Taking Care of Bidness: a book review

Most of the books I review on this web sight are explicitly Christian and reflect on theology, ministry or Christian formation. This book does none of those things. The publisher sent me this book with a note that explained that while this book is not a Christian book per se, the author Lee Cockerell has spoken at several pastor’s conferences.  Certainly a book which promises to help us ‘deliver sensational service’ has something to teach pastors and ministers. Am I right?

But another reason for reviewing The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service is that my day job is customer service. I work on a sales floor of a local  hardware store and spend my days trying to not just meet, but exceed customer expectations.   Lee Cockerell was the vice president of operations at Walt Disney World, and has held executive positions in both Marriott and Hilton Hotels.  With a lifetime of success in the hospitality industry, Cockerell has a wealth of advice about how to ‘wow’ customers with consistently excellent service.

This is not a how-to-manual or a technical business book directed at upper management.  Cockerell is laying out principles of success which can be applied by anyone no matter what  their job title or status is. After all, customer service is not a department (rule #1), it is the responsibility of the whole organization.

Essentially most of the thirty nine rules can be summarized as exhorting us to be diligent in our work and to treat customers as we would want to be treated. This means attending to their needs (and wants), listening to them,  not arguing with them or telling them no,  but anticipating their needs and offering the best solution when problems arise.  Cockerell also encourages cleanliness and good personal hygiene. That is advice we should all follow.

But is this the sort of book which has something to teach ministers about how to minister well?  I  am skeptical when pastors and church leaders tout the  latest leadership fad or business principle (remember fractals?). Yes of course we can learn about systems and hone our administrative skills when we read business books ( a guilty pleasure of mine), but we need to be careful that we are not trusting technique over the Spirit’s leading. And business has its own teleology. When an author like Cockerell writes about satisfying customers, he is hoping that this will increase your profit margin. The telos is the bottom line.  The telos of the Christian life is to be transformed into the image of Christ and to participate in the life of the Triune God.  Or as the Westminster Catechism says it: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Taking a customer service book and applying it to ministry uncritically,  runs the risk of missing our proper teleology (never mind our understanding of what people are and what they must do to be saved).

But most of Cockerell’s advice is widely applicable to anyone because in his view good customer service is basically being a good human being. Politeness, generosity, empathy and care are his prescription for success. We can all benefit from some of his reminders.  Not that any of this is particularly revolutionary (most business books dispense similar advice). I give this book three stars.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

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