There is a fine and hard-to-attain point of balance in the world of retail sales. Most retailers spend a lot of time and energy trying to find and maintain that balance. A few even manage to pull it off on a fairly consistent basis. I was in a store yesterday that not only isn’t in the ballpark, they don’t even have a ball and bat.
It was a computer store – a national chain operation whose name you would recognize. I had driven across town to go to this store, expecting that I might find a better selection and pricing on a network card I needed. Instead, I found the same products and prices that I had seen at a store that was just a few blocks from home. I realized that it wasn’t going to get any better, so I surrendered and carried the box to the checkout. Then, I stood there for ten minutes, waiting for someone to take my money. There were employees walking around, talking to each other and playing computer games, but none of them even seemed to notice that I was standing there wanting to make a purchase. Some of them looked right at me, even making eye contact, and just kept on not serving me. After a full ten minutes, I finally said, loud enough to be heard through much of the store, “Well, if nobody here wants to take my money, I guess I’ll go down the street and buy this from <competitor’s name>.” When not even that bold statement could produce a cashier, I dropped the item on the counter and walked out the door. It’s not likely that I’ll be back any time soon. Less than a mile down the road, I bought the same product, for the same price, from a smiling young lady who apologized because I had to wait for about 30 seconds or so at the register. The difference was like day and night.
Most successful retailers apply a simple set of principles to their policies and practices. These include concepts like “the customer is always right,” “serving people is why we’re here,” and “the best advertising is a satisfied customer with a big mouth.” Many big chain stores have undercover “shoppers” who visit their stores as customers and evaluate the customer’s experience and satisfaction. Some of the most successful stores deliberately analyze every promotion, policy, and even display layouts from a “how will this be received by our customers” viewpoint. Meanwhile, many other stores that have been more internally focused and less customer-oriented have plywood on their windows, with “Building For Sale” signs stapled on the outside.
My bad experience made me think about how guests (visitors) in our churches feel when they have a bad experience. How does it feel to drive into the parking lot of a strange church and not be able to find a parking place? It can’t be a good feeling – most guests that face that can be seen driving out of the parking lot and never returning. How does it feel to visit a church and not have one single person greet you and make you feel welcome? I’ve experienced this firsthand, and it’s a lousy sensation. How does it feel to walk out of a church feeling emptier than when you walked in? It sure doesn’t encourage repeat attendance.
Some of the most successful, growing churches in America have taken the time to analyze everything they do from the perspective of a first-time, unchurched visitor. As a result, they have adopted new, friendlier ways of greeting those visitors and introducing them to the church. Whether it’s guest greeters in the parking lot that personally guide newcomers, or adequate signage so newbies can find their way around the facilities, these churches have made a proactive commitment to serving those who are seeking after God. Like the retailer who puts customer service at then top of the priority list, the result has shown up on the bottom line in the form of growth.
What does a newcomer experience when visiting your church? If you were that visitor, would you come back for a second time?