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Question: How does a fire and emergency services organization create an effective customer care system that delights the community as well as the firefighters and officers?
Answer: The basic building blocks themselves and the delivery process are the critical factors for the creation of a stellar customer care system for fire and emergency services. You do not have to have a sophisticated system. Your department can do simple things right now and begin where you are.
We in the fire and emergency services have always been in an enviable position: the opportunity to become known for creating and delivering superior customer care to the citizens we protect. Suggesting that we have the opportunity does not necessarily mean that we are doing this in our department. At least we have a good foundation on which to build: the traditions and evolution of the fire service.
The public still sees us as one of the most trustworthy and admirable professions in the country. It is our responsibility to maintain that standard for the entire fire service in each of our communities. Each of us in our own departments is responsible for all of us across the nation in the way our customers see us through the services we deliver. Superior customer care is one of the ways to do this. Remember, people expect that we can do the big things like putting out fires and rescuing them from car accidents. It is the way we treat them at all points of contact that project how the public sees us.
Incidentally, customer care continues to be – and will remain – one of the key points of differentiation in any business-public or private. Consider the lifetime dollar value in tax support of delivering outstanding customer care to each of the citizens your department protects and you begin to see how excellent customer care leads to financial support; both of which lead to the perpetuation of your department in the community.
The values of the fire service have always been customer-centered. Creating a superior customer care system begins with the values and the mission of the department. Most departmental missions revolve around suppression, prevention, education and code compliance. These are the building blocks of the protection services we deliver to all of our citizens, businesses and institutions in our jurisdictions.
Most companies and organizations look at customer service as a separate part of the overall operation such as the “customer service department.” I would suggest that customer service defines the manner in which we create and deliver everything that we do in the fire and emergency services. I would also suggest that the term “customer care” is critical because it defines how we think about our customers and ourselves. “We care.” However, it is the reasons why we are firefighters, coupled with the emergency and non-emergency needs of our citizens that create the real value that motivates us to deliver superior customer care in the first place.
By placing the customer in the center of the service system, we ensure that our values and mission are synergistic and focused on doing the right thing for the people we are serving. Motivations, values and a customer-centered methodology can change lives; and they will completely alter your citizens’ perceptions of your department.
The next step in the creation of a customer service system is a structure that ensures consistent feedback and the ability to modify the system. You can create a customer care system at any point in the development of your department or you can greatly enhance the system you may already have. The point here is that you can create a system from small actions or situations as opposed to creating a complex system before you even begin. It is always better to go for some small documented “wins” than to spend time, money and resources creating a complex system that cannot deliver on expectations.