Sunday, September 6, 2009

Customer Service

Are church's in the business of customer service? People show up with the expectation of getting something. If they are a paying customer is the expectation higher?

I was in a store this last week shopping with my husband. Hundreds of people crowded the isles of this busy Labor Day weekend. Sales personal scurrying about to assist and help the customers, and I even heard one salesman say this..."thanks for coming in today, it's kind of busy and crazy but I would love to serve you." I watched the lady smile, take a seat, and wait. When was the last time I heard a church employee say something like this? I stood there as I waited on my husband as he decided if the belt on sale was a good quality. I pondered the exchange between the sales person and the customer and realized the internal struggles I have with the church in general. No particular church, but just years of growing up and around church.

When I go to a store, there is the expectation of some kind of service, even if I am not buying today there is still that expectation. You get what you pay for. A big box discount store is going to offer a better price, less service, and you are kind of on your own. And on most days the general public gets it. A smaller store is going to be able to offer a little better service, more one on one care and the customer can leave with the hope of a better product or service. Except if you are shopping in a bigger store like Macy's or Nordstroms. Places where you may pay a little extra and truly get the service and attention. Is it wrong for a person to expect some attention? Is it wrong for a person to expect some care? In a store we think not. We are giving them our business, we want a decent product and the mindset is that we are to be served. The employee is making an income and wants to build their sales, their business so there is the incentive to offer the best kind of service possible.

Why is church so different? We pay the pastor's and the church, large or small may have a staff in which they pay. Are church's not training the employees in the area of customer service. Even if they are not buying today, or even donating (in the way of tithe or volunteering) to the cause of building the business, or in this case building God's Kingdom?

I had a pretty remarkable business for the better part of ten years. In that time I had a staff of about 12 employees who worked for me longer than five years. After five years the structure of that business changed, customer's were not as happy and staff turned over regularly. Our original mission statement was to treat the $5.00 customer just like the $5,000.00 customer. Take time to ask your customer questions about themselves. Learn about your customer, so you know how to serve them better. My $7.50 an hour employees treated my customer's the same way that my $15.50 an hour employees did. I learned something very valuable is that people want to be known and cared for. Even if my employee making the lower hourly rate could produce sales and a customer base as the same as the higher paid employee the reality is that each employee even in the middle of the pay scale learned the value of serving customers. Meeting them where they were at, returning phone calls, answering questions and serving. When new management came in with more experience in sales and about 15 years older than me our statement changed over night. It went pretty much like this "you can't please everyone so why try". Employees were held to very little accountability towards the customer, phone calls took longer to return and I had to hire a customer service person just to answer the phone for upset customers. Sales were dramatically compromised. Within a year and half and the turn of over 72 employees in that time, which is very costly for a company, I went back to the old standards of running business. Once again, employees were staying longer, customers were feeling cared for and we no longer needed to have that person sitting at a desk just to answer those frustrating customer calls. Amazingly sales began to climb. A very costly learning experience for me as a business owner, but very rewarding to know that the Bible was the better source for running a business than the experience of another who did not really understand the heart of Jesus and His service to others.

Back to my original question. Are church's in the business of customer service? Are the church people recognizing their job? It's value to the customer's who come in or do we say..."we are not responsible". I get the feeling, through observation and through my own volunteering that we can show up, do the job that needs to get done and leave. Calls or emails are not returned because really people I am not your keeper and God has to show you the way not me, or the person who is on the payroll. So what happens next is the tithe-er pulls their contributions because they are not being served so well. They are thought to be kind of weird, or not so eloquent socially. I stand back and watch this often. Or someone is on the payroll of the church and that position does not require the service of people as a singular project, but to serve the people as a whole.

Could you imagine a sales person at Macy's standing on the counter and saying something like "attention Macy shoppers, I am here to show you the best way to shop the store. Open your catalog if you have it, take some notes, and then you are on your own." And then when you have questions, the sales person's hand goes up to pause you, and you are not even able to get a question in, as it's just not in the job description. It is sad that most people get more love and service from a store than they do in a church.

I may get into some trouble with some of you reading this. As Christians we like to use the phrase..."oh but I am not perfect" or "we are not perfect" so that excuses the behavior. Avoiding a customer and not helping in a store means you lose your job. So what excuse do any of us really have if our intentions and hearts are to serve. What motivates us to service without the excuse of "well I am not so perfect". Dear me none of us are perfect so we all need to get over that statement all together.

