Customer service and servant leadership

For the most part, I only think about “customer service” when I am the customer and on the receiving end of what I consider poor service.  I will not elaborate here.  Each of us has a collection of frustrating stories we could provide as illustrations.

In preparing a Bible study recently, I was forced to put myself on the other side of the transaction.  The passage I was considering deals with Jesus’ response to the question, “What is the greatest of the commandments?”  His reply is recorded in Mark 12:28-31:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  (NIV)

The command to provide neighborly love is a call to servant leadership—putting yourself in the place of the other person and providing what she or he needs.  For Jesus, this was a natural response to the love that God has shown toward us. For Christians, this is the equivalent of providing good customer service.

Tom Ehrich wrote, “Customer service is the actual heart of any enterprise. Not financial management — that’s the easy work — but recognizing customers, responding to their needs, and remembering now and again to say thanks.”

What kind of customer service do we provide as followers of Christ?

In our congregations, customer service shows up in how we treat our guests in Sunday worship.  Do we seek to engage with them, extend the gift of hospitality, and help them to find what they need?  Will they want to become part of our fellowship as a result of the inclusiveness and care we show?  Do we provide support in such a way that they can receive it without feeling manipulated and threatened?

For those of us who provide services for churches and individuals, do we provide prompt and accurate responses to inquires?  Are we clear in providing information about cost, locations, and accommodations?  Do we engage with them in such a way that they will realize that we care about them as persons and not just as consumers?  If they choose not to engage the services we offer, do we treat them graciously in order to leave the door open for an ongoing relationship?

If you are in theological education, how do you deal with our students?  I was a part of a meeting recently where the coordinator of a Doctor of Ministry program stated that when they started planning their new program, one of the core values they embraced was “customer service”—assuring students of a quality experience.  Such an experience goes beyond instruction and course work and encompasses timely response to communications, concerns, and unexpected needs.  In other words, care for the total person.

For those of us who are believers, customer service means practicing servant leadership.  How are we doing?

Ircel Harrison

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Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is Associate Professor of Ministry Praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at www.barnabasfile.blogspot.com. His Twitter feed is @ircel.

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