Sunday, January 27, 2013

Semiotic awareness & the fast food "script"

A few months ago I had an experience at McDonald's that helped me see firsthand the impact of semiotic awareness on our outreach effectiveness.  Semiotic awareness is the ability to recognize the signs and feedback of the recipient and environment around you (in the outreach context, of the person you're talking to and the environment in which it's occurring) so that you can be more effective at what Leonard Sweet calls "nudging" instead of just coming across as "pushy," which oftentimes can close doors to receptivity swiftly.

Here's how that conversation went:
McD: "Welcome to McDonald's.  Order when you're ready."
me: "Ok, give me just a minute"
McD: (5 seconds later) "Order when you're ready."
me: "Ok, I will - I need a moment to decide."  [note: no one else in line behind me]
McD: (10 seconds later) "You can order when you're ready."  [I ignored this one - still no one in line behind me]
me: (about a minute later) "OK, I'd like a Double Quarterpounder with Cheese - just the sandwich, and that will do it."
McD: "Did you want the meal with fries & a drink?"
me: "No, just the sandwich - I have a drink already."
McD: "Would you like fries with that?"
me: "No, just the sandwich.  That will do it - that's all I need."
McD: "Would you like anything else with that?"
me:  (now irritated) "No, that will do it."
Is it just me, or are some people in marketing and retail professions so wrapped up in their "script" that they are tuned out to obvious feedback from the customer and everything else going on around them?  Lest we be too hard on McDonald's, I should also point out that I had a nearly identical exchange at Wendy's just this last week.  I'm not sure I understand the point of saying, "Order when you're ready" if the person taking the order doesn't really mean that, or up-selling if the prospective buyer has already indicated they're not interested.  Yet it happens all the time in evangelism.
I love the way my colleague & fellow D.Min cohort member Rick McKinney re-worded this exchange, showcasing its relevance to a common outreach encounter:

Church Member: Welcome to First Church! Let me know when you're ready for Jesus.
Seeker: I'd like to get to know Him a little better first.
Church Member: Just let me know when you're ready for Jesus.
Seeker: Could you tell me a little more about Him?
Church Member: It's all right there in the Bible (Menu).
Seeker: I think I've been noticing Him showing up in my life from time to time. Do you think that's possible?
Church Member: Probably not. He lives here and pretty much nowhere else. Just let me know when you're ready for Jesus.
Seeker: Can I get just Jesus, or do I have to take the whole church thing?
Church Member: No, I'm sorry there are NO substitutions. Jesus comes with a side of baptism, communion, tithing and Sunday School. Take it or leave it.
Seeker: I guess I'll leave it for now. Thanks anyway.
How much different might this exchange have gone if the Church Member had been sensitive to how the Lord was working in this Seeker's life and picked up on the invitation for meaningful dialogue regarding how (s)he sensed maybe Jesus had start showing up in his life lately?  It seems to me that we in the Church are also too comfortable with our scripts and struggle with deviating from the comfortable & familiar, even when the needs of the person we're talking to warrant it and the cues should be obvious.  I grieve when unchurched folks get the message that Jesus isn't concerned with their problems (or is too consumed with other things to reach them at their point of need), all because it's conveyed by well-meaning but scripted communicators.
May we learn from these script-driven exchanges and embrace the semiotic awareness that is needed to nudge those who need Jesus just a bit closer to faith instead of turning them away.

No comments:

Post a Comment