Take These 10 Steps to Improve Your Guest Services

Have you ever had a bad experience at a restaurant or place of business?   If so, I'm sure you remember it.  We don't usually forget it, do we?  Here are a couple of reviews I read recently.

"The pizza was frozen, the staff was not helpful and most of the parents didn't know how to watch their kids.  I'd rather pass kidney stones without pain medication than be dragged there again."

"One of our friends from out of town has type 1 diabetes.  While we stood there waiting for a table in a restaurant, his hands began to shake.  It looked like he was going into diabetic shock, which can be prevented with a quick infusion of sugar, from, say, a glass of orange juice.  So, one of us frantically asked one of the servers behind the bar for a glass of orange juice.  'Our friend, who is diabetic, needs some orange juice asap.'  The server looked at our friend's shaking hands, looked at her, and said, 'Nice act.'  What happened next?  Well, our friend went into shock.  He shook uncontrollably and collapsed on the floor.  We called an ambulance.  The paramedics came, took him outside and helped him get his blood sugar level back to normal."

I seriously doubt the people ever went back to those places and they spread the word about their bad customer service experience.

Contrast that to when you receive great customer service.  We don't forget that either, do we?  And we spread the word that we've found a place that really values their customers. 

Here's what we must understand.  The people who are walking in the doors of your church are not comparing your customer service to just other churches.  They are comparing your customer service to places of business, restaurants, clothing stores and other establishments they interact with.  

If you want to see guests return to your church, then you've got to deliver a great customer service experience.  Here are 10 steps you can take to do this.

Step 1 - Provide Great Parking
I chuckle when I see a church that has reserved parking for the pastor and staff right in front of the church.  I'm all for honoring pastors, but when it comes to parking, I believe we should give guests the best parking spots.  Pastors, staff and volunteers can lead the way by parking in the worst spots and saving the best spots for guests. 
The sermon starts in the parking lot.
Think about when you're riding around a store like Target, looking for a place to park.  Once in awhile, the seas of cars will part and there it is...a great parking spot that is in the front.  You smile and quickly pull in.  You walk into the store whistling a tune and happy that you were blessed to find such a great parking spot.

When you reserve great parking for guests, that's the way they will feel as they walk into your church.  You're off to a great start in providing them with a great experience.

Step 2 - Have Clear Outside Signage
Speaking of walking in the building, it helps to be able to know where to walk in.  I spend a lot of weekends consulting with churches and recently I pulled into the parking lot of a large church on a Sunday.  Problem was, there was no outside signage.  After driving around for awhile, I finally parked as close as I could get to the big front doors. 

But when I got to the front doors, I discovered that they were locked.  Even though it looked like an entrance, it wasn't.  I walked to 4 other sets of doors until I finally found a door that was open.  I walked down the hallway and opened another door and suddenly realized it was the baptistry door.  A few more steps and I would have made a splashing entrance into the service. 

Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience that could have been avoided with some simple outside signage that marked where to enter.  This is especially helpful if families have children and are looking for an entrance into the children's area.

Step 3 - Friendly Greeters at the Doors
Notice I used the word "friendly."  It's important who you place as greeters.  There are some people who must have been baptized in pickle juice.  They have the personality of a prune.  In other words, if the wicked witch of the west attends your church, you don't want to place her as a greeter. 

Your greeters are the face of your church.  Make sure you have smiling, positive, helpful, pleasant people at the doors.  Train them to make people feel welcome and comfortable.

Step 4 - Separate Check-In Area for Guests
One thing that we all hate to do is wait in line.  So this is something you want to focus on for guest services.  It's important to have enough check-in areas for your regular attendees so they don't have to wait very long to check in.  But it's especially important to not make first-time guests wait in line.  One way you can avoid this is to have a separate check-in area for guests.  This also gives you more of an opportunity to focus solely on them and give them the royal treatment.

Step 5 - Train Your Guest Services Team to Know What NOT to Say
It's just as important to know what NOT to say, as it is to know what to say.  Here's a few examples.
  • Instead of saying "I don't know" say "Let me find out for you."
  • Instead of saying "She's can't talk right now" say "She's currently teaching the kids. I'd be happy to let her know you stopped by and give her a message for you."
  • Instead of saying "No problem" say "It's my pleasure."
  • Instead of saying "It's over there" say "I'd be happy to show you. Follow me."
 Step 6 - Walk With Rather Than Pointing
Have you ever been in a big box store, wandering around, trying to find something with no clue where to go?  You look around and there's no one in site to help you.  Frustrating isn't it? 

That's the way guests feel when we leave them to find their own way through our buildings.  Even if you give them quick directions to a specific area, they will probably still be uneasy as they try to navigate through an unfamiliar place. 

