The Common Good

Customer Service 101

Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Customer examines myriad soft drink choices in a NJ Wal-Mart. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here's a parable on clueless providers.

A friend suggested I try her favorite app for my web-based meeting and training needs. So I went to the vendor's site — but found no apparent reference to the product. If it was there, it was well hidden.

After resorting to a search, I browsed informational pages that seemed disconnected from what a user would want to know. I viewed prerecorded demos that had sample data from 2008. Has this product not been updated in four years?

When I signed up for a free trial on a Saturday, nothing happened. A live text-based chat steered me to telephone support — that wasn't open until Monday.

On a scale of ultimate values, these glitches rank low. But they are a parable of what happens when you fail to see things from the customer's perspective. Like it or not, customers arrive with certain expectations. Ignore them at your peril.

Imagine how many automobiles would sell if dealers could abandon their much-loathed system of point-of-sale haggling and up-selling and just sold cars in a manner that customers enjoyed.

Imagine a presidential campaign in which candidates addressed the concerns voters actually feel and skipped the visceral attacks that treat voters as mobs and raging bigots. Imagine disagreeing, not demonizing.

Imagine a mainline Christian world that stopped catering to the narrow preferences of a dwindling gray-headed cohort and responded instead to the vast majority out there who find old denomination-based ways uninspiring.

Imagine a Catholic Church that stopped catering to its tiny cadre of old male bishops and heard instead the cries of its people. Or a fundamentalist movement that stopped defending its franchise by nonsensical attacks on evolution and modernity, and instead took Scripture seriously.

Imagine a conservative Christian movement that dropped its relentless assault on women's rights and instead sought a fresh vision of family and values. Or a progressive movement that listened to people, rather than lecturing them.

Too many "providers" — in politics, business and religion — come across as having a low opinion of their constituents. People tend to be good judges of what matters to them. Voters know this recession better than their would-be leaders seem to know it. Believers seem to take their faith more seriously than those institutions that seek to enroll them as members.

Responding to constituents doesn't necessarily lead to dumbing down. I think voters would appreciate a serious discussion of the national economy, federal budget, and the government's role in job creation. They could even discuss health care, if zealots would allow rational discourse. The Occupy movement showed a high appetite for complex information.

Candidates preparing slogan-filled, fact-challenged attack ads should rethink their dim view of the electorate. The escalating rhetoric of desperate politicians might succeed in making the hot-headed hotter, but sensible voters want more respect than that.    

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus: 100 Questions People Want to Ask and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Tom's posts appear via RNS.

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