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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When you're more than a customer

In this post, I will sound like a spokesman. Please know that I'm aware of how gushing and touchy-feely that what I'm about to say sounds. I'm well aware that such ringing endorsements usually come with a price tag attached; Be assured that there is none. I am receiving absolutely nothing in exchange for what I'm about to say, other than the satisfaction of being able to shine the spotlight on a company (and it's employees) who have gone above and beyond yet again.

I'm talking about Sonlight, of course.

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that a good chunk of our homeschooling history has revolved around the elements of Sonlight Cores. You also know that I don't use their materials exclusively. I've combined Sonlight with other programs, added additional books, decided against some resources altogether, and even moved Jo to a different program entirely this year.

But if you were to ask me to define, in a nutshell, our philosophy of homeschooling and line it up with something that others could easily grasp, I'd point you in the direction of the Sonlight catalog. There, in its pages, you'll find the essence of what I think of as education--as it pertains to giving a child the tools to be inquisitive, answer questions, and engage the world. While each Sonlight Core has not fit our family with the custom-fit I'd love to claim, I have found that there's plenty there to qualify as the backbone of what I want my family to be learning. The specifics are up for negotiation. But the meat ... it's all right there.

We've been a Sonlight family since the spring of 2003, when I finally got my hands on the Core K IG and set about trying to convince my husband that a completely Christian education was not, by definition, and academically inferior one. (My, how times have changed. That very same husband recently challenged me on a history book I was looking at--demanding to know if I had made sure there wasn't a more "Christ-centered" version available!) Prior to actually teaching the materials in my home, I became a lurking member of the forums that the company maintains. Within a very short space of time, these forums became--literally--my homeschool support group as I struggled to make peace with what I knew from my own history of schooling and what I wanted for my own family. It was here that I learned that, yes, it's o.k. to ditch phonics when your child is reading at a fourth grade level but still only in kindergarten. It was here that I found lists for extra books, recipes for new treats to share, and encouragement when balancing school and toddlerhood seemed impossible.

Through it all, the IG and the forums held my hand. In such a crucible as the homeschooling life, a certain loyalty was born. I identified with being a Sonlighter. I was proud to wear the sweatshirt. I looked forward to seeing the photos in the catalog each March. I coveted the next Core.

With so many products, or corporations, or organizations, that kind of loyalty is seldom rewarded. Sure, there's the self-branding that goes on, making you feel like you're part of something bigger. But how often have I--a Coca-Cola snob since elementary school--received an unsolicited pat on the back just for drinking their soda? Ummmmm ... never. How often has our cell phone company of 7 years written to thank us for our business? Never.

Those are just companies, you say. All they do is sell you something. They want your money. They don't care about you--you're just a customer.

To be a customer means to exchange money for a product, good, or service. Rarely in today's word is anything else implied. Think about your relationship with the company that you bought your homeschool supplies from this year. I bet it went like this:

You pulled up a website. Filled a cart. Checked items. Hit purchase. Entered credit card information. Hit confirm. Waited for boxes. Received boxes. Checked contents. Moved on.

And that was it, wasn't it? You were just a customer. No more, no less. There was probably a small "Thank you for your order," printed on the bottom of your invoice ... but that was it, I'm betting. And you didn't feel cheated because your transaction was complete. The contract initiated through your purchase had been satisfied. You had what you wanted, the company had what they wanted, and your dealings were done.

If that was the extent of my relationship with Sonlight, truth be known, I would be satisfied. When I send them money, I expect to receive the books, IG, whole Core, whatever. Beyond that, they owe me nothing. And yet ...

With the purchases I make, I have access to the forums they maintain. I know that they used to be free, public forums. I'm not debating that. What I'm saying is that nowhere, in my purchase of a catalog item, did I expect to get a free forum subscription. One simply does not equal the other. But Sonlight provides this. And I am grateful.
The forums continue to be a source of fellowship and on-the-job training for me. In my life, they are an integral part of homeschooling.

But Sonlight does not stop there. In October of 2007, after Logan's tonsillectomy, I received a note from Sarita Holzmann saying that my boy had been prayed over during one of their meetings. Seriously. The staff at Sonlight took the time to pray over my son! I was floored. Here I was, just a customer--and yet, somehow, my purchase had brought us into a relationship that now involved praying for my boy's health?

Last September, it happened again. This time, someone had brought our unfortunate Oli-flood to the attention of the people who run Sonlight. Within a few weeks, I received a personal email with their regrets over our losses, as well as a generous gift certificate. It brought me to tears. I called my husband and cried into the phone, praising God for the people who work on His behalf even in the business world. Have you ever heard of this kind of customer service? Would you expect this kind of response to an unstated need, just because you'd hit submit on an order?

