What is Good Service?

Once again it is my desire to share a lesson to you from our everyday life experiences. It is my hope that this little bit of story-telling will help you to do your job better. Then again, I guess that is my hope for you each time we meet here in...


Once again it is my desire to share a lesson to you from our everyday life experiences. It is my hope that this little bit of story-telling will help you to do your job better. Then again, I guess that is my hope for you each time we meet here in Internet-land.

This week's visit with you focuses on the concept of customer service. What is service and who is the customer? Webster suggests that service is the work performed by those who serve others. I suggest that anyone who may need help from your agency has the potential to be the customer.

The work that you and I do for others in the fire and emergency service world surely meets the criteria for working to serve others. Then there is the further concept of customer service which is getting a great deal of buzz these days. What then is the difference between plain, old service and effective customer-oriented service? I believe I saw that difference in Indianapolis back in April.

It is my belief that effective customer service requires you to undertake an outward effort. You are extending yourself and your efforts to help someone else. It is important for you to remember that any joy or self-gratification which you receive should be as result of the joy derived from helping someone else benefit from the service you provide. Their happiness is your reward.

How many times have you and I have used the words put forward by Alan Brunacini on the subject of customer service? More than once I would imagine. The concept of Mrs. Smith was served up to my men in Newark on more than one occasion as the reason for their being in the fire service.

On more than one occasion, my words were met by quizzical stares and open mouths. Many times the troops would confound me with their questions. Why should we worry about customer service Chief? Who else is there to put out fires in people's homes here in Newark? Let them call someone else if they don't like what we do. This is that inward focus which almost always stymies the best in service to one's community. We must think outwardly if we are to succeed in servicing the customer.

It is my hope that the use of the Brunacini approach to service led to a few long-term converts to the cause of customer service delivery. However, I worry that without a continuing effort our fire service will sink back to its old, selfish ways.

It is my belief that customer service has been a tough sell in our business because far too many people are wrapped around the wheel of fireground glory. The bright lights and glory put forward for the rare example of true heroism blind our people to the satisfaction which can be derived from the daily performance of our duties.

Perhaps this happens because we don't know what we are selling. Many times we fail to identify our product for the people who will be selling that product to the public. If we are to be expected to provide satisfactory customer service, we must first define what effective service is and then come to an agreement on the nature of the product which serves as the basis of satisfactory service.

In our case that product is a life-saving service that is frequently delivered in very boring ways. Fires are an exciting event: preventing them is not. However the latter is normally far more important. The same holds true with training. It is not exciting, but it sure is critical to every aspect of organizational success that you will ever hope to achieve.

Let me share with you an example of outstanding service that my buddy Jack Peltier and I experienced during the Fire Department Instructor's Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis last month. Oddly enough it had nothing to do with the fire service. This little bit of outstanding service came during the many breakfasts Jack and I enjoyed at the Circle City Bar and Grille in the Marriott Hotel, across from the convention center.

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