation in an episode of Undertaking the Podcast, a podcast created specifically for the funeral profession. The podcast was focused on what the pandemic has been like from the perspective of our answering service team. Our National Sales Manager, Craig Meehan, provided details on what this experience was like for us here at ASD, from the heartbreaking COVID calls we have handled to the challenges of switching to a remote work force. In the podcast, you’ll also hear the voices of our Call Specialists telling eye-opening stories about their most memorable COVID calls.
The most significant change that occurred this past year at ASD was during the summer months when we transitioned our training program to a fully remote system. Like many companies in 2021, ASD was faced with a staff shortage brought on by a myriad of different factors. In response to this challenge, we made a critical decision to pivot to an entirely remote work force which has allowed us to hire and train employees in states outside of our local area. This shift has helped us to increase our talent pool and we are proud to now employ Call Specialists in more than seven states! Despite a nationwide labor shortage, more than 120 new employees have joined our answering service team since the beginning of the summer.
This major overhaul required an all-hands-on-deck approach with every department at ASD contributing in one way or another. You may have noticed there were very few blogs published on this page over the summer months. That’s because this Staff Writer was assisting with screening job candidates and creating training materials. If you had told me back in May we would be where we are today, fully staffed with small workforces in SC and AL, I never would have believed it. The goal truly seemed insurmountable at the time. However, all of us working together and collaborating to achieve such an important, collective objective for our company has given us all a reason to feel proud this year.
In support of our new work-from-home office model, ASD launched several wellness programs over the summer to help our staff stay healthy. Before the pandemic, ASD used to offer exercise workstations to our staff and we wanted to find a way to continue encouraging healthy exercise habits. To do so, we partnered with Planet Fitness to provide free gym memberships to all our employees. We also partnered with Headspace to offer our staff full access to their collection of guided mediation practices and mindfulness tools. The app and website were created to help users create life-changing habits to support their mental health. Finally, our most recent partnership is with HealthJoy, an employee benefit and healthcare guidance app. These three partnerships empower ASD to better support our growing remote workforce.
To help keep everyone connected and to show our staff how much we appreciate them, ASD held three food truck events in our office parking lot during the summer months. These events were also reunions because many of our employees had not gathered together since before the pandemic. In addition to the delicious food provided by local vendors, our staff enjoyed games and activities also. Many brought their little ones with them to meet everyone.
Each gathering was held at a different time of day, allowing employees from every shift to take part in at least one of our events. We are so grateful for the dedication of our staff and wanted to show our appreciation to everyone for all their hard work. It was wonderful to be able to bring everyone together again and we plan to hold food truck events this year to keep the good times rollin’!
In October, the ASD team traveled to Nashville for the 2021 NFDA Convention and Expo. This long-overdue reunion was truly a highlight of our year because we had greatly missed spending time with our friends and clients in person. We heard so many incredible stories from funeral professionals about how they faced down the challenges of the pandemic. Simply coming together in person to bond over shared experiences was the biggest draw of the convention, but we also enjoyed seeing the latest products in the expo hall and having an opportunity to provide live demonstrations of our technology. We are already looking forward to this year’s convention in Baltimore where ASD will be celebrating our company’s 50th Anniversary.
Speaking of anniversaries, ASD observed another big one this year in late fall. Our app, ASD Mobile turned 10 years old on December 12, 2021. Over the past decade, our mobile app has completely revolutionized communications for funeral professionals nationwide by giving them the freedom to take their communications on the go. Since it was first introduced, ASD Mobile has been downloaded more than 20,000 times and has received over 100 5-star reviews – far exceeding any other mobile app created for the funeral profession. Click here to learn more about how our app has evolved over the past 10 years.
As we look back on 2021, we feel proud of what we have been able to accomplish this year as a company while also remaining vigilant of the impact of COVID on our operations and clients. Our goal is to prepare for any scenario that might come our way. We look forward to working with you in 2022 to provide all solutions you need to protect your funeral home’s communications. We have some innovative features and tools on the horizon, so be on the lookout for exciting news from ASD this year!
Going into 2022, we will continue to pray for an end to this awful pandemic that has overwhelmed funeral professionals, shattered families, and ravaged our world. Wishing you all a safe and happy 2022 as we hope for brighter days ahead.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com