Welcome to the Basil Fawlty School of Customer Service

Fawlty Towers is one of the best known and most loved series from the 1970’s glory days of British comedy. John Cleese starred as the petulant Torquay hotel owner who despised his guests and staff and saw customer service as a colossal inconvenience to his life.

The idea for the series came to John Cleese while shooting a Monty Python series. He was staying at a hotel in Torquay, England, where the hotel owner captivated the famous cast by throwing a briefcase out of the window “just in case it contained a bomb.” He further endeared himself to the actors when he complained about one cast member’s table manners and proceeded to throw a bus schedule at another guest who had the audacity to ask him the time of the next bus into town.

I hear you asking, what’s a 70’s TV show about terrible customer service have to do with ministry communications?

Well, everything.

Here’s a real life Basil Fawlty-like story from a church. A guest was visiting for the first time and wasn’t sure where to park. Unfortunately, they parked in a spot the church had reserved for the elderly. An overeager parking attendant banged on their window (to ensure that the person could hear him) and shouted through the glass, “You can’t park here!” To his credit, the parking attendant thought he was doing the right thing. After all, they had rules and those rules had been broken. Unfortunately, how he handled the ‘problem’ created another problem in that it scared the first-time guest away.

So much so that he just drove off in fear.

Church leaders often invest a ton of money in creating glossy brochures, smooth looking websites, jazzy videos with edgy music beds and heart warming voice-overs. But often they ignore or, at the very least, fail to invest in creating jaw-dropping guest experiences.

Here’s the problem: If you don’t invest in guest services but invest in your marketing collateral, you fail. If you invest in your guest services but don’t invest in your marketing collateral, you fail. You can’t do one in isolation of the other. Your marketing collateral not only needs to reflect who you are, but those in your guest services need to live out your values every time they meet a guest at your church.

Every single interaction is critical.

Consequently, if one link in the chain is broken, they are all broken. The parking guy—had he been well trained—could have handled the problem in a completely different way and the guest might have moved their car and still had a great experience. Think about how this experience could have been turned around had the parking attendant offered to park the car for the first time guest. How would you have responded?

I’m now trying to live out this value as a volunteer barista in our new church café. Why? First, I love good coffee (I’m a Minister of the Bean). Secondly, I want our new café to be a rip-roaring success. Finally, I know that when we say “stay for some great coffee after the service” (living in the coffee snob capital of the world), we had better deliver.

Here is a great book I’m reading and a great blog I follow to educate myself. I’m sure that Kerry’s mob* can give you some wisdom here as well. They’ve helped me understand that good ministry communications goes way beyond brochures and bulletins.

They can help you too.

*Mob is Australian Aboriginal slang for a group of people.



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4 thoughts on “Welcome to the Basil Fawlty School of Customer Service

  1. Great marketing will kill a "flawed" product in no time flat. I can have a great social and traditional marketing plan that drives awareness, interest and "trial", but if I fail to deliver on the promises made…I've lost.

    Marketing is the promise we make. The experience fulfills it. We need both to succeed in "re-presenting" Christ to the world.

    Yes…it is as simple as a good cup of coffee and a friendly smile that fulfills the promise that God loves you and so do we. Come and find out more.

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  3. Hey Eric,

    Thanks for your insightful comment.

    "Marketing is the promise we make. The experience fulfills it. We need both to succeed in “re-presenting” Christ to the world."

    A great summary. Wish I'd expressed it like that!

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