This past week, I gained an entirely new perspective for the people and the heart behind Sonlight. As if it wasn't enough to have these amazing evidences of a company whose prime motivator is not profit but praise, I must tell you this:

After a particularly hard day of grappling with the "Why, Lord?" of Bee's not being home with us, I came downstairs to find my husband sitting on our couch, tears in his eyes. This wasn't particularly striking, since he'd been wrestling with his hurt and disappointment all day, trying to make sense of it all and trying to maintain a focus on God's sovereignty. As I sat down beside him, he placed a lovely notecard in my hand. I opened it, and was blessed. There, Sarita Holzmann had once again reached out to our family. This time, the topic was Bee, and she offered the balm that our hearts needed: said the Sonlight family was praying, encouraged us to keep moving forward, and offered us a word on the goodness of the Lord.

I ended up crying, too, of course. Mr. Blandings and I sat quietly on the couch, blessing those who had responded to God's urging who knows how many days before--not knowing that the simple act of writing a note would bring such comfort and such joy into the hearts of grieving parents and hurting fellow Christ-followers at just the right moment. That card was what we needed to keep going that night. Who knew that a curriculum publisher would be the one that stepped into the gap?

Sonlight is just a company. I am just a customer. But because we both serve the same God, what stands between us is, I think, so much more. I expect nothing but books and memories in return for my money, but what I get is prayer, support, and generosity. They expect nothing but prompt payment in return for their intellectual property and books, but what they get is my loyalty, word of mouth advertisement, and yes, prayer.

So, thank you, Sonlight, for thinking that I am more than just a customer. And thank you for acting like so much more than just a corporation trying to sell me something. Even if we had never had any dealings beyond the superior materials you provide, I would feel that I had stumbled onto a gem of a company well worth patronizing. As it turns out, I now know that the homeschool community has been blessed with more than just a single gem--you and your employees easily constitute an entire mine of precious stones, each one shining forth for the glory of God as you serve His people, one book at a time.

13 comments:

Sarah said...

AMEN!

ThyHandHathProvided said...

Wow. I thought I knew what we were doing for homeschool next year and now I'm not so sure...:-).

Kate said...

Sonlight is our choice as well.
My 17 year old daughter wrote on her facebook status yesterday, "I love our curriculum." High compliment indeed!

Erin said...

What an incredible testimony! I have seen several other stories similar to yours regarding Sonlight and the love the show to their customers. We just bought our first Cores last month, and I am so glad we did (and I'm wondering why we didn't earlier!).

~ Angi :) said...

Oh, I couldn't agree more. GUSH AWAY, Girl ~ fantastic words for a fantastic company . . . I mean, family.

Our Sonlight family is truly amazing.

Truly!

TexasHeather said...

Couldn't have said it better myself! We've been Sonlighters since 2001 and I wouldn't change a thing.

The Hayes Zoo said...

That is AWESOME to hear testimony of their love and investment in your family.

You can just 'tell' something is different with them, can't you?

*We LOVE Sonlight!*

Traci said...

Heather,
Ditto on all you said.
Sonlighting since 2006 here and proud to be a customer **and a forum junkie**

The Mustang Kelleys said...

Mary Grace,

I've homeschooled for 11 years, and never been sold on publishers who produce a kit, always preferring to piece-meal my children's education based on their individual needs. But I'm finding that I'm needing the structure of a program, and so I've been researching and thinking about next year. Your blog hit me just at the right moment, and I'm going with Sonlight. Thanks for reminding me that who I deal with is almost as important as what I purchase. I want to surround myself with people and companies that are life-givers, because they walk with Jesus. My question is, do you have a Sonlight rewards number? If I put that in with my order, I can bless you while I'm being blessed, a win for everyone. Thank you for writing and sharing such a great testimony. I'm still praying for Bee, too. :)

Luke said...

Mary Grace, thank you for writing this. It brought tears to my eyes.

...

Anything else I would say here would fail to communicate well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. As blessed as I am to work for a great company like Sonlight, I find myself incredibly blessed to find friends in those who interact with Sonlight. It is a privilege to pray with and for you.

~Luke

Meg said...

I am really being prodded in the direction of Sonlight lately. Off hand question....we are signing up to do classical conversations in Bothell next year, do you think that they are compatible (I have a 8, 6, 5, 2, and 5 mos old) at all? I am flexible and we love to read aloud. Just curious to your first impression.

Tanya said...

I, too, love Sonlight. Wonderful post!

TC said...

I wish I could have had such a wonderful relationship with said company, but I guess God had distinctly different plans. Glad to know things are better for you and the other commenters.