Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Practicing Customer Service in Our Churches

"Customer no service" seems to be common these days.

In my "other life" many years ago I was taught that the customer is always right. I knew that wasn't exactly true but the customer was always the customer. And since that was who I was really dependent on for my salary it made sense to me that I should try to please them.

Repeated and ongoing experiences have led me to conclude that the attitude described above is not the norm today. Too often I get the feeling that I am an interruption to a clerk at the department store. I regularly sense that the server at the restaurant wishes that I was not there. The fact that the business I and others bring is why they have jobs does not seem to occur to many people I encounter in my daily routine. I am put on hold when I call a company but I am told over and over during my wait that "Your call is important to us." Really?

Last Thursday within an eight hour period I had two experiences with customer service that exemplified distinctively different attitudes. Lunch at a local restaurant was enhanced by the server. He was personable, knowledgeable, and attentive without being intrusive. He made me and the others with me feel like he was glad that we had stopped by and it was his pleasure to serve us.

My experience later that evening at an electronics store was entirely different from the pleasant one at noon time. Several store employees were very adept at ignoring me when I tried to get help with a purchase. Each one expertly avoided making eye contact with me as I sought answers about their products. Finally after several attempts one sales person came to help (?). Without any interest in offering assistance he simply said, "We're out of that one," and walked away.

As I left the store without making a purchase I expressed my dissatisfaction to one of the managers. Later I realized that I had not been so quick to be sure the manager at the restaurant knew the excellent service I received at lunch. I have since corrected that.

I have been involved in serving people since I was a child. I shined shoes on the streets of Mobile and sold confetti during Mardi Gras in my home town. Later I had paper routes and worked at a produce stand. In high school I went to work with Winn Dixie supermarkets and was a store manager when I left to pursue my education in response to my call to ministry. I worked my way through college in various forms of retail sales. I have been employed by the church for almost 40 years now.

Good "customer service" is essential to any endeavor that deals with people. It is as true in the church as it is in business. Every congregation should examine the way they treat people whether they come to worship or are recipients of other ministries. Every member is a customer service representative with the responsibility to help folks feel welcome when they enter and leave the sanctuary for worship. Serving in the name of Christ at the night shelter or a soup kitchen affords us the privilege of interacting with respect and dignity toward other children of God.

Businesses and churches could benefit from following the counsel of the Apostle Peter. "Practice hospitality... so that in all things God may be praised" (I Peter 4:9-11). These words are as relevant today as they were when they were originally written. And the practice results in repeat customer/visitors.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from Monday Morning in North Georgia, the weekly newsletter of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]