Friday, March 18, 2016

LifeWay aims for 'above and beyond' customer service

By Lisa Cannon Green

Every time LifeWay employee Rob Dupree picks up the phone, he's hoping for a chance to pray. Working in LifeWay's customer service department, he views each phone call as a ministry and an opportunity to share God's love. While helping with an order, he may learn about a caller whose sister has cancer or a crisis at work.
That attitude is central to customer service at LifeWay, team director Janice Bell says, and callers take notice. Every month, a dozen or more customers reach out to express how they've been touched by their encounters with LifeWay."I want an opportunity to just speak life into them, to encourage them," Dupree says.
"When a customer takes the time to call or write, it's really a compliment," Bell says. "Proverbs 27:2 tells us, 'Let another praise you, and not your own mouth -- a stranger, and not your own lips.'"
One example of this service involves a small church in Florida that was dissatisfied with The Gospel Project curriculum. The children's ministry director phoned LifeWay and happened to reach Dupree.

"She told me, 'I want nothing to do with The Gospel Project. I am not going to order it anymore. We're done with LifeWay,'" Dupree recalls. After asking a few questions, he realized she didn't fully understand how to use the Bible study curriculum.
Dupree spent an hour and a half explaining how to get parents involved, how to adapt resources for different age groups and how to work with a tight budget. Together they went through the leader guide step by step.
"For a moment it felt like I was a member of her church -- like we were sitting side by side working together to make this happen," Dupree says.
Within days, the customer called again. "I just wanted to say it is because of Rob that we are sticking with The Gospel Project," she said.
Bell's department hands out monthly "Above and Beyond" awards to employees who earn such compliments from customers. Employees are recognized publicly with a certificate, a meal ticket and a drawing for time off. Their photos are posted in front of the department.
"It's a time for our leadership team to really love on them for loving on our customers," Bell says.
Core values
Caring for customers starts with hiring people who care, Bell says.
"We talk about our core values when we hire," she says. "We're looking for people who are active in their local church and are passionate about doing one more thing to serve and help others."
When a Sunday School teacher recovering from a knee replacement couldn't get to the church to pick up her Bible study materials, Biggers helped her find the first chapter on in time to prepare her lesson. "Brittany was so helpful, nice and patient! She made my day," the customer said.One of those hires last year was Brittany Biggers, whose upbeat personality has caught customers' attention.
That kind of feedback is a highlight of working at LifeWay, Biggers says. Like Bell, she points to LifeWay core values as a touchstone.
"One call that really stood out to me was when a customer said, 'Thank you for making it so easy for me,'" Biggers says. "They don't know 'making it easy' is one of our core values, but then they use those words. It just makes me giggle inside."
Listening for unspoken needs
Sometimes LifeWay gets calls from disappointed, frustrated or angry people, Dupree acknowledges.
"It's not that this person doesn't love Jesus -- they may be just having a bad day," he says. "So I listen to their signals and try to find the heart of the problem."
Many are surprised when he suggests prayer.
"I asked one gentleman, 'Can we just pray right now?' He asked why, and I said, 'Because right now we're struggling. I want God to be in the middle of what we're doing. I want God to use this moment to benefit you.'
"He was taken aback. He was quiet for a few minutes. We prayed. After a little while he said, 'Rob, I'm so sorry.' And then he broke into, 'Here's the things I'm dealing with.'"
Dupree reminds customers that LifeWay and churches are on the same team. "We're trying to serve God with you. We're trying to help your church make disciples, so how can I help you?
"Bringing the focus back to God in the middle of our conversation makes all the difference."
Bell has also seen employees go above and beyond in other ways. A few years ago, members of the team raised funds on their own to help a church group coming to camp for the first time from Alaska. Another time, an employee went to a LifeWay Christian Store, bought a Bible and sent it to a woman who had shared personal struggles on the phone. Bell found out when the recipient sent a thank-you note.
Some customers have felt so grateful they've sent personal gifts and cards to the LifeWay customer service reps, Bell says. One customer even wrote a poem.
"When they call LifeWay, we want it to be a different experience from calling other customer service centers," Bell says. "This is a ministry first.
"Our mission is to serve the church in her mission of making disciples," she notes. "We want churches and all of our customers, including individuals and trade stores, to know we're trustworthy, we're invested, we care, and we are here to serve them."
Lisa Cannon Green is managing editor of LifeLines, the employee publication of LifeWay Christian Resources where this article first appeared. LifeWay is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention.