Is Your Church Practicing the 4 Habits Behind a Successful Guest Experience?

I have no talents. I am only passionately curious.   – Albert Einstein

One of the joys of my work at Auxano is that I get to serve in multiple roles. My primary role of Vision Room Curator allows me to thrive in my giftedness of research and curiosity, as I am constantly looking for content that creates break-thru clarity with church teams to realize their vision.

In addition, our value of Carnivorous Learning is demonstrated daily in my research, reading, and curation of the cloud of information available for church leaders.

But when my primary role of Vision Room Curator intersects with my secondary role of Guest Experience Navigator, it’s a really good day.

Today’s Vision Room post “4 Habits Behind a Successful Guest Experience” is a great example of the mashup of my two roles. The post speaks to the idea that a primary factor in creating a great Guest Experience comes down to having great people on your front line teams and training them well.

7-Guest Experience

The post itself stands alone, but I was also able to connect it to our most recent SUMSa free book summary – on Judgment on the Front Line by Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy. The book is essential reading for any church leader whose role involves leading Guest Services, Hospitality, or First Impressions teams. The SUMS is a good introduction, but I encourage you to pick up the book as well.

What makes it a great day is that I get to live out the ideas and thoughts above in a couple of ways: this weekend, I will be conducting a Guest Perspective Evaluation for one of our client churches. Front line interaction is a key indicator of the success of a church’s Guest services. During my evaluation, I will take over 400 images and 3-7 minutes of video, which will be edited into a 2-hour presentation for the senior leadership team the following Monday.

In that presentation, I don’t really have to say much – if “a picture is worth a thousand words,” the several hundred images and a few minutes of video have to be worth a book!

On any given weekend, Auxano Navigators are at a church somewhere across the country making the same kind of evaluations for our clients. It’s a powerful service that we love providing.

Beyond the occasional onsite consultation, I also get to live out my role mashup by serving on a Guest Services team at my church, Elevation Church’s Lake Norman campus. After 4 years as a Guest Services Coordinator at our Uptown campus, I stepped over to the launch of our newest campus in the Lake Norman area to serve on the parking team. (I serve an additional role on the Leadership Development team for the church as a whole, but that’s a story for another day).

My Team Coordinator Skyler and Team Leader Jason have demonstrated an excellent grasp of the 4 activities mentioned in the Vision Room post above:

  1. In spite of intentional preplanning for the launch, they listened to our team’s suggestions each of the following 3 weekends to improve traffic flow, increase pedestrian safety, and make sure our Guests felt welcome at all times.
  2. As Coordinator, Skyler is working with our Boot Camp Team (Elevation’s volunteer enlistment strategy) to make sure Parking Team members have a great attitude.
  3. Our Parking Team – like all Elevation teams – is crystal clear on our purpose, because it’s the same as our church purpose: To reach people far from God so that they might be raised to life in Christ.
  4. Our Team Leader Jason encourages creativity and autonomy – from Ryan who “hooks and lands” VIP (first-time Guests) cars into special parking to Christiana who leads the Lake Norman Taxi Team (golf carts to get our Volunteers from their designated lot 1/3 mile away from the church) to Lindsay whose smile contest makes us all laugh – and smile even bigger.

If you lead or serve on a Guest Services, Hospitality, First Impressions or similarly functioning team, I hope you will click on the links above to read more.

Want to know more? Leave a comment below or use the contact tab above to get in touch with me.


How your front line teams represent themselves – what they do (or don’t do), what they say (or don’t say) – that’s the powerful human “first impression” your Guest is experiencing – and will remember.

What Retailers Don’t Know – But Churches Can Learn

For the final post on my return review of Paco Underhill’s classic book Why We Buy, it’s time to dive into the brains of retailers and take a look at what they don’t know – and what churches can learn from them.

  • How many of the people who walk into stores buy something? The quick, and wrong, answer is almost 100%. The conversion, or closure rate – the percentage of shoppers who become buyers – is almost always thought to be much higher than it actually is. Conversion rates measure what you make of what you have – it shows how well (or how poorly) the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts the most: in the store. It’s all about what happens within the four walls of the store.

ChurchWorld Lesson: How effective are you with what you’ve got in terms of ministry? Marketing, advertising, promotion and a great location can help bring guests to your church – but it’s the job of your leadership team, the ministries you’re attempting, and the entire church body to make sure the Guests not only leave fulfilled, but return. Maybe as second timers, maybe eventually as participants and then members. The lesson: How are your assimilation systems working? Sure, you’ve got a great front door, and maybe even a few effective side doors – but how big is your back door?

