Does Netflix have the answer for synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Netflix, the popular on-line dvd rental company, has changed its strategy concerning customer service. It no longer uses e-mail. Instead, it employs customer service representatives 24-hours-a-day to handle customer issues. It considers this renewed approach a strategy to challenge its competition. Rather than looking for the cheapest labor possible, it located its call center in Hillsboro, Oregon, considering its local residents to be among the friendliest in the United States. Its toll-free customer service number, which used to be buried in its website, is now located on its home page. And people are encouraged to call rather than simply looking for answers to their frequently asked questions on their website or to post any questions there.

Some will argue that it is inappropriate to use a business model to inform the way the Jewish community does its business. Others will say that companies like Netflix can afford certain luxuries that an overburdened, understaffed Jewish communal institution, especially a synagogue, cannot afford. But there are lessons to be learned. The Jewish community has been quick to adapt cost-saving measures such as voicemail. And it has also installed websites in order to communicate to its constituency.

Perhaps such a personalized approach is too expensive for one institution to undertake. But maybe it is a vehicle for community cooperation. It is true that in order to secure the Jewish future, we need strong institutions. But we will also need these institutions to be concerned about the entire Jewish community and not just the survival and growth of their own institution. What is clear about the approach Netflix is taking is that for the business to be sustained and grow, the focus has to be on the customer. Maybe it is time for the Jewish community reorient its focus, as well.

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