All You Have To Do Is…

I cringe every time the words, “all you have to do is. . . .” are spoken. I hear them most frequently when speaking with a Helpdesk person with some service that I have, whether it is AT&T with whom I have my cellular account or the agency with whom the parish has its website and I am trying to edit the website. I have found that it is not as easy as “all you have to do is….” Many of the directives do not strike me as very intuitive. What may be obvious for most people is not obvious to me when it comes to these moments.

Recently I had to switch banks for the parish. The previous bank was changing its mission to refocus on investment. So a new account was needed. This required switching all the automatic deductions with many vendors and aligning the new bank with the software program that manages our checking and ledgers.

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After being transferred up the chain of command, I finally talked to someone. Shutterstock photo

I must have heard numerous times that “the only thing you need to do is. . . .” Of course, I don’t hear those words until minutes have been spent navigating the phone tree of extensions, pressing number after number, trying to find the right extension for the function needed. Once a live person finally answers, typically what I hear is that this is not the extension that cares for that function, so the call will be transferred to the correct department. That is scary because, invariably, the phone call will be disconnected, so the whole process has to begin again. Recently, I have learned not to let them transfer the call until the new extension is revealed, in case we are disconnected and I have to navigate the phone tree once again. Furthermore, I request the Helpdesk staff not to hang up until a person in the correct department has come on the line and the three of us are talking.

Fortunately when all the new banking endeavors were being undertaken, it was winter and Baltimore had more than its usual amount of snow, resulting in more frequent office closures. The office was quieter so I had time to just wait on hold and navigate systems. When the new account was opened with a local bank, we had to sync the bank’s online system with the software company where the parish does its bookkeeping. With the bank Helpdesk’s guidance, I followed every instruction to the most minor detail. Nothing was syncing, of course, and during the session, the Internet connection broke. After being transferred up the chain of command, I finally talked to someone who said, “You cannot sync, as you don’t have that feature with the bank.” When the account had been opened only days before, it was clear what was wanted and needed. Then the banker said, “Oh, I see the problem. You asked for the capability to Sync, that is a word used for when you have two accounts with us and want to Sync those two accounts. You have only one account. You should have asked for Direct Connect.” At that point, exasperated, I asked him, “How would any customer know to use that specific term when it was clearly stated initially the need to ‘sync or connect directly’ with an outside online bookkeeping system?” We got that part settled only when he told me that the bank cannot directly connect; the bookkeeping software company must do that.

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When people go to a website seeking information, and don’t find it in three clicks, they give up. Or if they must have the information and continue searching, their frustration level rises. If the gateway to the parish church is not easy, there is slim chance the caller will call again. Shutterstock photo

So I started over. Even my call to the software company did not start well. I go to the website and under “contact us” there is no phone number. The only way to contact them is to fill out an online form with the promise that an email reply will be sent within the next business day. After much digging on the website, I did find a phone number. Fortunately, the new bank is a national bank, so the bookkeeping company had the link directly to the bank. But in doing so, it was discovered by the software company and me that even though I have the rights to the system, I cannot make the change. The Master Administrator is the only one who can. The Master Administrator left and moved away two years ago, so now I have to track her down. Fortunately, she remembered (two years later!) her username and password. Of course, she was told “the only thing you need to do is. . . .” It finally worked the third time she tried, but it was NOT the only thing she had to do. The person from the company was kind enough to give her a direct phone number and email in case there were glitches. There were glitches.

These stories are legion, and each reader could add more. I shared this story because, as my frustration from changing banks and the concentration of activities was increasing, I began to wonder, how often is the Church the voice of “the only thing you need to do. . . .” How often do parishioners call and get the endless phone tree and just give up, or once they do get a live person are transferred to another desk to find only another voice mail. Due to downsizing at my parish when the former administrative assistant transferred to a new job, the remaining staff decided to see if we could limp along for awhile with one less person for personnel costs saving. The parish amended its phone tree so that now it always goes to voice mail, and callers can dial by staff name or extension. The staff is keeping its ears alert to see how frustrating it is for parishioners when they call in. We are monitoring how user-friendly is the system once the caller gets connected.

Imagine someone calling the larger church seeking information from the diocese. How quickly do they reach the correct office? When someone finally decides to call the local diocese to seek an annulment, does the caller even know to even ask for the Tribunal? And, once a person does answer, is it really as easy as “the only thing you need to do is.” Endeavors are always more difficult to the person seeking the service than the one offering it. The person offering advice forgets that the person on the other end may never have navigated the system, be it the cellular system, banking, the Tribunal, or substitute any other church inquiry (my office included).

How easy is it for the person seeking a sponsor’s form in order to be a godfather for a longtime friend’s newborn? Then to compound the frustration the person is not registered in the parish, though he attends church more than most. How easy or hard do we make it? (See last month’s reflection on parish registration!) How many people or phone calls are made before the prospective godparent can produce the form that the church of baptism is requesting.

It is not easy in this day of mass communication and the Internet. Experts say that, when users go to a new website seeking information, if it is not found in three clicks, the seekers give up. If they must have the information and continue searching, their frustration level rises. When they finally do reach a parish staff person, the caller is already on edge, so the person answering the parish phone needs to be extra careful not to add to the caller’s frustration. Hearing the words “all you have to do is. . . .” sounds consoling until the caller discovers that that is not the reality.

In this era of new evangelization, phone trees and websites are often the first experience encountered by a newcomer or a person seeking to return to the Church. We used to worry about the crabby secretary and how she answered the phone. Sometimes it might be better not to have a real person in those cases, but let us not replace the crabby secretary with an impossible system to navigate. If the gateway to the parish church is not easy, there is slim chance the caller will call again. First impressions have good impressions. We need to make them all good ones. Once callers make it is through the gate, we need to keep them in. Making it easy to stay connected and not get disconnected again is quite necessary. We should all aspire to allow the words “all you have to do” to be true. The way to assure that is to finish the sentence with “is to come to Christ.”

FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese. pcarrion@archbalt.org