  • How long does a shopper spend in the store? Assuming that he or she is shopping and not standing in line, this may be perhaps the single most important factor in determining how much she or he will buy. Studies have shown a direct relationship between the amount of time in a store and the resulting sales volume; usually a buyer spends almost 50% more time than a non-buyer.

ChurchWorld Lesson: There are certainly differences of opinion in the church world as to how long you want Guests and members to linger before or after worship services. Churches with multiple services often need to have a smooth transition from one service to another. This is an area where design or renovation can play a critical role: make adequate space for a foyer, café, other gathering place so that those who choose to do so can fellowship with others. Another opportunity for evaluation in this area might be the pace of services – does the timing/scheduling need to be altered?

  • What is the store’s interception rate? Interception rate is the percentage of customers who have some contact with an employee. This is an especially important measurement in a time when stores use fewer full-time employees and more minimum-wage employees. Research has established a direct relationship: the more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer.’

ChurchWorld Lesson: This is a critical factor in making Guests feel welcome to your church. Well-trained and observant Guest Experience teams should make all people feel welcome to your church by extending a verbal welcome and offering a handshake or other appropriate physical touch. Guests especially need to have a verbal interaction with someone beyond a cursory “Good Morning”. The key is to engage the Guest as you are attending to their needs.

  • How long does the store make customer’s wait? Studies have shown this is the single most important factor in customer satisfaction. Few retailers realize that when shoppers are made to wait in line (or anywhere else) their impression of overall service plunges.

ChurchWorld Lesson: While church participants aren’t likely to leave like a shopper might in a long checkout line, it can happen. Most often you will find this expressed in the parking lot – in church consultations observing traffic patterns I have seen cars pull in, find no parking spots, and pull right back out onto the street. Examine all your areas where waiting might occur – can you reduce, or eliminate, wait time?

  • Who are the shoppers in the store? Take the retail store who stocks pet treats on upper shelves, unaware that the main buyers of this product were senior adults and young children. Or the family style restaurant who had too many tables for two and not enough for four or more, which caused headaches during busy times. Or the Florida-based drugstore chain’s Minneapolis branch, where a full assortment of suntan lotions was on prominent display – in October.

ChurchWorld Lesson: This is probably one of the most important areas church leaders can discover – and one that many church leaders get wrong over half of the time. Who is in your target area of ministry? Who is coming to your church? Who is not coming to your church? Grouped under the broad area of demographics, this type of information is invaluable to help you understand who your neighbors are and how they may be changing. Once you understand the who, it is much easier to begin to answer the how, where, and why questions of ministry.

As I close this brief foray into the science of shopping, I need to remind you of a couple of things: First, there is a whole lot more about this area that I think could be very beneficial to churches who want to make sure they are doing all they can to attract and retain Guests who come to their churches. My focus has been on the front end of that – hospitality – and there is a lot more. Interested? Contact me for a conversation.

Also, there are probably many who would say all this focus on the church guest and member in a consumer mindset is wrong. Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that we live in a very consumer-driven, consumer-oriented society. The competition for churches seeking to reach new people is not other churches – it’s any place and any experience that these people will compare your church to.

Shouldn’t we be doing the very best we can to reach them?

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

Shopping and the Church

This post by my boss Will Mancini on how churches can leverage trends in retail brought to mind some research I had done a couple of years ago about the connection between retail stores and the church.

What? You don’t think there are some similarities between the two? Read on, and then let me know what you think…

Paco Underhill, the founder and CEO of Envirosell, Inc. wrote the book on the science of shopping – literally. Why We Buy, originally written in 1999 and updated in 2009, is a witty and pragmatic report from the retail trenches on consumers’ tastes and habits — what makes them tick, what happens to people in stores, how to influence or change customers, and how and why customers change stores. Envirosell is a research and consulting firm that advises a blue-chip collection of Fortune 100 companies seeking to understand the behavior and motivation of the contemporary consumer. Envirosell films, records, and follows 50,000 to 70,000 shoppers through their retail experiences in stores, banks, and public spaces. Underhill uses video, trained “trackers” (researchers who discreetly cruise the aisles tracking shoppers and making notes on their activities), and photo analysis to help retailers understand why consumers buy – or don’t. Here’s a quick story that shows how Underhill and the Envirosell team’s research documented, then changed, the way many stores market a common item today.

