For the Iowa Annual Conference this year, our conference artist created a gallery in our meeting space. It housed a collection of works from various people and each piece connected with our theme of Radical Hospitality with Justice.
The room itself was a conversation space. Chairs arranged for discussion, room to move, room to reflect, post-its on the wall to share thoughts. The art grew and expanded as we interacted with it.
But our artist, Ted Lyndon Hatten, wanted it to move beyond that room. So we were provided with nametags that indicated we wanted to continue talking about an issue.
And he asked if I would help the conversations continue via social media.
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. And the first place I looked was twubs.com
You see, Twubs takes conversations that are happening on twitter and brings them all to one place. By using a hashtag, you can make a page, a bulletin board, embeddable widgets... it is a fantastic way to gather together the various thoughts. The best part is that it also then can live stream those tweets for display on something like the HUGE screens we use for worship.
Its a great idea... but due to my experimentation, I somehow messed up my initial twub. And linked to the wrong account. And then changed the hashtag. In about 25 minutes, what I wanted to create was now in three different twubs and I couldn't figure out how to change/merge/edit any of them.
I tweeted in frustration - someone who has used these twubs before... HELP!
And five minutes later, I had a phone call.
It was the guy who created Twubs.com. He called me, on my phone, and asked how he could help. He quickly fixed the back end issue, merged my accounts, closed the one I didn't want, and it was exactly how I needed it... in less that two minutes.
I was having an awful experience with the site and probably never would have turned to the media again. But because of that personal, helpful, compassionate response, I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat.
I had a similar experience with our local McDonald's. After getting my food, it was cold, sloppy (who leaves the cheese off of a double cheeseburger?!), and the workers were rude. So I complained via their online comment form and got a personal letter of apology, gift cards, coupons for free samples come every couple of months, and they have worked their butts off to keep me as a customer. It worked.
In this world, negative feedback can destroy a company. All it takes is one person having a bad experience and suddenly that comment is all over facebook, twitter, angie's list, you name it. Reviews make or break someone's future usage and purchases. But when you shower someone with service, quick responses, and personal care, suddenly a negative experience can turn into a fantastic walking advertisement.
Having that amazing experience with twubs made me think long and hard about life in the church.
As a pastor, I am glad that people don't run home and write on facebook or on twitter "Wow, I had a really bad experience at church today!" Because that is AWFUL press and if someone made those kinds of comments, you probably wouldn't ever see them again.
On the other hand, most people don't give any feedback. They just stop going to church. As a pastor or a visitation minister you don't know what the problem is, and so it is hard to be quick to respond. If someone actually made a post like the one above, I would be able to ask what happened, I would be able to clear up questions. But when you don't know, you can't respond.
There is a gray line that I face in ministry between being pushy and being pastoral. When I notice that someone hasn't been in worship for a while, my first instinct is to send a little note, telling them we miss them. But if a response isn't heard, do you make a phone call? Do you knock on the door? Do you guilt someone into coming back?
In these customer experiences with twubs.com and McDonald's, I think the message is to kill them with kindness. Be available. Be personal. Let them know they are loved and precious to your ministry. And don't forget them... even if they don't respond right away. I am always impressed that I keep getting coupons for McDonald's. I know that I was probably just added to some mailing list of disgruntled customers, but when those coupons arrive, I feel special and I remember that experience and that someone took the time to listen to me.
I absolutely hate comparing ministry to the world of business, but I wonder what else we might learn in pastoral care from twenty-first century customer service.