As a fire marshal, customer service should be an important element of your job and your staff's daily activities. The nature of fire prevention functions can create conflict and irritate the citizens we serve. However, customer service can still be one of our greatest assets. Our observations of customer service in general indicate we need improvement! Even if the retail or restaurant industry continues to see a decline in the level of customer service they provide, we cannot let this become the norm in our profession.
It was not too long ago; it was very clear how to treat someone. We were expected to say "Yes Sir or No Ma'am." We were also expected to answer questions with "yes" as opposed to "yeah." We also asked permission to walk into someone's house where today we have watched our children's friends try to walk in our house like they make the monthly mortgage payments. What did we hear most frequently? "May I help you?" or "Do you need help?" Remember when you made a phone call and actually got a real person?
When we put on our uniform, we need to remember we represent a dedicated and time-honored occupation. With this comes respect and admiration. However, if our behavior is unfriendly or our attitude is brash, people will not appreciate us, or our profession. So, as true professionals we should expect staff to exhibit the following behaviors when dealing with our community:
- Look people in the eyes when addressing them.
- Don't interrupt them. Wait for an opportune moment to engage them in a conversation.
- Be mindful of a person's time.
- Communicate actively. Make sure your message is clear and solicit feedback to confirm understanding.
- Look sharp. Play the part. As a professional our appearance should be the same.
- Don't ignore anyone. Make eye contact with everyone in your presence. Nothing is more offending than speaking only to the man or the woman when in mixed company.
- Take care of the customer you are with, not the one calling on your cell. In business, the rule would be to care for the customer who is paying first, not the one calling in for a price.
- Don't ignore phone calls and hide behind your voicemail and e-mail. It's okay to ask the customer you are with for permission to take an important call, then ask the person on the phone to hold or if you can call them back. Then get right back to the customer you are with. Everyone will understand you are doing your best and not ignoring anyone.
- Greet everyone you see. Nothing is wrong with being nice and you might be surprised how many new fans you get by initiating the greeting.
- Before you leave someone, always ask them if there is anything you can do before you go? Nine times out of ten they will say no, so what can it hurt? Leave them with the impression of willingness to provide assistance. The one time out of 10 they say yes, they probably needed help.
- When a stranger (man or woman) comes into your office, stand up and greet them. Showing a little respect on the front end will earn you tons of respect on the back end. They should enter your office a stranger and leave as friend.
- Welcome customers or a citizen into your office just like it is your home. Remember too, technically it's their building, not yours.
- If the person you are dealing with seems agitated, nervous or upset, be nice. You don't have to agree with them as to why, but you should empathize with what they are feeling and do all you can to help them. Most of the time, it is really hard to be nasty to someone who is being nice to you. Keep in mind this may be an educational opportunity to explain why we require something. Don't focus on because the code requires it. Expand on the reason behind the code and the benefits for compliance.
- Diffuse difficult situations with kindness and take time to listen. People generally like for someone to earnestly listen to their point of view even if they don't agree.
- Never talk down to anyone. Being condescending or acting elitist is the fastest way to loose credibility, respect and make enemies.
- Remember that you have the best job in the world and let others see that. You'd be surprised how much that kind of positive exuberance can provide leadership and confidence.
Given these suggestions for expectations and engaging in conversations with fire prevention staff about what all this means is a good start to creating a code of conduct. Our recommendation is to follow this conversation by engaging staff to develop a list of behaviors or credos that provide guidance and direction. Providing a brief vision statement followed by a list of actions is common. An example can be:
Code Of Conduct
The fire prevention bureau will perform our duties to the highest professional standard possible, striving to protect all citizens, visitors and department members from injury and hostile fire. We shall perform these duties at all times following the principles listed below:
- Be honest
- Be respectful
- Act ethically
- Maintain high morals
- Be accountable
- Be responsible
- Be kind
- Maintain proficiencies
Once a commonly agreed and supported code of conduct is created, it should be frequently discussed, listed as performance criteria on performance planners and changed as frequently as may be necessary to address expectations.
We are working in a climate where many have lost their jobs and are envious of ours. Many of the people we serve may harbor beliefs we are overpaid and under worked. They are our customers and we must treat them with respect and provide them with the service they deserve and are paying for.
BRETT LACEY, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the Fire Marshal for the Colorado Springs, CO, Fire Department and a professional engineer. He has over 27 years in the fire service and has served on various technical committees including NFPA 1031, IFSTA committee for Inspection practices, and Fire Detection and Suppression Systems and the Colorado Fire Marshal's Association Code Committee. PAUL VALENTINE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the Fire Marshal for the Mount Prospect, IL, Fire Department and formerly served as their fire protection engineer. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Science Degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University and is a graduate from the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Brett and Paul co-authored Fire Prevention Applications, published by Fire Protection Publications. To read their complete biographies and view their archived articles, click here. You can reach Paul by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.