A large company owned a chain of drugstores throughout the country. In efforts to understand buying patterns, they had Underhill study a typical store near their headquarters. It was located in an enclosed regional mall in the Northeast. The store’s sales were good overall, but in one category – analgesics – it was underperforming. Video study showed that the closure rate – the percentage of shoppers who bought – was below expectations. Plenty of customers picked up the packages, read the labels, but didn’t complete the purchase. The company’s previous studies had shown that the conversion rate was high, so there was another factor at work.

store aisle

Over the course of three days, a pattern emerged. The aspirin was displayed on a main aisle, on the path to some refrigerated cases of soft drinks, which tended to draw many customers to that section of the store. The main customers for the cold drinks were teenagers, many of them mall employees on a quick break. They would rush down the aisle, grab a drink, and hurry back to the front to checkout. Along the way, they would have to brush by customers – often median and senior adults in the aspirin aisle. The video studies showed that many times the aspirin shoppers would simply stop their browsing and walk away empty-handed.

The primary learning was that a store has more than one constituency, and it must therefore perform several functions, all from the same premises. Sometimes those functions coexist in perfect harmony, but other times they clash.

Hello? Does this sound like your church? Do you not have various constituencies “competing” for the same space and resources? Does it often seem like a tug-of-war with no winners?

The solution for the drugstore chain? They moved the aspirin to a quieter section of the store, where sales rose 15% immediately. They also located a selection of cold drinks and snacks close to the front of the store – a move that has now become industry standard.

That’s what the science of shopping can teach the church. People have habits on how they move in spaces, interact with others, and make decisions.

Why not study the retail world and apply those principles to the design and operations of our churches?

What are some retail lessons you have observed and have implemented at your church?

Read Part 2 in this series here.

Senses and Sensibility – Getting Back to Basics

Do you long for the “good old days” when the pace of our lives was simpler and life was slower? As comedian Will Rogers once said,

Things ain’t what they used to be – and probably never was.

There’s no use longing for the good old days. In a world that is:

  • Increasingly hurried
  • Painfully insecure
  • Physically and mentally exhausting
  • Socially and economically fragmented, and
  • Psychologically and emotionally demanding

Millions of people are desperately in need of opportunities to feel:

  • Free from time pressure
  • Safe and secure in their surroundings
  • Pleasantly stimulated, physically and mentally
  • At peace with themselves and others, and
  • Ready to be open-minded, creative, and productive

Organizations that can provide such opportunities by re-imagining the Guest experience will attract an enormous number of Guests in the years ahead and keep them coming back.

Guest experience – in a church? Here’s where the “common sense” comes into play. Just like the business you frequent often, churches delivering experiences that exceed Guest’s expectations are those to which people return, again and again, until they’re no longer Guests but full-fledged members of the church community. When a Guest thinks “Wow!” it is because he or she feels affirmed or valued. The church has said, “You matter.” While you may not be trying to sell a product, your Guest (and potential member) is very much “shopping” for a church. More important, they are shopping for a spiritual experience that addresses their personal needs. Why not make sure you do all in your power to make it happen?

A Potpourri of Guest Improvement Ideas

Visit your church …again – How familiar are you with your own church building and campus? We all tend to get comfortable with our own surroundings and overlook what our Guests see. Try to see your facilities through a fresh set of eyes – your guest’s eyes.

  • How easy is it to drive onto your campus and find convenient parking close to your buildings?
  • What’s the condition of the parking lots, sidewalks, and landscaping?
  • Are there greeters and parking lot helpers to guide you into the building?
  • Are the buildings and rooms identified?
  • Is there a welcome area that is warm and inviting and that has smiling helpful people staffing it?
  • Do you have a café or refreshment area nearby for guests and members?
  • If you have children, it is easy to find the right place for them? Do the security measures in place give you a sense of peace as you leave your child?

Visit another church in your community – What can you learn from visiting another church?

  •  How do they handle parking and greeting?
  • What kinds of signage do they use?
  • How are the people greeting one another? Do feel like they’re invading your “space”, or are you comfortable?
  • When you first walk inside the building, what do you smell?
  • Is the area visually cluttered, or pleasing?
  • What’s the noise level like?
  • Is there a café area? Is it clean?

Overall, does the facility make you feel welcome? How does the personal impact of the people fit in to the surroundings?

Visit other types of places and engage all your senses – The next time you dine out, take on the role of a critic. Not just of the food, but of the total experience.

  •  What are your impressions of the parking area, the restaurant, host/hostess, wait time, staff – and don’t forget the food!
  •  How was the experience?
  • What wowed you?

