How can I help you help me help you?

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Okay, you are going to have to read the title a few times. I had to write it a few times.

I used to get a lot of emails (honestly I still do) looking for help. Part of my job is helping local churches use technology to more effectively reach the mission field. I get emails asking for help with websites, live streaming, online giving, e-mail, church management software, registration platforms, etc. It is the most rewarding part of my job. However, it is often a slow and inefficient process.

800px-Check_Engine

Why? Because people who need help often don’t know exactly what they need. Think¬†about it. Unless you know a lot about cars, when that little “check engine” light in your car comes on, and you pull into the shop, you are likely not sure what is wrong. So, you don’t walk up to the counter and say, “I need you to inspect my EGR valve and see if it can be cleaned or if it needs to be replaced.” Instead, you say, “The little light on the dash is on.” A good mechanic, at this point, has a process. She is going to run a computer diagnostic test to find the problem, let you know what it is and then try to fix it.

Most pastors and church leaders aren’t technology experts. So many of the emails I receive are pretty broad. In the past, my process of response was not very efficient. Email threads would often go like this:

Dear Will,

Our website isn’t great. Can you help?

Bob
———-
Dear Bob,

Glad to help. Can you send me your website address?

Will
———-
Dear Will,

http://www.mychurchwebsiteneedshelp.org

Bob
———-
Bob,

I took a look. It does need help. Do you want to try to fix the one you have or do you think you want to start over?

Will
———-
Will,

I don’t know. What do you think?

Bob
———-
Now since neither Bob or I are likely to be sitting in front of our computer answering emails all day, this conversation is likely to take place over a matter of days or week. The whole time, Bob’s website isn’t getting any better.

That’s why I have developed forms and processes to make this all more effective and efficient.

Here is how it goes now:

Will,

Our website isn’t great. Can you help?

Bob
———-
Bob,

I would love to help. Go ahead and fill out this form: https://riotexas.org/review-request

We will give your website a thorough review and get back to you with a detailed report on how to make your website more effective.

Will
———-
When Bob submits that report, it automatically gets posted on Basecamp for my team and me to work on. And so we can get right to work, we have a process in place for how to handle the request. It would be incredibly unproductive for us to start from scratch every time. “Someone wants their website reviewed. I wonder what we should look at.” I have, instead, developed a process and some templates for the review process. That enables us to to be thorough and consistent with each request and turn them around as quickly as possible.

Screen-Shot-2017-04-30-at-10.23.51-AMWe break the process down into parts. I get assigned the task of running an initial search engine optimization report on the website. My Communications Specialist, Austin, is tasked with doing an initial review of the site. We have a template he uses to check out all of the aspects we will include in the report. He uploads his review and any supporting screenshots to Basecamp. Finally, I review his findings, look at the website myself, and then write a final report. I upload that to Basecamp and Austin reviews it and makes edits. Then we send it out. Basecamp even reminds us to follow up in a week and then again in four weeks.

You can read more about this process and how it works here.

Screen-Shot-2017-04-30-at-10.27.57-AMWe have a similar process in place this time of year for people having trouble registering for our June annual conference gathering. When someone has trouble registering, instead of a lengthy email exchange, we have a form in a place that gathers all the information we need to help them. That form creates assignments on Basecamp for my assistant, Sylvia. She can help with 90% of the issues. When she can’t help, she posts the issue on Basecamp letting me know to jump in.

Some people don’t like these automated processes. They like the personal touch of talking to us on the phone or at least interacting via email. We don’t forbid people from communicating with us directly. What we are trying to demonstrate is that we can help faster and more effectively using the processes we have set up.

Some people don’t like these processes for the same reason they don’t like them with their cable company, phone company, credit card company, etc. You have undoubted heard the recorded “on-hold” voice telling you that, for faster service, just go to the website. That can be annoying, especially if you have a problem that their website can’t help with. (Like when your internet is down, and the internet company tells you to go to their website.) However, in most cases, I would rather take care of it myself than wait on hold. And waiting on hold is now a part of life. Companies trying to lower prices and increase profits want to spend as little as possible on telephone representatives. We, at the annual conference, don’t have the problem of trying to reach profit goals. However, we do have stakeholders in terms of those churches who pay apportionments (payments churches make toward funding the conference and national church.) They and we want to keep apportionments low. That means we don’t have the extra people ready to assist people when they call. We are all usually working.

In my next post, I am going to talk about a couple of other aspects of being more effective in an online, automated world. One is how to help people get help instantly. The other is how to go about asking for help when you need it.

Pastors, church staff, and lay leaders are some of the busiest people I know. The frantic pace of ministry makes it seemingly impossible to respond to every need. That pace also makes it very difficult to have time and energy to do all the other things necessary to share the gospel with new people and in new ways. I invite you to think about what processes might be worth developing in order to be more effective in ministry and create more time and energy to be the church.

2 thoughts on “How can I help you help me help you?

  1. Pingback: Helping others help themselves | pastorwill.net

  2. Pingback: Asking for Help | pastorwill.net

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