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November 21, 2023

The Lost Art of Customer Service: A Business and Ministry Approach to Excellence

By: John Poundstone

Three days ago a dear friend posted this on social media:

“Tell me why businesses don’t respond to calls, or [do] send two-word responses to inquiries, or act like you, a potential customer, are annoying them? Do they not want business? I’m confused. Help a sister out.  Make it make sense.”

Customer Service Culture

Our friend is not mean-spirited. Surprisingly, neither were the comments left on the post—they offered explanations. Indeed, the times, culture, values and business culture have shifted. It got me thinking: What a massive opportunity! I’ll come at this first from a business standpoint.

Years ago the business I led invested heavily in the upside-down idea of hiring, training, supporting, highly paying and rewarding our customer-facing staff. I would do it even more so now. Why?

  • Market differentiation: We achieved it not because we claimed it, promoted it or branded it, but because we truly were different. Our customer service both on the front end and the back end of each engagement was truly beyond the ordinary. We invested heavily in it.
  • Stakeholder morale: Over time, our customers, vendors, regulators, etc., came to relish interacting with us. Our customer-contact staff looked forward to coming to work (even drove when winter said they shouldn’t have, etc.). This drove stories and testimonials. That upped everyone’s chins. What a difference that would make now.
  • Brand equity, stakeholder loyalty and retention: It’s important to note that we were in a high-stakes, super-high-pressure, ridiculously fast-paced and ultra-competitive business landscape. Our high-touch, personalized business practices drove a pronounced competitive edge. Stakeholders’ experience counted! Relational capital turned out to be immeasurably valuable.
  • Margin generation and protection: Ours was a service business. Profit margin is critical in that space. Due to the factors listed above, margin pressures were incredibly strong. We got to the place where we could assert our value proposition was worth it because we delivered on what we said we would do. If that were the apex of a pyramid, the base upon which it was built was our customer support ethos and staff.

Customer Service and the Church

Were I still in business, I would do this all over again only even more so. I am not. I now lead a church and other ministries. I interface with churchgoers, pastors and leaders of large and small churches, parachurches, ministries, missions organizations, etc., well-meaning people who assert they are followers of Christ. I have been doing that for several years now. 

As Christians we can and should do better

Please note: The following is NOT a rant at all. It is my own experience. And, I offer a solution**.  When it comes to our friend’s questions, the church and ministry world performs the same or worse. It is appalling how seldom we who are labeled as Christians (especially leaders!):

  • Fully read an e-mail, text, DM, social media comment, etc., or fully listen to a voice-mail message;
  • Acknowledge receiving a message, let alone respond to it, let alone timely, let alone appropriately;
  • Say what we mean and mean what we say;
  • Show simple courtesy, let alone professionalism, let alone genuine care, compassion and due consideration.

WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY! Couldn’t we become the exception? It requires no money, no new infrastructure, not one additional thing. It only needs a shift in attitude toward the very one-anotherness to which Jesus and myriad scriptures call us. Moreover, the bar is so low, it is beyond easy to excel. 

Let's make common courtesy common again

Common courtesy is incredibly uncommon. Let’s make the even more uncommon Jesus-following ways common. Simply start to do the opposite of the bullet points above. Decide to make it a high priority. Here are some all-important steps.

  1. SLOW DOWN. Slow down your brain. Slow down your driving. Slow down your schedule. Slow down your decision-making. If you first response is, “I can’t do that”, question it! It’s a huge indicator you may need to do it.
    When it comes to others, slow down your initial conclusions. Slow down your first response. Literally place the other person(s) in your mind, her/his/their situation, and their likely perspectives, challenges and needs.
  2. LISTEN. Listen for what they, or their message, is saying, instead of jumping ahead to your response. Just listen, for the sake of listening. Listen, too, for Holy Spirit’s conclusions and direction.
  3. DECIDE. A) What your best response should be, and B) How: screen to screen, voice text, phone call, video chat, in person, etc.
  4. ACT. Follow through. Timely—don’t wait or rationalize putting it off. And if you cannot or should not respond right away, please at least acknowledge you heard from them and give them a day and time by which you will respond fully.

Do it all to His glory

Do it for Jesus, as His agent and His ambassador, to His glory. Begin today. With the very next interaction, phone call, e-mail, text, DM, voice-mail message or social media interaction you receive. You will be SO glad you did. Far more importantly, so will Abba, your Father.

** If you would like to know how the bullet and points and business terminology above translate and transfer to the “church world”, reach out to me. Here’s a hint. Jesus invented them and scripture prescribes them.

Article written by John Poundstone

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