You’re not trying to find something wrong – you’re trying to train yourself to use all your senses to imagine what Guests are experiencing when they come to your church.

Identify potential distractions – and work to remove them – If your Guests become distracted because they can’t find a place to park, or their children’s room has an odor in it, or whatever, you will have a difficult time re-engaging them for the real experience you’re trying to establish: a personal encounter with Jesus. When you eliminate potential or obvious distractions, you are one step closer to satisfying your Guests.

Company’s coming – are you ready to “WOW” them? Use your common sense to engage all of your Guest’s senses and their first impression will be a positive and lasting one.

Want to know more? Expand your “sensory knowledge” by reading:

  • First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, Mark L. Waltz
  • The Experience Economy, Updated Edition, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore
  • How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb
  • The Starbucks Experience, Joseph Michelli
  • The Apple Experience, Carmine Gallo
  • Setting the Table, Danny Meyer
  • Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough, Jonathan M. Tisch
  • Brand Sense, Martin Lindstrom
  • Moments of Truth, Jan Carlzon
  • Why We Buy, Paco Underhill



Guest Services: Making Your First Impressions LAST!

Can the church learn anything from Walt Disney, Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, and the Ritz-Carlton?

My answer is a resounding YES!

Over the past four years I’ve been working on a project exploring the world of hospitality, looking for key principles that have application to the church world I live and work in. Early motivation for this effort came from great guest experiences over consecutive days from two establishments at opposite ends of the dining spectrum: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Taco Bell. In both instances, the staff went beyond the expectations to deliver exemplary service. You expect it at one, but are surprised at the other, right? Why should price be any indicator of the level of service delivered? What about a place with no “price” at all – the church?

The companies I named in the opening sentence have been my primary research targets, but you could say that the hospitality industry in general is my field of research. My proposition is that the world of restaurants, coffee shops, fine hotels, and the ultimate in customer expectation and experience – Disney – can provide tangible and beneficial principles for the church to adapt in welcoming guests and members alike.

Along the way, I’ve supplemented my research with practical application in my own church: I lead one of the Guest Services (Parking) Teams at Elevation Church’s Uptown location. As the “first face” of Elevation, my crew and I get weekly opportunities to practice guest services and make a lasting first impression.

We don’t just park cars; we:

• Sanitize all touch points and spray air freshener in the elevator cabs and stairwells of the parking garage we use

• Pick up trash along the route from the garage to the theater

• Put up 22 parking signs along the entrances

• Man the elevator lobbies to call elevators for guests

• Hold the parking deck door for guests coming and going

• Pull the parking ticket and personally hand it to guests

• Validate parking for all Elevation guests

• Provide VIP (our first time guests) and family parking right next to the theater

• Know what’s going on Uptown so we can help any and everyone who has a question (sporting events, concerts, special activities, etc.)

• Provide umbrellas to guests in the rain

• Give a verbal greeting to everyone coming and going

And that’s just the parking crew! Elevation’s audacious Guest Services team also has Greeters, a First Impressions Team, VIP Tent, and Connections Tent. All this BEFORE a guest has stepped into the theater for worship.

You might say Guest Services is a big deal.

I think it is – and you should too.

Beyond Customer Service

Do you give up, clean up, or follow up?

The following comments were originally adapted from Zig Ziglar on Selling and Jeffrey Gitomer’s The Sales Bible for a business development audience. In terms of what churches need to do to think about the “customer” they are trying to reach, I think they are very appropriate for church leaders to consider. Remember, guests to your church are measuring the experience they receive from you not to other churches, but to other customer-oriented businesses. The days of “customer service” as the standard of excellence are long gone.

Today, everybody talks about the importance of “customer satisfaction.” In this competitive market the only way to get ahead (and sometimes the only way to survive) is to go beyond customer service to customer satisfaction. The best way to prevent a prospect or client from becoming unhappy is to provide excellent service before the problems are allowed to arise. The Norwegian word for “sell” is selje, which literally means “to serve.” Isn’t that a great sales strategy? Here are some ways you can “serve” your prospect or client:

  • Satisfactory customer service is no longer acceptable
  • Customer service begins at 100%
  • The customer’s perception is reality
  • A mistake is a chance to improve the company
  • Problems can create beneficial rearrangements
  • Make the customer feel important
  • Learn how to ask questions
  • The most important art – the art of listening

Customer satisfaction in the never-ending pursuit of excellence to keep clients so satisfied that they tell others of the way they were treated by your organization.

Is your church raising the bar on “customer satisfaction”? Or is it just the same old, same old?