Wal Mart, customer service, and your church

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image credit: CreationSwap user Esther Gibbons

When I think of customer service, I don’t instantly think of Wal Mart.

In fact, when I think of Wal Mart, I think of two things:

Typically, customer service hasn’t jumped out of the aisles to scare me at Wal Mart. Until recently.

I was looking for aluminum baking pans. I went up and down the grocery aisles. Looked at every end cap. Even walked through the milk area twice thinking maybe I’d missed them.

Asking for help

Then I broke a cardinal man-code. I asked for help from a Wal Mart associate. Thinking the pans were somewhere in the grocery section, I asked someone who was working in that section, stocking shelves.

I instantly felt guilty for asking them. They were in the middle of something else, deeply engrossed in unpacking and stocking cans of something. I knew I was a distraction from him accomplishing his job.

“I’m sorry to bother you…really, I know you’re working on something else. But could you point me in the direction of the aluminum baking pans? I can’t find them anywhere. Just point me in the general direction and I’ll get out of your hair.”

I must have had a wince on my face, anticipating a pair of rolling eyes, sharp tone, and general disdain.

But I got none of those. In fact, I got exactly the opposite.

“No bother at all.” she said.  “I am 99% sure I know where they are. Let’s go find them together.”

So the employee walked me across the store, away from the grocery section (I’m dumb…I know), to the home goods aisles, and right to the aluminum baking pans.

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I said.

“No problem at all. Glad to help.” she returned.

I was floored. And felt valued. And I found what I was looking for.

And in the process, my feelings about Wal Mart, which weren’t necessarily negative in the first place, took a drastic turn upwards. Suddenly, this store became a store that valued me, a customer. I may have gone in for the discounts…but I’ll return because of the stellar, friendly, customer-focused customer service.

Customer service and your theology

I began to wonder if we treat people like this on Sunday mornings in our local churches. Especially staff members.

It’s easy to feel like we have more “important things” than helping someone find a different classroom. Or find the welcome desk. Or get information about another ministry. Our role is much “bigger” and more “important” than that…we preach, we lead children’s ministries, and we equip volunteers. We set up hallways, hang banners, and operate the computers. We don’t have time for little things like, “Do you know where the baby dedication happens today?

We quickly forget that, though our roles are important, it’s the people that we’re called to serve that are vital. Creating lasting, memorable experiences is unbelievably important in our churches. The experience someone has on a Sunday morning doesn’t trump the Gospel…it fleshes the Gospel out.

You can help someone have a better, more beautiful picture of Church by the way you serve them, instead of just handing them off or pointing them in another direction. The way you carefully and skillfully and patiently lead guests has lasting impacts on the health of your local church.

The way we treat others reveals our theology.

We serve a God who is infinitely patient and gracious with us. To love others any less is cheapening grace.

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” – Exodus 34:6

Questions:

When guests leave your church, do they feel valued?

When someone needs help, do they feel like they’re a burden on you if they ask?

Have you ever gotten so engrossed in your specific ministry that you were bothered when asked for a little help?

Is your church more “product” focused than “people” focused?

 

 

Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.theanalogoustruth.wordpress.com/ Arny

    Wow…at Walmart? hmm…really? 

    I could be more like that in my church…i normally just point like you said to the direction they are supposed to go…

    i need to walk with them…and have a conversation a long the way…

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Me too, Arny!

  • http://edsslipper.net/ Pierre

    I’m in a smaller church, where every room is clearly visible, so I’ve never had anyone ask for directions.

    But your post made me wonder – aren’t we all a bit like Walmart customers, in that we don’t want to ask for help locating things?

    Think of it in terms of, say, someone having nagging questions, or wondering whether there’s other ways to get stuck in, etc.? Now of course, that’s the kind of questions we all love to answer, but are people really comfortable asking them?

    And to keep the Walmart metaphor, how would you have rated your customer experience if, once having been told about the location of the aluminium baking trays, had been told “You also may want to try our range of rolling pins”?
    The same goes for  our answers, doesn’t it? When it’s about directions, it’s not too hard to not push our own agenda or answer a completely different question, but in other cases it’s not quite as easy.

    Then again, church shouldn’t really be a consumer product, so the metaphor will stop being relevant at some point… 

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      These are great follow-up thoughts, Pierre. In fact, this could be a great blog post!

  • Debbie

    I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the realization that church and Walmart are in the same sentence.  Given my negative experiences with both lately – I certainly have added another area to pray about for the coming week.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      I hear you, Debbie. I’m just always looking to learn from my experiences in life. Whether that’s Wal Mart, football, or a book I’m reading…I’m open ears.

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  • Hal Baird

    This story reminds me of the Biblical verse about walking the extra mile when we have been asked to walk one mile.  A situation in my church a few months back comes to mind.  People who were visiting were invited to stand, give their name, and where they normally worshipped (if at all).  One of those was from Cincinnati and he had just taken a job in Connecticut so I assumed he knew relatively no one in the area.  In fact it was a probably a leap of faith that led him to our church at all.  After service I made a special effort to go to him, shake his hand, welcome him, and invite him to coffee hour.  Since that time we can’t wait for worship so we may greet each other and talk about how our week was.  So out of going that extra mile, a friendship has blossomed.