Church Customer Service

I’m not talking about catering to the traditionalist who want to put more emphasis on what the church sign says than on reaching unsaved people for Christ. Just completely block that thought process out of your mind for a minute and think about what kind of experience the people you WANT to stay at your church are having. I’ll never tell what church(es) I’m talking about and don’t assume I’m talking all about NewSpring because I’m not. I’ve been to a ton of churches growing up a preachers kid. No church is perfect. There is always something that can be done better.

We all remember what the customer service is like when we go to a place of business – especially if it is bad. Well what about churches? Should they be concerned with customer service in some way? Of course! Exactly how is a challenge most churches are failing to meet but before a church can focus on that they need to identify all the customer groups they might be trying to serve.

Some of my jobs through the years have taught me that a customer is not always the people we’re trying to sell something to. It could be the department in the next office who is counting on me to perform my job so that they can do their job, such as an accounting department expecting reports from other departments. A better example might be the human resources department. The customers for a company’s HR department would be all the employees in the company who are counting on the HR people to take care of their HR needs. It would be expected that if the HR department does a poor job of customer service there will be a bunch of unhappy employees in the company.

For a church staff the customers would be more than just the regular attenders or the first time visitors. On a large church staff there are certainly particular staff positions that depend on others (like customers) to do their job (provide a service) effectively. Other customers for church staff invlolve the volunteers. The general attenders are customers to the volunteers of course. But even bigger than that the general attenders AND volunteers are customers of the staff.

Have you ever been to a place of business where you’re a regular customer and the owner knows you so you get preferential treatment? We probably all have. What about the opposite? Have you ever been a regular customer to a business that only gives good service to new customers but once they’ve “got you” the service is bad – sometimes rude and arrogant? Sure you have. If you have cable or a mobile phone you’ve experienced 2nd rate service despite being a loyal customer – or am I the only one who dreads calling those companies.

In church it works the same way. If you’ve spent any time at all in church you’ve seen the staff person who is so familiar with the regular attenders that they walk right past you without so much as a head nod so that they can go pay attention to the new visitor. It’s great to offer great service to new visitors (customers) but should the regulars at church be treated like cable customers? The opposite would be detrimental to churches too – treating the new visitors like outsiders who aren’t welcome because the regular attenders (repeat customers) get the preferential treatment.

I’ve got a good business illustration for how church staff can come across to their volunteers too. I’m a regular cable internet and mobile phone customer and any time I have to call those companies I get the same frustrating experience every time. They’re busy and they’re less than thrilled about having to troubleshoot the technical problem or they aren’t flexible to help you with something that isn’t an every day situation. But they still send me junk mail every week wanting me to buy more stuff from them. That’s kinda like the church staff person who is always unpleasant because there aren’t enough volunteers or the volunteers aren’t doing enough for them or the volunteers are showing up late, etc. But they continue to ask the same volunteers to subscribe to more volunteering despite the unpleasant experience. Eventually the volunteers get burnt out. If you read the links I linked to on Tony Morgan’s blog recently you read the wisdom of a very successful pastor on this subject – Ed Young.

(Side note – There are extreme cases in everything just like the legalistic traditionalist who has a butt mold on “their pew”. I’ve seen situations where it seemed like church staff were snotty to everyone like they have elite status being on staff or something. I’ve also seen volunteers that are almost leaches because they’re too eager to serve or they’re trying too hard to get in on the elite staff status or something, but all that’s a different subject. The point is there are always certain people attending church, working at church, or volunteering at church that screw things up).

So how does a church perfect their customer service to give the best experience to the people they want to attract and keep? I didn’t claim to have all the answers but from what I’ve seen I think it is a balancing act. For example – I’ve seen some churches do a good job just greeting everyone while others do a good job with the brief “shake hands with everyone around you” kind of thing during a service so that regulars and visitors alike experience welcomeness (I’ve also seen churches fail miserably at both approaches). Likewise, I’ve seen some churches do a great job incentivizing volunteers while others might be better at giving them purpose and inspiration. Every church has its own unique balance of what works and doesn’t to successfully serve their ‘customers’. Referring to Ed Young’s advice again – he mentioned using variety. Mix it up and keep it fresh.

Visitors aren’t coming back? Maybe the regulars or volunteers are being too clicky and the visitors don’t feel welcome. Can’t get the volunteer effort needed? Give them more than coffee and donuts as an incentive, or do more than beg and complain to encourage more participation. Knowing and understanding the balance is the first and most difficult task and after that it has to be monitored and adjusted to keep it in balance. That’s customer service, and it can apply in everything we do – including church.

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