Have you ever had to fill out an online form where you were required to select your occupation from a drop down menu?
Scrolling through Arts and Construction, past Education and Finance, all the way through to Sales and Social Services and beyond, sometimes it feels like there isn’t a neat category that the work of synagogue administration falls into. While clergy can easily select “Religion” if that’s a listed option, the reality is that the work of synagogue administrators, depending on one’s specific role, is a hodgepodge of different categories that rarely fit into one option. If “Administration” is there, that’s an easy selection, but I’d like to offer a different perspective: Synagogue employees are primarily in the business of customer service.
We sometimes hesitate to think about our holy work this way, but our congregants are our clients and our job is to meet their needs. Every phone call, every email, every drop-by-the-office-five-minutes-before-it-closes moment is an opportunity to provide excellent customer care. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, “The Power Of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact”, Chip and Dan write:
“Defining moments can be consciously created. You can be the architect of moments that matter.” It’s our job to say “yes” as much as possible, and when we say “no”, we need to mean it and say it with care. Sometimes that means saying “yes” to the box of irrelevant Jewish textbooks a congregant wanted to “donate” (dump) in our library, even if it means we have to properly re-home them later. Sometimes it means saying “what would that look like?” instead of “that’s not how we do it” when a parent inquires about an out-of-the-box B’nai Mitzvah experience. When we do have to say no to one of our customers, we can phrase it as a “No, but”. “Our congregation doesn’t provide this service, but let me give you a list of organizations who do.” “We are unfortunately not able to take any more reservations for tonight’s dinner, but I’d love to put you on the waitlist and pre-register you for the one next month.” The difference between a “No” and a “No, but” is a return customer who believes that their community acted in good faith even if they ultimately didn’t get what they wanted.
Let’s say a family is relatively uninvolved in the congregation, and they have shared that now that their children have moved out of the home, they primarily “use” the congregation for High Holidays (sound like a familiar story?) In addition to our meaningful engagement efforts and our continued reframing of congregation as a community rather than a facility or service, excellent customer service is paramount in retaining the customer and giving a positive experience to something they don’t regularly interact with. If that family calls around the holidays to ask a question about service times, that may be the one of the only experiences they have with the congregation for a year. Will they get shuffled from staff member to staff member? Will they be told they will receive a call back, only to be forgotten? Will they be pointed towards the website even though they are already on the phone, right now? Or, will they have an excellent experience where their question is answered directly and they get to have a meaningful and memorable conversation with someone from their Temple community? What if the staff member they spoke to remembered them and asked relevant questions about their family and their summer vacation? How could this become a relational moment rather than transactional?
This is not to say that customer service mistakes don’t happen - they do. In the hustle and bustle of this work, emails get forgotten, voice mails go unanswered, and sometimes a typo in the bulletin can stir up a balagan that nobody anticipated. But when this happens, we have the choice to disregard it, to beat ourselves up about it, or to turn it around completely. If Mr. Marion is upset that his $10 refund check for a cancelled program STILL hasn’t arrived in his mailbox, we can roll our eyes internally or we can get in our cars and deliver it ourselves. If a handwritten note and some flowers, plus an authentic apology, will smooth over that irritated and stressed preschool parent, it’s worth it every time. Going the extra mile is what separates a good staff member from an excellent one, and as managers and leaders it’s on all of us to encourage this mentality in every element of work we do.
Our goal should be to make our customers say, “Wow, that was amazing” as much as we can. To go above and beyond as much as possible, wherever possible. To not only meet expectations, but to exceed them. Knowing the answer to a question, or sending the email on time is not enough. To be excellent stewards of customer care, we must learn to anticipate the question before it is asked or meet the need before the congregant even knows what they wanted. Above all, we must be willing to see this as an essential approach to the work, not an addition to it or an extra.