Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Discussion #4: Churches Need Customer Service

(Before reading this post and jumping in on the conversation, please check out the explanation of the Discussion Series I posted on Read Here First! on July 10, 2007...it will help you understand a little more. Thanks!)

(The following is taken word for word from an article my wife and I recently came acrros in The Herald Sun)

I suggest that churches declare August “Customer Service Month.”

This is the time to train the many people who carry out the critical customer-care functions that have more impact on congregational health than excellence in the pulpit or grandeur of structure.

Like it or not, modern church are like banks and hardware stores. Their “products,” if you will, are commodities; widely available, similar from one vender to the next, set apart mainly by the quality of customer care.

For many years, churches have tried to escape competition by claiming to be the only true expression of God’s truth and desire. That works for some – who wouldn’t want to think oneself superior? – but increasingly, churchgoers are behaving like shoppers who have choices, and they float freely from brand to brand.

Church leaders can bemoan such fickleness and intensify their claims of supremacy. But if they want to have a future as Christian communities, churches need to learn from reality, not denounce it as beneath them.

We could learn from Chase Bank, our family’s new banking home. Like any modern enterprise, Chase has an excellent Web site and up-to-date services. But what sets Chase apart, in my view as a customer, are the highly trained customer service agents posted just inside the front door of every branch.

They do more than say, “Take a seat over there.” They are trained to engage the customer, answer questions, resolve issues, handle transactions and find the right person for further assistance.

Imagine a similar cadre of customer service reps positioned inside the church door. Imagine them trained to do more than hand out a bulletin or point toward a coffee urn. Instead, they would engage both visitor and member and respond appropriately to their different needs.

Imagine another cadre trained to respond to people after worship. Instead of a long line hoping for 10 seconds of the pastor’s time, imagine people trained in the delicate craft of identifying need, helping people talk to each other and gathering information for pastoral follow-up.

The wise enterprise learns that technology does some things well, but not all things. At Chase, I can transfer funds and pay bills in a few mouse clicks. But when it comes to personal questions, I want a live person, not a lazy “Frequently Asked Questions” Web page.

Imagine, then, a church telephone that is answered by a person, not a machine, and a Web site that facilitates certain transactions like paying pledges and posting schedules, but invites personal email inquiries for other needs.

Imagine church procedures that respond to visitors immediately, not after someone happens to recognize them several weeks later, and that provide reliable attention to pastoral cues, rather than depending on the pastor’s memory and networking.

There are trainable skills. Sunday greeters, for example, can be more than nice people wearing “Greeter” badges. They can be trained in the psychodynamics of being a church visitor and of coming to church mid- or post-crisis. The can prepare for questions and unusual circumstances. We ought to take church work as seriously as we take banking. We ought to think through our systems, especially for customer care, and train people to do it right.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest. His Web site is www.morningwalkmedia.com)


MilePost13 said...

Beyond leading our church in worship, our First Impressions Greeting Team is my big ministry passion. Beside the fact that I personally love to meet and talk with our guests each week, I came to the realization a few years ago that a church's greeting team is perhaps the group of people with the most influence on the atmosphere of our Sunday morning worship (which also means that an unfriendly church without any greeting team is going to have some serious struggles).

A friendly smile, a warm handshake and even just a few seconds of getting to know somebody new in an unfamiliar place is usually all it takes to allow a newcomer to feel welcome and to spark a desire for participation in worship before they ever reach their seats in the worship center.

To steal something I read from Louie Giglio, most people "come to church to worship", which means, as a worship leader, I usually would have to spend a significant ammount of time during the worship service helping most people transition into that place of worship. However, my goal is to see people "come worshipping to church", meaning that the 1 hour 15 minutes we spend in corporate worship on Sunday morning is just an extension of the rest of our worship-filled week.

When our greeting team is fulfilling their purpose, they make my job so much easier because they are literally helping people prepare/transition for worship before the service begins...the horses can spend more time drinking at the water hole than being lead (pulled) to it...


Jim Puckett said...

wow Nate - great find!
This has been much talked about - but for all of the church growth seminars and training etc it amazes me how much many churches seem to not go after "new business".
I visited a church one week when I was on a vacation day. No one spoke to me the entire time I was on the property. In fact they had those "pew pads" and I started it for my row. I never got a visitor letter, a phone call, and hand shake - not anything....UNTIL they started a building program about three months later. I got a letter giving me an opportunity to invest in reaching out to the community.
Being a pastor myself - I picked up the phone - called the pastor of the church and said - "Hey, I wasn't going to say anything about my visit - but I think there is something you should know". Where ever their system was flawed (apparently in several places) he was unaware of the situation. We had a good talk and I hung up the phone. I don't know if they improved because, frankly, I never wanted to waste any time going back there on my few precious Sundays I get to visit other places.

In this model - I guess we have to ask ourselves: "Do we really want their business?"

MilePost13 said...

A few thoughts about this article. I think it's good stuff, although I would love to have seen this same topic written about by an unchurched person. It seems that this author is refering to churched people as much as unchurched people when talking about "consumers". While we are friendly to believers who visit our church from other churches (locals and tourists), our target is the unchurched in our community. We're not into sheep stealing. (We've discovered the hard way that church hoppers are very often the most trouble.) I would love to read what an unchurched person has to say about this subject.

Also, as the author is a believer, he also has a scewed opinion about how friendly a church should be. I've heard almost as many comments about a church being "too friendly" as I have about a church not being friendly enough. It's just as easy to scare away an unchurched first-timer with overkill as it is to give them the cold shoulder.

And, related to your post, Jim...we had a pastor comment to our pastor a few weeks ago that "nobody other than your greeting team welcomed me at your church." We always appreciate feedback from our guests, but unfortunately, most of our guests fail to recognize the unique position our church is in. Because wse are located in a resort community, during the summer months more than half of our weekly attendance is made up of 1st-time or once-a-year guests. This means that, once a guest reaches his/her seat and the service begins, there's a good chance that everyone within close proximity to them is also a guest...

Just a few weeks ago a lady called our church to ask about one of our outreach ministries...she introduced herself (and family) on the phone by saying, "We were the visitors." :) We now recognize that most of our guests do not realize that they are the majority, and we are now doing some things during our service to insure that our guests know that they are not alone.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "unchurched?" Are they believers?

MilePost13 said...

(another word for my definitions list...)

By "unchurched" I mean unbelievers, seekers, etc.