On April 23, 1985, one of the largest marketing bungles was made by Coca-Cola when they introduced a new formulation of the Coke. This is a company known as the leader marketing expert in the world. No matter where you travel around the world, you can purchase a Coke in the familiar shaped bottle, designed after the cacao bean pod. Yet, using extensive marketing research, the Coke officials changed the 99 year old formula. Customers rebelled with a vengeance.
There was little doubt that blindfolded people preferred the new taste. More than 200,000 people were tested. What the Coca-Cola company didn’t take into account was what their customers actually wanted. And a change in taste was not what they expected or desired.
When The Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, visited Presbyterian Church of the Good Shepherd in Melbourne, I overheard a conversation by retired CEO, Mike Carnes. He said, “To survive, I must serve my customer. Determining who is my customer is easy. Anyone who needs anything from me is my customer,” he concluded. Interestingly, Carnes was not talking about the corporate world but the church. “When you visit a five-star resort, everyone from the general manager to the gardener has one primary job–making sure that all the needs of their guests are satisfied,” Carnes concluded. Most of us haven’t stayed at a five-star resort. Nevertheless, if you have ever visited Disneyland, Disney World or sailed on a Disney Cruise, you’ve experienced this concept.
When I go to my local Wal-Mart, I have every employee at my bid. Perhaps other Wal-Marts are different. I can only speak about the ones that I shop at frequently. The same is true with the Publix supermarkets. Each time I pass a Publix employee they ask, “Can I help you? Have your found everything you need?” If I need their help, they escort me to the correct aisle and they find the item for me. That is why I keep going back.
Makes shopping a pleasure but how does this apply to the church? Whether I’m a Christian, a full-time pastor, or a Sunday school teacher, I am a representative of the Christ who died for the church. He came as a servant to humankind, can I expect any less from my life?
It is certain that there is no “how to” list that will explain how we are to meet the needs of the people we encounter. The needs are varied and distinct. The people will be touched in a unique way. However, we can learn to listen to hear what the needs are.
This week Chris’ father died. She is a member of The Special Gathering. On Sunday, I took her and three other friends out to lunch as a token of my acknowledgement that I understand her grief. After lunch, I asked if she would like to go and visit with her sister. Chris had not expressed a desire to visit her sister. But each time I’d been to visit with her during the past week when her father was in the dying process, she would call her sister and fill her in on his decline.
Because her sister had been sick during the last days of her father’s life, Chris had not seen her for about a week. When I mentioned visiting her sister, Chris smiled slightly and said, “Sure.” There was little emotion in her voice but that was a normal Chris reaction. Yet, when we got to the sister’s home, she had prepared for Chris a large box of mementos, pictures and family items that meant a great deal to Chris. As we went through the box, examining and explaining each item, Chris began to cry. This was an emotional response that neither her sister or I had expected from the no-drama Chris.
Listening could be more difficult than acting. However, listening is definitely the key to knowing the needs of every person you meet. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.” Who is my customer? I hear Jesus saying to me, “Anyone who needs your help.”