I learned about public relations from college, but the skills I developed working at Subway Sandwich as a Sandwich Artist are what makes me a good church communicator. Learning the ins and outs of customer service in the sometimes gross, unforgiving environment of a fast food joint made me learn how to craft a message, how to be nice under pressure, the importance of flexibility and how to deal with a wide variety of people at different times in their lives.
As much as people would like to deny it, church is like a business. New people, particularly non-Christians, evaluate and judge churches as they would a new business. Businesses know what’s important to their customers and emphasize understanding of their customers’ total experience to get the results they need. That experience is defined by customer service. “Nine in ten Americans say customer service plays an important role in their decision to do business with a company,” according to a PRSA article about the AmEx study. As church communicators, it’s important that we keep this in our mind as we not only figure out how to keep newcomers coming back, but also in dealing with our volunteers.
People come in the sanctuary doors at various times in their life and walks with God. At Subway, we mainly got people on their way to school, coming home from a hard day’s work, or taking a lunch break with a friend. On a regular basis, though, we also got people on their way home from a funeral, in the middle of a break-up, or people who are counting pennies to see what they can eat that day, mentally disabled, or even drunk. People are emotional and upset, and you are just there to do your job. But still you learn when to speak softly and non-intrusively, when to be loud and clear, when to be chatty, and when to have someone by a phone if they need to call the police.
Church communicators often miss this point. People are walking through our doors and we’re focused only on telling them about whatever event or ministry we need to. We get stuck in the same mindset: we’re only there to do our job.
As Kem Meyer points out in Less Clutter. Less Noise, it’s important we prepare ourselves, our volunteers, and our greeters to properly handle the wide variety of “customers” that our churches have, in their many emotional states, so that they can walk away with a positive view of our churches.
The art of turning a negative into a positive is one the most important customer service skills to learn. Learning how to listen to these problems (whether someone picking apart the church, or their bad experience with someone on staff), then turn a negative into a positive can be the difference between someone walking out of church having a good experience versus a bad one. At Subway, I once got a sandwich thrown at my head because it had onions (for the record, I asked him specifically if he wanted onions, and he had said yes…not my fault that he was on the phone when I asked). At church, you won’t get mustard in your hair, but the stakes are greater. Someone who walks out of a church feeling like they had a horrible experience may never walk back into a church again in their life.
The key to turning the negative into a positive is redirection. Misdirection is a magician’s trick. We’re not trying to trick anyone, but rather re-focusing someone on an answer to their problem, another option or on something that may interest them.
“We are out of turkey, but I personally recommend you try the chicken teriyaki with whatever you usually put with turkey. I personally have gotten addicted to the substitution. It’s amazing.”
“No, we are not strong in our missions, but we are doing a lot in the anti-human trafficking movement.”
“You don’t have a place to sit? I apologize, we’ve been swamped with the lunch rush. If you can please hang on for another minute, I will be happy to clear a table for you, after I am done making this gentleman’s sandwich.”
“I’m sorry you didn’t like today’s sermon, would you like a cd of one of our past sermons to get a better idea of what we are like overall?”
“You didn’t like the southwest sauce? It can be a little strong. I suggest you try the honey mustard. It’s creamy and yummy, but without the spice of the southwest sauce. Here, try a sample!”
“The sound was too loud? We’re still working the kinks out. But our lead singer is amazing, huh? Would you like to meet her?”
Placing an importance on customer service not only turns bad experiences good, but as Kem Meyer says, “The number one way to get the word out about any organization is through the words and actions of the people in the organization. Every person in your church is like a walking billboard. How they act, work, talk, respond and treat people represents you and leaves a lasting impression on others.”
I advocate engagement and outreach over public relations and media coverage. I came to my church because I felt a community in the people there. We had regulars coming back to Subway because we developed friendships with them, and knew everything from their favorite order to how many kids they had.
Customer service may seem like a corporate tool that is about sales. We need to redefine how we think of customer service: it’s being a good host, being a good friend, and being a good Christian to the people that walk through the sanctuary doors.
“It doesn’t matter if your music is great. Or, if you’ve got fantastic design skills. Or, if your pastor is the most intelligent person on the planet. If your customer service is average or bad, your church is replaceable.” –Kem Meyer, Less Clutter. Less Noise.
1) How seriously does your church take customer service?
2) When is the last time you had an honest discussion with someone who was new about their experience?
3) What are some good resources you have found to help people (and your church) understand or learn about how be better at customer service?
4) Any creative ways you have come up with to teach your volunteers these skills?