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There is hardly a day that goes by without a few citizens' complaints coming across the city manager's desk. Whether they relate to trash pickups, overgrown lots or fire trucks traveling too fast, people generally are quick to express their dislikes. Yet each call presents a wonderful opportunity for improved customer service.
It is a great idea to take advantage of opportunities to improve service delivery whenever and wherever you can. Most of the time, the improvements that you can make are completed at little or no cost to the organization. Simply by listening to your customers, you can learn a great deal about your performance on the street (a blinding flash of the obvious, thank you very much).
Surprisingly, however, people generally are reluctant to say a simple "thank you" for the outstanding fire-rescue services they receive. The "atta girls" and "atta boys" fall far short of the "oh shucks" letters, so the fire department needs to capitalize on each and every "good news" item that comes along. This column will focus on creating a few more "good news" opportunities and a very interesting way to "showcase" the compliments that a department receives from the public.
In their book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman use a very important phrase early in the text: "To be successful, businesses must stick to the knitting." In other words, we must be able to do our jobs in a nearly flawless way. We must be able to properly and effectively extinguish fires, handle emergency medical calls, and manage hazardous materials incidents and the like.
Another quote that I really like to use to describe how we need to perform our duty is, "Flawlessly execute the basics." First things first, we need to be able to perform our jobs well to raise the "customer service" delivery bar and to receive letters of thanks and praise (I needed to get that little burst out of my system).
Each time the fire department responds to an alarm, a wonderful opportunity for customer feedback is born. The fire chief must determine the best way possible to take advantage of the situation in such a way as to shine a positive light on the relations and opinions that our citizens have about their fire-rescue department. When we are providing our "mainstream" list of services to the community, a very effective process with which I have had a lot of experience is the use of a customer survey postcard.
After each alarm, a survey instrument is mailed out to the customers who have received fire-rescue services. The survey is simple and straight forward. It asks for a "yes-or-no" response to five basic business indicators. The five questions are:
- Did we respond quickly? Yes/No
- Did we resolve your emergency? Yes/No
- Did we act professionally? Yes/No
- Did we look professional? Yes/No
- Did we treat you nice? Yes/No
The postcards are pre-addressed and stamped to make it very easy for customers to provide this critical feedback information to the fire chief. Also on each card are a few lines to write in additional information and/or comments. Finally, as an option, customers can add their names and telephone numbers so that the fire chief can call to discuss any issue related to the fire rescue department.
This feedback information is invaluable to the organization in two ways. First, the responses to these five business indicators become part of your "dashboard management" process. Dashboard management is an emerging concept where critical performance information is publicly displayed in a user-friendly format (hence the "dashboard" analogy) to quickly illustrate service performance. These five items, coupled with several other operational items, make up a respectable dashboard management tool.