Deliver what you promise and be clear about expectations

Last week, I posted about an incident when I went to change a tyre on my car. As tends to happen with these things, the main point of my post seemed to get lost a bit. Adam Thomas helpfully summed up how the discussion went with this tweet:

Given the roaring success of that post, that drifted toward some sort of consumer advice, I thought I’d have another go.

This time, it concerns a birthday present bought for me. My wife ordered the thing a few weeks before my birthday; plenty of time for it to arrive. Having waited a week and no sign of it, she contacted the vendor. They apologised and said the item, for some reason, hadn’t been dispatched so they would do it right away. Several days went by with no sign of the item. So, she contacts them again. And, once again, they say that the item (for some reason) hasn’t been despatched again but they would get onto it ASAP.

The item still hadn’t arrived a day before my birthday. So, my wife contacts them a third time. This time, they let slip that the item isn’t actually in stock (despite saying that it was on their website). There was, apparently, a delay with their supplier. Only now, two weeks after the thing was ordered, do they offer either a refund or a chunk of money off the item if we are prepared to wait. As it stands, I am led to believe we are awaiting an update on when their supplier will be able to deliver and we can then decide whether to wait it out or find another vendor who will get the item to us a bit quicker.

As is typical for British customer service, the whole thing is a bit of a palaver.

Of course, the whole thing could have been easily avoided if the company were just honest about what stock they had and the probably time it would take to receive it. Then a decision could be made about what to do. But because they weren’t willing to be honest from the get-go, and even continued to try and bluff it out when they hadn’t delivered as promised, more issues ensued.

There are two key lessons the church can learn from this fiasco. First, we must be careful not to promise what we cannot deliver. Second, we must be clear with people what they can and cannot expect from us.

How might we promise what we cannot deliver in the church? I recently spoke about many church’s desire to build community. But this is an area where we can over-promise what is, in reality, possible for the church we have. We can make grandiose claims of community when we aren’t in a position to offer people their own view of what true community ought to look like. We do well to be clear with people, when we say ‘community’, exactly what that looks like and how we understand that we offer it. And, similarly, if there isn’t that much community to speak of, maybe we shouldn’t be promising what we know we can’t really deliver.

The same is true for anything that we claim to offer. It is far better not to imply that we can offer what we can’t because, in the end, you will only end up disappointing folk who soon drift away as their hopes and expectations are dashed. It is why it is helpful and good to have membership classes when people seek to join your church that lay out clearly what they can expect from the church and what the church will expect of them. Failing to do this will lead us to promising through words meaning one thing by which another person hears something altogether different. Otherwise, into a vacuum, those joining us will begin to expect what we cannot offer.

Similarly, for those coming to church for the first time, it can be helpful to spell out on our website what they can expect. If we tell them that certain things will happen, and then they don’t, that represents something a of a credibility problem. If they arrive expecting certain things to happen that never take place, or they happen but in a way that is totally alien to what they expected, we may never see them again. It can be helpful to spell out, clearly and succinctly, what is likely to happen when they come so that there are as few surprises when they arrive as possible.

If a company that doesn’t fulfil what it says is unlikely to get a good review and any repeat custom, a church that doesn’t do what it says is unlikely to fare any better.