Following the STARS to Customer Experience Heaven

I had an experience this weekend that reminded me powerfully of the importance of what I call POSITIVE Leadership – and the difference a POSITIVE Leader makes.

I went to church on Sunday. The church was the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford – and it so happened that the service marked the retirement of the Vicar, the Revd. Canon Brian Mountford MBE, after 30 years at the helm of this historic church and its community.

As I enjoyed the music, the spectacle (we were joined by the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten, who paid tribute to Brian’s exceptional service), the warmth and humour of the occasion and the quality of Brian’s sermon, it quickly became apparent to me that here was a leader of substance.

2016-04-24 12.13.28In a booklet entitled To Brian – Thoughts and Thankyou’s [sic], which was distributed with the order of service, I noted contributions from such luminaries as Philip Pullman (described as “Writer and author of several best-selling books”) and Howard Jacobson (“Novelist, journalist and Man Booker Prize winner”). There were tributes from various clergy, Brian’s family, members of the congregation, the Church Shop Manager and the Cafe Proprietor.

What struck me was that this leader is a shining example of how to run a multi-faceted, customer experience organisation, for three decades, and leave it happier, healthier and more optimistic than when he found it.

A church? A multi-faceted, customer experience organisation?

Well, yes!

To quote from Thoughts and Thankyou’s again:

Brian knows how to love a building – not just restore it. There’s not an overgrown blade of grass, abandoned cigarette butt, or a bit of chipped paint that escapes him on any given day. Most Tuesday mornings the full staff team will be gathered… to plan the week ahead. And Brian will highlight – often in microscopic detail – everything around the building that needs attending to so that it’s presented to perfection.” – Revd. Alan Ramsey

The booklet goes on to pay tribute to Brian’s management skills in relation to an operationFeatured Image -- 30375 that includes retail, catering and corporate hire, as well as the mission and ministry of the church.

And when Brian stepped into the pulpit – the pulpit from where, as Lord Patten reminded us, Newman, Wesley and Keble preached in earlier times – I discovered the truth in the statement (by Revd. Ramsey) that “Brian knows what makes a great sermon.” I can honestly say that I listened to every word – because, even though I’d never been to a service there before, nor met or even heard of Brian Mountford, I felt as if he was speaking to me.

I won’t go into the theological detail or issues covered in the sermon: suffice to say that Brian managed to combine a graceful valedictory with a powerful call to uphold and maintain, in the aftermath of his retirement, the vision of “a lively and inclusive church … the focus of Christian worship and of debates about religion, politics, and morality for over seven hundred years” (University Church website). Sandwiched in between was a cogent and entertaining account of the Church’s (i.e. organised Christian religion’s) problem – as an organisation “trying to present old truths in new wineskins.”

As the service ended, to the rousing strains of Walton’s Crown Imperial, smiling servers circulated with trays bearing large glasses of wine and other refreshments, and their colleagues unveiled three tempting lunch stations, catered and staffed by the church’s outstandingly good, Vaults and Gardens Cafe, I reflected that here indeed was (and is) a complete, immersive and high quality, customer experience. It just happens to be a church.

STARS Customer Experience Model
STARS Customer Experience Model

Applying my STARS Customer Experience diagnostic and planning model to The University Church, I’d sum up the reasons for its success as follows:

There is a clear STORY – it is compelling, coherent and it revolves around, and involves its RECIPIENTS (customers, congregation, community).

The TEAM is motivated, inspired and engaged in delivering the Story, every day and in every conceivable way.

The AMBIENCE is maintained through high standards and meticulous attention to detail, and is delivered through every channel: physical, digital, and spiritual.

The RECIPIENTS are made to feel welcome and are communicated with consistently and engagingly. I was amused to see that the church’s online newsletter is called the E-pistle.

SYSTEMS that are aligned to the Story, supporting and nurturing Team, Ambience and Recipients, ensure that the church, via all its outlets and communication channels, delivers a consistently high quality, constantly evolving, and adaptable experience.

I was not surprised to discover that, in addition to his ministry, Brian Mountford is a respected lecturer; not just on religious topics but on Leadership as well. I join his congregation in wishing him a long and happy retirement. Oh… and I like to think that he might have raised an eyebrow, just a millimetre, in response to that stray apostrophe…

If you’d like to know more about the STARS Customer Experience diagnostic and planning methodology, or the POSITIVE Leaders strategy and coaching programmes, please do get in touch.

Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.


2 thoughts on “Following the STARS to Customer Experience Heaven

  1. Great story. And I like the STARS acronym. However, I have a problem with something that is both diagnostic and planning. How can it be both? Diagnosis tells you what’s wrong: Planning tells you how to put things right! And, it looks like you’ve made the STARS fit to the story, rather than the other way around. Hope my view has some merit!


    1. Hi Q J – great questions!

      STARS is a model comprising the five key components of a customer-centric organisation. Therefore it can be used as:
      – a diagnostic tool (measuring the organisation’s performance against each component)
      – a planning tool (identifying what needs to be done)

      And of course, everything starts with the Story, which is all about the organisation’s purpose.

      You may recall that our colleague Dr Ron Shapiro asked for some success stories around the STARS model. The experience I had in this church (I’m also a regular customer of its excellent cafe, which is one of the best in Oxford) ticked every single box and hence deserved to be shared! Particularly as it was arguably a somewhat unexpected source of such exemplary organisational behaviour, i.e. a church.

      Of course, behind both the diagnostic tool and planning model is a more detailed methodology, which I share in my keynotes, workshops and coaching programmes.


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