Thursday, July 25, 2013

Church as Telecom Company

I've had several experiences this week that have made me think about customer service, particularly when it pertains to the church.

Those of you who read my blogs know that I'm in the process of moving.  It's a process that has become much more complicated since the last time I moved.  Once, I called the various utilities to let them know, got to the new place, and everything was ready.  This time, I had to pay a deposit at the water department, even though I've been a customer since 1998.  And then, there's the phone and Internet.

I don't want to dwell too much on my unpleasant experiences with AT&T.  I've spent hours on the phone trying to get the move set up, and then, when things went astray, I've spent hours on the phone trying to straighten everything out.  I talked to customer rep after customer rep who couldn't find me in the system.

I finally broke down.  I said, "Really?  I've been your customer since 1987, and you can't find me in your system?"

I thought of all the people who tell us we've been transformed into a service economy.  I am here to tell you that we have work to do.

I kept thinking about church, and the ways that our churches offer customer service--and yes, I realize that it's a mistake in many ways to think in terms of customer service when we think about church.  More on that in a few paragraphs.

I thought about this behemoth of a phone company who still doesn't know who I am.  I think about my current church, who does know who I am.  I think about some of the women in my church who have told me I should call them when I am consumed by worry.  I am still so happy that they made that suggestion.

I think of a church I visited which gave me a visitor name tag, yet not a soul talked to me.  I had a visitor's name tag!  It couldn't have been more clear that I was new.  I stood there, waiting for someone to talk to me, to invite me to the coffee hour, to ask me if I had moved to town or was just on vacation.

Not one soul talked to me.  I felt so lonely and awkward.  I thought back to adolescence.  Do I never get to graduate from high school?

I left that church and never went back.  And I've been so conscious of being welcoming that I sometimes make mistakes in the other direction.  I remember an Easter Sunday breakfast when I sat at a table that had a man eating by himself.  I made conversation and asked if he was new.

He rared back in disbelief and told me he had been going to this church for decades.  I wanted to say, "Well, I've never seen you here before, and I'm here every Sunday."

Luckily, another church member came to my rescue with memories of that man at that church during his childhood.

Obviously, a church is not a telecom company, but I do wonder how often we behave in the way that those big companies behave.

I'm not the first person to observe that most of us want to be known.  We don't want to be a customer lost in the computer.  We don't want to be a visitor whom no one welcomes.

Those of us who have been going to our churches for a long time may have lost sight about how it feels to be the new kid.  I've been a new kid more times than I like to think about, so I'm always looking for the people at the margins, people waiting to be invited to share coffee and then later, to share concerns and worries.

It's what we're called to do.

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