I just finished a customer service interaction after several days of frustration, phone calls, incomplete information and finally a satisfying answer. At the end of this process, I realized that my interactions with the customer service representatives had some valuable lessons for church communicators as we share the gospel. We may not like to think of ourselves as customer service reps for Jesus, but consider. . . .
What happened and how it applies to us
The typical customer service phone call goes something like this:
- We call "customer service" because we don't understand something.
- The person we call totally understands the issue—they were trained in all aspects of it —they probably had to pass a test on their knowledge of the product before they were allowed to answer the phone.
- When we ask our question, it isn't new to them. It is issue #3 on the list, or however they categorize it, and they know the answer, even before we are finished asking.
- The customer service person rattles off the answer.
- We have no idea what they are talking about—we haven't been involved with the product for years and it makes no sense to us—that's why we are calling.
At this point, one of two things can happen:
- We ask for clarification and the customer service person is kind, listens, and takes the time to explain what we don't understand and makes sure our question is answered in a way that makes sense to us.
- The customer service person lets us know subtly or blatantly that if we don't understand, that's our problem. Sometimes, they act insulted that we don't understand.
For my recent customer service interaction, fortunately my call ended with option #1--the person realized I had no idea why they couldn't do what I needed their company to do. She courteously explained what was going on, the options, and finally, though I wasn't happy with the answer, why what I wanted was not possible.
In this instance, I was calling because my charge card processing company couldn't process PayPal for someone who wanted to buy a membership in my church communication training site. I had been trying to get an answer on this for two days. I talked to fairly nice people who told me it should be possible. They said someone else would check it out. They said they would work on it. They said they would get back to me. None of this happened.
The final person I talked to listened, explained, and though her answer was finally that what I wanted wouldn't work, I now knew what I had to do next.
Why this is like communicating the gospel
For people coming to our churches who have grown up in our post-Christian society, we are a Customer Service rep for the gospel. We know the message well. Some of us have even been trained in well-reasoned answers if someone has a particular question. All of that is well and good, but what happens when we are engaged in conversation with a real person who is considering Jesus?
- Do we rattle off stock answers?
- Do we make them feel like if they don't "get it" or agree immediately, that it is their problem? Do we write them off as sinful or having moral issues that prevent them from immediately responding?
- Do we listen? Not for what quick answer we can plug in, but really listen to their question?
- Do we ask additional questions to make certain we understand what they are really asking?
- And one of the most important questions: Are we honest with our answers?
Once we listen and understand the question, an honest answer is all important
The bottom line for me was that I needed to know if the company would process PayPal. The answer was "no." If I'd gotten an honest answer from the first that I contacted the company, it would have saved me a lot of time and frustration. I have other ways to bill with PayPal and now I'll work on that.
When we are sharing the gospel, we first of all need to carefully listen to what people are really asking. One of the key underlying questions today, that can be asked in all kinds of ways is: "Is Jesus the only way to God?" This may be asked in many ways including:
- Don't you think all religions teach the same thing?
- Aren't all churches really alike at their core?
- What does it matter what religion a person has if they are a good person?
- If someone is sincere in their belief, isn't that enough?
We can put people off, we can say kind things, we can walk all around the issue, but the kindest response (after we make sure we really understand the person asking the question) might be to say:
I know this can be frustrating and confusing; it might even seem narrow and bigoted, but the kindest, most loving, most truthful person that ever lived, Jesus , said he was the only way to God. In John 14:6, he said, "I am the way, the truth the life. No one comes to God except through me." This is the Bible's view. This is the view of the Christian church. I'd love to share with you more about Jesus so you'll understand why this is true. Will you join me in that exploration?
Once I knew I had to learn a different system if I wanted to use PayPal, I knew what I had to do. Either believe the lady and learn PayPal or try to make the system work that simply would not accept that payment method. In the same way, we need to let people know that the exclusive claims of Jesus are non-negotiable. If they want eternal life and forgiveness of sins, they need to learn about Jesus. Real life and true salvation won't work any other way.
Good communication of the gospel means thinking like a good customer service representative
Even though I wasn't happy with the answer, after two days of frustration, I was happy with the company because someone listened, explained and was honest with me. In many ways I realized, she was doing what we are all commanded to do as we communicate the words of eternal life:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15
People have many questions when they come to us, when they visit our churches or websites. To communicate effectively, take time to listen, understand, honor them as a person and carefully, honestly answer their questions. It isn't a product sale or satisfaction that's at stake but the destiny of an eternal soul.