I was reminded recently of the Five Rules of Customer Service:

  1. Listen
  2. Apologize as needed
  3. Offer remedy
  4. Follow through
  5. Thank the customer.

Unfortunately, my wife sent me the list because a bank I have to deal with violated every item on the list. My desire for competent assistance got me labeled by one of their officers as “demanding” and “negative.” Never once have I received an apology for their myriad mistakes and the misery they have caused me. In order to get anything done, I had to be persistent. No one has ever said a word of thanks for my putting up with their less-than-stellar service.

When you think about it, the Five Rules apply to more than business. They are really just good practices for human interaction, the sort of thing we learn or should learn growing up: regard others as important (listen); admit you’re not perfect and can hurt someone’s feelings (apologize); offer restitution, make it right (offer remedy); keep your promises (follow through); and be grateful (say “thank you”).

If we did these five simple things, every day, by habit, with everyone, how different would our lives be? What conflicts would be prevented or resolved?

Maybe instead of arguing over hot button issues or esoteric doctrines, the church, which is to be the demonstration of what God intends for all humanity, could lead the way in living and teaching the Five Rules. Maybe they really just boil down to one Rule, which we traditionally have called “Golden”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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The past couple of weeks Susan and I have experienced exemplary customer service as well as rudeness, carelessness, and apathy from businesses. All of it was memorable.

There was the fast food restaurant that slathered mayo on our to-go burgers despite our request that the condiment be left off. Or the lady at the cable company who was curt, then hung up on me after I suggested that they might want to update their website, which had confused me by advertising an outdated price.

But the poor service that takes the cake was received on a recent trip to Alabama. We stopped for gas at a convenience store selling a national brand. Once my credit card was approved, I expected fuel to flow, but nothing happened. I went inside to ask what was going on, and another guy and I were told they were out of regular. Their solution? “Buy another grade.” Wrong answer! What they should have done was put makeshift “out of regular” signs on the pumps, and everyone would have been saved a good deal of inconvenience. But the clerks were too lazy and inattentive to check their supply and/or to think of their customers. We left and went elsewhere to fill up. That place, selling the same brand, not only had regular, but at a lower price.

Contrast these experiences with the fine attention we received on other occasions. At an ice cream shop, we ordered our scoops and took them to the register, where we presented some gift certificates. Our purchase was less than they totaled, and the clerk couldn’t give us change from them. But she wanted us to be satisfied and feel we had been treated well. So she arranged for us to get a kid’s scoop on each of our cups, bringing our total to the amount on the certificates.

I called my cable company (the same one that later treated me badly) and arranged for faster Internet speeds at a lower price. I was promised that the change would be made in 15 minutes. When a test showed that had not been done, I called back. The rep who answered stayed on the line until she got the problem solved and temporarily gave me greater upload speed than I had ordered “because we caused you inconvenience.”

Both the clerk at the ice cream shop and the customer service rep at the cable company added value to the experience. We got good ice cream, but we also felt cared for. My download speed increased five-fold, but I also knew my needs and time were important. The solutions were imaginative, and the people at the point of sale took responsibility for our satisfaction. Contrast that with the carelessness of the kitchen at the fast food restaurant which did not honor a special order or the “my way or the highway” attitude of the clerks at the out-of-gas store.

Churches can learn from these good and bad business practices as they greet visitors, whether the first-time guest in worship or the transient needing assistance. Every church member, not just officers and pastors, would do well to remember four words: “It’s up to me.” By our attitude, our commitment to care, our interest, you and I communicate volumes about our faith, our denomination, our congregation, more than than all our websites, mission statements, and brochures.

Another lesson is to add value whenever we can. Be imaginative and creative. Take that dull as dust worship service and seek to make it an experience of God. Send the visitor away with some special gift and follow up soon with an email or call. Really care for people for themselves, not as potential giving units. Listen to their questions, discern their needs, and minister accordingly. Don’t answer questions nobody is asking.

Church consultant Tom Ehrich, one of my favorite writers, says this: “If I want to convey value, I need to give value. If a church wants to develop a positive brand, it needs to do positive things (“On a Journey,” July 10, 2009). He goes on: “Faith, like the marketplace, happens in small decisions made by individuals. The sooner churches figure that out, the sooner they will emerge from their doldrums and begin to serve confidently and effectively (“On a Journey,” July 11, 2009). (For more Tom Ehrich, especially his “best practices” and “seven key factors” for churches, visit www.churchwellness.com).

So, the question is: are we out of gas or adding value?

© 2009 Tom Cheatham