Always...always...always walk with guests to their children's classrooms and then take the parents to the auditorium.  This not only makes it easy for them, but it also gives you the opportunity to do step 7.

Step 7 - Talk With Guests Rather Than at Guests
Have you ever approached an employee for help at a place of business and they gave you the vibe that you were bothering them?  They helped you, but grudgingly, and made little, if any, eye contact with you.  Left you feeling devalued, didn't it?

It's important to show a personal interest in guests.  This can be done by being intentional about talking with them while you are helping them get checked in, walking them to their classroom, etc.
As you talk with them, it should be all about them, not you.

Here's a simple tool you can train your team to use when talking with guests.  It's called FISH.  The letters are a reminder of questions you can ask them.

F - Family (ask them about their family including kids, ages of kids, etc.)
I - Interests (this can be about sports, teams the kids are on, pets, local attractions, etc.)
S - School (ask the kids about their school, what subjects they like, etc.)
H - Hobbies (ask about what they enjoy doing for fun)

Step 8 - Explain Safety & Security Guidelines
With terrorist attacks, school shootings, kidnappings and yes, church shootings, parents are very concerned for their children's safety.  In this recent article, I shared how crucial it is to have solid safety and security procedures and policies in place.  This will not only help you protect the children and families in your church, but will also help you retain first-time guests. 
While you are checking the family in and walking them to their rooms, share with them the following information:
  • The purpose of the parent / child safety tags.  Share with them that this ensures that no one else can pick up their child.
  • Every volunteer has been through a thorough on-boarding, vetting process that includes a background check, personal interview, reference calls, orientation, training, etc.
  • The rule of two.  No one will ever be alone with their child.
  • That you will contact them if their child needs them (pagers, text, number on screen, etc.)
Step 9 - Train Your Team How to Manage Tense Situations
When people get upset, it's important to act rather than react.   This only happens when you have equipped your team with the proper steps to take and the right attitude to have  Respond in the right way and you can turn someone who is upset into a fan.
  • Remember that many times you are seeing the surface symptoms of deeper issues. 
  • If you're in a crowded place, move to a quieter, private place.
  • Lower the decibel level.  Talk softer than they are talking.  The Bible reminds us that a soft answer turns away wrath. 
  • Listen.  People want to be heard.  What you enable them to say is often more important than what you are going to say.
  • Use silent pauses.  As they vent, pause before you respond.  This has a calming effect.
  • Use the word "let's" rather than "you."  This helps bring collaboration rather than "us" vs. "you."
  • Rehearse back to them what they said.  This shows you value and understand what they have told you.
  • Ask open-ended questions that they can respond "yes" to.  This helps bring you together on the same team. 
  • Brainstorm options with them.  This helps you partner with them to resolve the issue.
  • Thank them for their concerns.  This shows you value their concerns and them as a person.
  • Apologize to them even if it's not your fault.  Pride looks for an apology.  Humility gives a apology.  Pride seeks a victory.  Humility seeks a resolution.
  • Follow-up with them.  Let them know about any steps that have been taken to resolve the issue. At times a card, flowers or gift certificate is a great touch.  Kindness can help dissolve conflict
Step 10 - Bring the Wow Factor
If you really want to improve your guest services, then bring the "Wow Factor."  Why?  Because exceptional is what is remembered.  Exceptional is the best follow-up.  If a family has a great experience on their first visit, they will return and bring people with them. 

Here's an example.  I have a friend who was at Disney World with his preschooler.  The child got sick and threw up on her shirt.  And they had forgotten to pack any extra clothes.  It was not a good scenario.  But a Disney cast member saw the dilemma the family was in and approached them.  The cast member said, "Come into the store with me and let's pick out a shirt for your daughter....free-of-charge."

Needless to say, the family are big fans of Disney and will return! 

Think of ways you can bring the wow factor to families.  No, you can't do this for every single family, but you can "do for the few what you wish you could do for everyone."

Here's an example of how I did this with a first-time family.  As I was walking them to their classroom, I used the FISH tool I mentioned in point 7.  Through this, I found out that the boy loved basketball.  After getting them to their classrooms, I jumped in my car and drove to a nearby Target, where I bought a basketball. 

When the parents came to pick up their child, I was waiting at the exit door with a new basketball for their son.  They were blow away that someone would be so intentional to make them feel special and welcomed. 

Get these 10 steps in place and you'll see your guest services go to a whole new level.  You can also get more great ideas for this in the book "If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry."  There is an entire chapter called "Customer Service Like Disney" that shares great insight and ideas from how Disney does customer service.  You can get it at this link