I have watched the church people staffers pull away, dodge out back or side doors to avoid the crowds. I have heard these same people say things like "it is not my responsibility to carry this person along" and yet what was the heart of Jesus. To serve, to meet people where they are at. Jesus, in the Bible asks many questions and answers many questions. He wants to know who just touched his garment. The crowd would box him in for the times he served the mass's and even He did take breaks from the crowd, much like a lunch room in a building he did get away, but when he was back on the sales floor He was serving. Maybe His sales floor was a dirt road and what He was selling was Living Water, New Life and well at the end of the day...more people would come. He could not do it alone and serve the people so he brought the Twelve around Him to help out. I think Jesus was 100% in the business of customer service.

My husband and I are paying customers. We tithe, and we give to those whom we see giving out some true Jesus kind of customer service. So as I ponder these things I am reminded of this:

Philippians 2:1-5

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and in purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."

This may sound kind of silly for some, but this was the verse I clung to when running my business. Did I do it right every single day? No, but my intentions were truly to do my best and God blessed that business and my life in ways that would take an entire book to write. I don't think it matters if we are a church, a store, a life to live. We are called to serve as Jesus did. I think, in our imperfections if our intentions are going in the direction of serving God gives so much mercy and grace for the bumbles.

Thanks Jesus for being my example to walk along that dirt road with you selling the most amazing of all...God Himself.


  1. Amen, Amen, and Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Elizabeth,
    I loved this post. We had some experience in Kalispell last year when we moved here & were looking for a church. We want to be taught the word of God from 1 version of the bible, not 5 different translations. My husband went to many of the churches websites & sent emails to the pastors asking 2 questions: 1) which version of the bible do you preach from 2) do you teach topically or expository? Only 1 church wrote back & it was the associate pastor. I called the one church he was most interest in & the pastor called us back & then also came to our house to meet us.

    I do expect a pastor, of all people, to call us back or email us back when we ask a question. I do not like being ignored! If I want to attend a church where I am being taught the TRUTH, I want an answer before I show up. Otherwise, it doesn't really matter where we go.

    I think many of us expect to be entertained for a couple of hours on Sundays. I think we forget that we also have be the one's to provide service to those around us. We have to come to church expecting to give also, not just to take.


  3. Just wanted to stop and tell you thanks for visiting my blog...feel free to come back :)


  4. Hi, Liz. You know I'm not a very religious person. When I met my husband, Chip he told me that religion was very important to him especially after losing his father to cancer. I told him that if we were to go to church together, it would have to be the Catholic church since that was what I was comfortable with. Since then (11 years ago) we have gone to the same church we were married in. Your article makes me think you see "church" as a business. Ironic. I see it differently. We see all walks of life at Queen of Peace Catholic church and not once have I thought that those who contribute more money to the church get treated differently. In fact, how would anyone ever know how much had been contributed by a single parishioner unless he or she worked in the accounting office? Chip and I are not the best when it comes to going to church every Sunday, but feel proud that we can contribute monetarily when we do go. I have never even thought about equating my experiences with the church with the amount of money we contributed - what a bizarre interpretation. We always feel welcome (sometimes a little guilty for not going more often) but never like we need to give them more money to get treated differently. I'm confused, Liz . . . your church must really focus on money. For that reason, I'm sad. It should be a place - different from a store front - where you can feel welcomed regardless of the amount of money you can contribute. It surprises me that anyone in your church knows how much you contribute on a regular basis. Too bad for them. I prefer not to know.

  5. Wow, lots of emails on this one. What is most ineresting is that each question I have received on this post differs from the next. The question of being where did this come from, as far as my heart goes. Was there a personal incident with me? No Is this about tithing and knowing who gives what and how that amount differs from one being treated? No

    Customer Service, in a business, is what keeps the customer coming back. Our culture has so much change, coming in and out of the Christian church that it baffles me. Interesting enough the Catholic Church has so little change, long term attenders and even longer leaders. My husband and I both recognize that having friends from the Catholic church. It's the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you...or is it He who has the Gold rules.

