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It's About the Experience

There's a phrase that needs to be replaced. It's the phrase "guest services."

I believe changing it to "guest experience" would be the better term to describe what we want our guests to "experience" on their first visit and beyond.

An experience is something that you first and foremost feel.

You've probably heard it said that guests won't remember everything you told them, but they will remember how you made them feel. They will remember the "experience" you provided for them.

And when guests have a great experience, they will be back. The opposite is true when a guest has a bad experience. It doesn't matter how much you "follow up" with them, more than likely they will not return.

You see, we live in an experience economy. Parents are looking for ways to have great experiences with their children.

The term "Experience Economy" was first used in a 1998 article by Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore. They believed that if businesses orchestrate memorable events for their customers, that the memory itself becomes the product. The concept of the experience was initially focused in business, but it soon crossed into tourism, architecture, nursing, urban planning and other fields.

The Experience Economy is also now considered a key part of CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE MANAGEMENT.

The theory was that in an experience society, people behave differently as consumers. They begin to judge the value of a transaction based not just about the goods or services that they received, but rather the need for goods or service that delivers an experience as well.

A Danish researcher named Rolf Jensen, wrote the following in his article called The Dream Society. He stated that American society is yielding to a society focused on dreams, adventure, spirituality and feelings where the story that shapes feelings about a product would become a large part of what people buy when they buy the product. He stated the trend as the "commercialization of emotions. He predicted that in 25 years people would be buying based mostly on stories, legends, emotions and lifestyles.

Jensen nailed it. The term "customer experience" is everywhere in business these days. Some experts say that focusing on the customer experience has become the single most important factor for an organization to achieve business success.

And I would add another key place where the "guest experience" must be a priority. And that is in the church world. Growing churches provide guests with exceptional experiences. Growing churches cause people to feel loved, accepted, welcomed and cared for.

Why will over 70 million people walk into a Disney theme park this year? I believe the reason is clearly stated on the sign as you drive onto their property. Here is what it says...

Where Dreams Come True

Disney is so popular with families because Disney helps families create lifelong memories that are birthed in an experience.

That's why families go there. They know they will make some great memories together. And by focusing on a few key elements, you can also create great experiences for families. Let's take a look at a few of these.

Everyone has a part in the guests' first experience. A simple definition to keep in mind about guests' experience is this:

The guest's experience is the sum of all the interactions a guest has with your church. This includes everything from the greeter at the door smiling to clear, easy to read signage to a short waiting line to the appearance of the physical building to the person at the classroom door who welcomes them to the spiritual passion of the worship service to how they are treated when they pick up their child after the service to the hundreds of other interactions they will have during that first visit.

One thing all of these have in common is what? It's interaction with people in your ministry. Remember this - while no one owns the guests, everyone does own the moment they are with the guests.

This means that a first-time guest can have a great experience in the parking lot and at the entrance doors, but if the person at the classroom is short with them, they will remember how they were made to feel by that person over everything positive they experienced

Here's something else that is crucial to remember - the experience you create for guests goes way beyond the guest's experience with your greeter team. It must be a core value that is owned and implemented across the entire team.

It is crucial to help every single person on your team sees that they play a huge part in creating a great first experience with guests. Every person on your team matters and contributes to the guest's first impression of your ministry.

Your guest experience makers must be happy, positive people. Don't staff your guests' experience team with negative, frowning people. The people that you choose to serve on the front lines for this should be happy, upbeat, positive people who know how to make guests feel comfortable and at home.

Why is this so important? Because this will make or break your ministry. If the percentage of guests who are returning for another visit is very, very low, then it is time to take a look at the leadership of your guests' experience team.

Look for opportunities to go the second mile. Most of your great experiences will be found on the second mile. And BTW, it's not a road that most organizations travel on. But you can and should. Why? Because your goal should be to far exceed guests' expectations.

I have a friend that was at a Disney park. His daughter, who was a preschooler at the time, got sick and vomited all over her shirt. Not anticipating for something like this to happen, my friend had not packed an extra outfit for the day. It suddenly changed a good experience into a bad experience.

Until a Disney employee from a store, who had seen what happened, walked over and invited them to pick out an outfit for their child out of the store...free of charge.

Suddenly, a good experience that had turned into a bad experience was turned back into a good experience due to the thoughtfulness of an empowered team member.

Atmosphere is a key element of a great guest experience. And the good news is this...you can control the atmosphere. Music is a huge part of this. Next time you are at a Disney Park, notice the music. It is carefully crafted to contribute to the experience they want guests to have at that particular time and place in the park.

In the morning, as people are entering the park, they play happy, upbeat music. It's music that brings anticipation and excitement about all the fun they are going to have that day.

Then notice when people are leaving at the end of the day. The music is very reflective, relaxing and soothing. It helps people reminisce about all the great experiences they had together that day.

You must remember that people are not just comparing the experience you give them to only the experiences they've had at other churches. They are comparing the experience you give them to the experience they've had that week at the grocery store, the restaurant, the DMV, the school, etc.

All the "little" details add up to guests' overall experience. How long they had to wait to get checked in. The clearly marked signage. The guests' reserved parking spots in the parking lot. Walking the parents to the adult worship area. All of these little things add up to being a big part of the experience.

In my current ministry role, I travel quite a bit. One thing I have noticed and look for, is the hotel chains that have fresh baked cookies and freshly brewed coffee in their lobby. After a long day of travel, that cookie is something I look for. It's one of the little, second mile acts that contributes to my experience with their company.

So...let me ask you this. What are some of the "cookies" you can provide that will add up to a great guests' experience?

When guest's experience is done well, word will spread through social media and word of mouth. And this will result in numerical growth. Families are looking for places that can provide them with memory making experiences.

One big way your church can accomplish this is by celebrating key milestones in families' lives. Milestones like baby dedication, faith commitment, baptism, Bible presentation, graduation into student ministry, etc.

These are big-time experience moments in families' lives. They will welcome your help and assistance in creating these memories through the experience you provide them with.

Let's look at one example. Baby dedication. What are some ways you can come alongside families and make it an experience they will never forget? How about...

  • Offering a class they attend before they participate in the dedication. In this class, help them not only understand what the dedication represents, but also share with them how they can lead their children to follow Jesus for a lifetime.

  • Giving each parent an opportunity to pray over their baby and ask God's blessings upon them.

  • Presenting each family with a baby's first Bible.

  • Have a party atmosphere with cake, drinks, snacks, etc. Work to make it a happy, joyous time.

  • Encourage families to invite their friends, extended family, etc. to come to the celebration.

I believe when we are intentional about creating great experiences for people, that God will use it to help open their heart to His love for them.

The experience you create matters. A lot. Make it a high priority and you will see God move through it to reach families.

p.s. If you are interested in the key milestone experiences, you can get the elements you need right here. These resources have everything you need to create great milestone experiences for families. Click here for more information and to see samples.


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