customer service

I do like nice coffee. It is one of my little indulgences. And to that end I was chuffed when Sally (Mrs Nukelearfishing) gave me a nice glass mug (full of sweets) for Valentine’s Day. Somehow it makes drinking nice coffee just that little bit nicer. In fact it was so nice that when I received a birthday 25% discount voucher from the high street store* from which she purchased the glass mug (which was very nice of them) I decided to use it (and some of the money I was kindly given for my birthday) to buy three more of them so I could bless others with nice coffee in nice glass coffee mugs.

(It also means that I have a supply of them for when the dishwasher has not yet worked its magic on any I have recently used).

I ordered the glass mugs from the high street store’s website, using the discount code, and was pleased with how quickly the delivery arrived. Because I am a bit of a cheapskate I decided to have them delivered to the local store (which is free) rather than pay to have them delivered to my home and then having to chase them up when the card is pushed through the door saying that they were unable to deliver my parcel. When I got to the store yesterday I went to the collection point and the nice lady went and got the box in which they were delivered.

She opened the box up and two of the three glass mugs were cocooned in amazing protective paper ‘cocoons’. I think I could have dropped them from an upstairs window and they would not have broken. The third one was in a little bubble wrap envelope. I made a joke to the nice lady about wondering what that mug had done wrong not to have been wrapped so well and she smiled indulgently (see, I told you she was nice). She wrapped it in some of the packaging that was in the box and then put all three in a bag for me to take home.

When I got home I unwrapped the glass mugs and was disappointed to see that the one which was in the bubble wrap envelope had a couple of obvious scratches on it. Perhaps that is why it was on its own and not in a paper cocoon. The other two were in pristine condition. I decided to contact the customer services people on the phone number that came with the receipt and a very nice man on the other end of the phone listened to my problem, apologised sincerely, and arranged for a new glass mug to be delivered to the store today. He also said that I did not need to return the scratched one and that if it was serviceable (it is) I could use that too.

Now that’s what I call good customer service. Indeed, I think that is a good example of grace.

It made me wonder whether that is the sort of grace and service that people expect to receive from churches? If not, why not? And surely we should be exceeding that considering the grace we have received from God…

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I am not endorsing any particular retail business but if you wanted to know which one it was it is often known by the initials of the two founders that might sound like ’emaness’.

The parable of the good refund

How comfortable is your driving space? [Note the new team sponsor]

How comfortable is your driving space? Note the new team sponsor for Team Lotus

One of the things I have quickly realised in my new role as a Regional Minister is that I am going to be spending a lot of time in my car. And I have recognised that if I am going to be spending a lot of time in the car it makes sense to ensure that it’s as comfortable an environment as possible.

I don’t mean that I will be installing a foot spa and replacing the seat with an armchair. But it is sensible to make sure that things that I will need are within reach – so that the phone holder is in a sensible place, I have space in the door pocket for Werther’s Originals (other sweets are available) and so on. In finding a sensible place for my mobile phone I also need to make sure that if I am going to use it I am doing so legally.

In the spirit of making my car accommodation as nice as possible and being compliant with the law I bought a hands-free unit that links to my phone by Bluetooth* and also sends a local FM signal that my car radio can pick up. This means that I can stream music from my phone through the gadget to play through my car stereo speakers – enhancing and personalising my listening experience beyond the slightly less flexible CDs or impersonal Radio. It also means that when I get a call the gadget mutes the music and I can hear the call through the car stereo.

The gadget I ordered was not the most expensive on the market but it worked fine.

For about a month.

Then it became intermittent in connecting to the phone. Finally it stopped switching on altogether.

The problem was that part of the unit is supposed to be detachable so it can be placed in the most convenient place in the car, and that part of the unit is also rechargeable. However for some technical reason it stopped recharging. I contacted the seller and they advised about some possible ways to reboot it but those processes failed to reawaken the unit. So I contacted the seller again and asked what I should do.

Without hesitation the seller said that they would either replace the item or give a full refund. Because I was no longer confident with the gadget I asked for a refund and it happened almost immediately. That sort of customer service makes me much more likely to reuse that seller in the future. (For those who will worry about these things I have ordered a new (better) gadget).

So if this is some sort of parable, what’s the message?

All good parables sit in the reader’s mind gently ticking away until PING!’ a lightbulb goes off in the head. (lovely mixed metaphor there). For that reason I am reluctant to give you the answer. But I will give you some questions:

How well do you recharge, and to what or whom do you connect to do that?

How do you respond to complaints?

How likely is it that your attitude to others will attract or repel?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Did you know that Bluetooth is so-called in honour of the 10th century Norse king Harald Bluetooth (see here for more)? It’s nice to think that in a millennium’s time there will be a communication standard called ‘Queen Elizabeth 2’…


A nice man has just come to read our electricity and gas meters. He made a joke about not outstaying his welcome as he left.

Jesus face-planted as the church made another public statement

Jesus face-planted as the church made another public statement

Yesterday I had a courtesy phone call from the company with whom we have some of the family mobile phone contracts. And the lady with whom I was speaking was courteous.

On Wednesday I took my car to a local garage because the rubber mounts that hold my car’s exhaust pipe on had broken. The kind man replaced them all immediately and without charge.

Those people have put a positive, friendly face (or voice) to their companies. Companies today can appear to be faceless, inhuman money-making entities whose sole purpose is to try to get their hands on as much of our money as possible. That view is reinforced to me by junk mail and those irritating automated phone calls. So when I get to speak with someone human; someone who is polite; someone who is seeking to be helpful; it makes an enormous difference to the way that I view those particular companies. I feel much more favourably inclined towards them. I might not even begrudge spending some of my money with them.

I reckon churches have a considerable amount to learn about good ‘customer service’ and the impact that has on those who receive it. We know that we are supposed to be people who are examples of God’s welcome, love, acceptance, and inclusion. But that is not the message we project all the time.

I visited a church in South London once and sat in the back row with Sally. We seem to have sat in the seat that some older ladies normally sat in because when they arrived they sat either side of us. They may have said ‘hello’ but that has been lost in what happened afterwards. They started talking to each other across us, as if we weren’t there. During the sermon they passed each other sweets across us, not offering us any. We beat a very hasty retreat from there and never went back.

Not exactly a warm welcome.

I fear that the image of the Church as portrayed in the media is giving the same message to our society. Notwithstanding strongly held theological beliefs on both sides of the discussion / debate within churches (this is not a statement about their rightness or wrongness) the general public must surely be getting the (unintended) message from recent debates in churches and responses to recent legislative proposals that if you are gay or a woman you won’t be welcome in church. At best you will be considered a second class citizen.

Can we honestly say that Jesus would be saying that? How many times in the Gospels do we read of him telling someone that they were not welcome or that they were less important than others?

By way of contrast, the positive face of churches goes unreported on the whole. When those who are on the margins of society receive an unconditional, un-judgmental welcome by Christians it is not reported. When the lonely find comfort and love and support in church it doesn’t make headline-grabbing news. Even when someone finds that their life has been transformed by an encounter with Jesus it rarely gets any publicity. But those people will have received good ‘customer service’ and I hope will be as ready to share that with those whom they meet as I am about my recent experiences.

In a recent sermon I said that the only way for churches to be defeated is for us to press the self-destruct button ourselves. We have that capacity, and have demonstrated at least the ability to shoot ourselves in the foot on regular occasions. But we also have the best stories in the world – not ones that will make the headlines, but ones that each one of us can tell as good free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Corduroy pillows – they are making headlines!