  6. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us concerning your church and business experience. I am sorry that some of your experiences in church have not been positive. I have been a pastor at a church for 7 years and, for the last 6 months, have worked out of the church while still serving in various aspects. I have been on both sides...a paid pastor of a church and a lay member of a church.
    I must admit, pastoring is very difficult. Many complaints, questions, and suggestions came across my desk in various ways throughout my time in full-time ministry. Trying to distinguish which ones to get to was tiring in and of it self. Honestly, I didn't respond to everyone because, if I did, it would have taken away time from what I determined was more important. Jesus answered the questions and dealt with the concerns that related to collectors, prostitutes, leppers, etc. However, he often rebuked the matters of the religious Pharisees. He probably felt that they should be more mature and their issues were more minimal compared to those dying and going to Hell everyday.
    I have determined, after being a paid pastor and a volunteer helper that there are 3 kinds of church members. 1. Victims - people who feel that the church has hurt them in some way so they feel justified to hurt it back. 2. Consumers - because they serve, give, and tithe they feel that the church owes them something in return. i.e. answers to their questions, etc. 3. Servants - people who know they are nothing, but an instrument of God and desire to help their church the best they can without receiving anything in return.
    Obviously, you're right, Jesus served like no other. However, he hasn't called just Pastors to serve, but every mature person in the church. He also asks us to do everything without complaining or arguing.
    You're also right in suggesting that the church isn't perfect, this includes pastors, janitors, secretaries, programs, song selection, members, etc. I believe this is a reason so many young people are leaving the church. Not because they expect perfection from the church, but because mature believers complain that it is not, instead of doing something to improve it.
    I actually believe that God has placed a Holy discontent inside of you. There are many examples in scripture of people who were called to fix something that they didn't like. I suggest being an advocate in your church for customer service. Maybe we all need to do a better job. When people walk in the doors, let's all be the first person to greet them and to make them feel special. I believe that your business success has prepared you to be a great customer service rep in your church.
    I can't wait to hear about how you are making a difference in your local church despite any affirmation, or lack there of that you may receive.


  7. Ryan, Wow, thanks for taking time to thougtfully share your heart. First I want to say that our church is a wonderful place of worship, but even more so service. I have learned so much by watching and observing. Service lead by the amazing staff and pastors who truly serve the people and are working to bring more people into training to serve even more. One thing I am by nature is a serving kind of gal and do so, encourage my children to do so, and lead by example. I don't ask for anything in return, know that as long as I am serving without compromising my family God can use me for His Kingdom. Often doing jobs that I chuckle at because as of late a lot of my time is in the kitchen of our church. I do it joyfully, love the people, but the last place for me since I feed a lot around my house is the kitchen. It's where the need is great and I am blessed by coming alongside and helping out.

    You have maturity and experience in your words and you understand the Bible. My heart writes from a perspective of those who are new to church, to what it means to know Jesus, and what is going to keep them coming back to learn more. I don't think a new person, new to Christianity can fall under a.b. or c. if they are not even sure how a church works.

    A friend who wanted to explore the Christian faith wanted to visit my church and asked if she needed to call and R.S.V.P. God started tapping on her heart and she found a place to call her home church. All good, but what happens next with the younger in spirit and in heart. I know the a.b. and c.'s and I think I even complained about paint color once.

    My discontent comes from being an older mom, with five kids and being around a lot of families who have walked away from church. My husband is mature, not needy, signs a check each month and attends church regularly. He is not in a place to be serving and allows me the time away from home to serve. Very few people know him, nor come up to him and shake his hand. He gives no one a real chance in that he dashes out to collect three little boys and off we go. He takes no offense, but then he's a mature soul. He is blessed as he sits back and watches. What about those who are not so mature in their walk? Who can walk a mall, and have happy people ready to serve. Crazy as it all may sound is that the gauge of service our society is use to?

    Thanks for your comment and to those who have emailed me on this one. Me thinks I opened a can of worms or something. Perhaps it just gets us thinking, asking ourselves some questions.

  8. Elizabeth,
    Our church has seen this happen time and time again. The new, seaking out a church. They may come once but if they find no connection will move on. Which is fine if they continue to seek out a church where they are connected to the body of Christ. Some don't. Our Pastor headed a welcoming team. It was members that felt called to serve in this area and provide a friendly face, information,follow up and prayer. I know the first person that greated me when I walked through the doors of our church nearly 10 years ago. We became fast friends but while searching for a new church we went to many that did not even so much as say hello as we came in or goodbye as we left. It was so alienating. I don't expect a lot but many are seaking or hurting that walk through the doors. You never know how you can be like Jesus if you just keep walking by. For the record, my husband is just like yours. He takes on the responsibility of herding kids and keeping them safe while others visit or pray. It is actually a blessing that I didn't always see. Thanks for sharing your heart on this matter. Sometimes worms need to come out of their cans. :)

  9. my job too tests my patience...well how do you feel while working in a telephone answering service...i m sure it will be quite interesting to you........well try something similar to your interest at


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