Right now our churches are busy preparing for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. We’re working on sermons, bulletins and worship details. It’s the busiest time of the year as far as worship goes.
But what about customer service? Are you also devoting quality time to preparing for visitors? After all, Easter will most likely be our biggest Sunday morning attendance of the year. Certainly, we want the church to look lovely and the sermon to be first-rate, but what often draws visitors back to your church a second time is customer service.
- Have you changed the answering machine and your church web site to include accurate times for all of your special services? Do you have a newspaper ad?
- Will you have extra greeters at every entrance, in the sanctuary, and in the parking lot, all of whom are trained to spot and show hospitality to visitors?
- Do you have people prepared to escort young families to the nursery, which has enough child care workers?
- Will you take special care to make the bulletin visitor-friendly, including the words to the Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology?
- Will you vow not to single out or chide the “C & E” (Christmas and Easter) people in your sermon?
All it takes is one bad experience in church to convince people never to return again. Poor customer service: it’s the bane of our existence, isn’t it?
- After haggling with Sprint for 30 minutes about the phone bill, they finally get it right, but the next month, the same overcharge appears, and you have to call again.
- You sit on the tarmac for 3 hours with no drinks or snacks offered, while the flight attendant informs you every 15 minutes that they’ll be ready to go momentarily.
- You’re on the Amtrak train from Chicago to Holland, and no one adequately communicates why it’s taking you 16 hours instead of 4 hours.
- Your restaurant server is obviously in a funk and makes it clear that you and your friends are a bother. Your food arrives late and cold.
I learned a lot about customer service by working for many summers in my father’s small business. Having to respond at times to customer complaints, I came to understand how frustrating it was when orders were not filled correctly. I attempted to make things right by smiling over the phone, promptly sending the right merchandise and strategizing ways to prevent the same mistake in the future.
I remember my father saying more than once, “The customer is always right.” We all know that the customer is not always right. However, anyone who is offering a service to others must practice certain habits.
- Treat everyone with respect, even if they’re mad at you. Put yourself in the shoes of the people who are upset and inconvenienced about a mistake you made. Be understanding and kind.
- Communicate often and clearly. If you goof, don’t deny, fudge or evade the issue. Apologize and make things right.
- If there is a dispute, give the customer the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes the customer may be the one in error, but if you take the time to listen without judging, you will gain their respect.
- Work toward eliminating as many mistakes as possible so the problem is avoided in the future. This is where many companies fall down: they don’t respond to consumer complaints by changing processes and systems that cause errors.
- Smile! A few weeks ago I asked my hair stylist what his secret was for excellent customer service. He said, “Smile, laugh and make people happy.”
Of course, customer service is of critical importance in the church as well and not only at Easter. What do you do when:
- People are peeved because the church has an automated phone system, and a live person doesn’t answer the phone during business hours. (Find a volunteer with a pleasant voice and a positive attitude to answer the phone.)
- People show up at the wrong time for a worship service because your web site is outdated. (Apologize, then either keep the web site updated or scrap it.)
- A church member’s quarterly giving statement doesn’t jive with their own record of giving. (Make sure the financial secretary takes the necessary time to cheerfully and promptly straighten it out.)
- A non-profit group wants to use your church for a meeting, but they can’t afford the building use fee. (Remember, non-church folks are your customers, too. Bend over backwards to find a way to make it work – one of a church’s best ministries is the hospitality of opening the building to outside groups.)
- A congregation member sends you a letter or email with a complaint. (Reply within a week, if at all possible: everyone appreciates timeliness.)
- A church member is upset about something that happened in the worship service. (Show genuine concern by listening carefully and compassionately and respecting their opinions.)
Here’s the heart of customer service in the church.
1. In the church we don’t serve ourselves. We serve our shareholders, who constitute everyone outside the church. A rule of thumb of good business is “treat your clients as if they were your owners”. If secular businesses can see their clients as their owners, how much more ought we as disciples of Jesus Christ to give ourselves away to our world? That’s what Jesus did on the cross: he offered his very life for us.
2. There is a deep yearning in the hearts of the shareholders who visit our churches during Holy Week and Easter to be part of bringing in God’s kingdom on this earth. They are seeking a transformative worship experience where they will be inspired to use their God-given gifts to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Yes, inspiring preaching and quality worship help. But the key to customer service is caring for people. What will prompt visitors to want to live out their faith through the ministries of your church is your interest, compassion and concern for them. Every person in our churches is called to embody resurrection love by caring about and connecting with our visitors.
How will you keep a primary focus this Easter on serving and caring for your customer shareholders? Let me know how it goes.