Customer Service, Southern Style

Dennis L. Rubin takes a look at the future of fire department customer service programs.


By all indications, fire department-based "customer service" programs are on the rise across the nation. It appears that fire departments are learning more about customer service and providing many additional services for the citizens they serve. The prospect seems highly likely that meeting the...


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As I read the letter, I couldn't help but think that the institution had moved ahead without getting employee buy-in and understanding. It appeared that the hospital was heading in the right direction, but without selling/telling its staff to get them on-board with the various value-added programs.

If your goal is to "wow" your customers, the attitude of workers cannot be overstated. Training, resources, communication and rewards are all-important requirements if our frontline members are to strive for excellence. Administration has the responsibility to ensure proper staffing, so that core tasks are handled well so that personnel are able to perform the additional duties.

Documentation

We've made some changes in our department's customer service program. We've developed a "Customer Service Check List" (see page 62) that is much like a command check sheet or an assignment check list. This document will help the officer who is assigned to be the advocate for the impacted family stay on track with what the department expects of him or her. It also will ensure consistency as well as thoroughness at this most important assignment. Along with the check list, we are adding a training presentation for all officers and acting officers to keep up with this change. Training that relates to customer service will continue to reinforce the importance of the entire program.

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Next, we have added a trash container to our inventory of specialty tools and appliances. The container is kept at the ready on a small trailer that can be towed by any support vehicle in the department's fleet to significant structural fires. Once on location, the container is placed near the fire area, such as in a driveway or at a window or door. Damaged materials are placed in the container, rather than piled in the front yard. This makes for a better way to manage the mess that we must make to overhaul the building. Wetting down the container before returning to quarters lessens the potential for the debris pile to rekindle. Once the job is completed, our city's Public Works Department picks up, dumps and returns the container. This additional service greatly improves the look of the community by removing such debris piles, rather than letting them"age" for weeks or months. Also, it is a "jump start" for the family to start the remodeling process and return their dwelling place to normal.

Networking Idea

I have seen a growing interest in a regional/national customer service seminar. Several dozen people have chatted with me about building such a program. Maybe a two- or three-day conference could include various workshops to reveal the failures and successes of a wide range of customer service initiatives. It's my hope that this networking opportunity can happen somewhere in the middle of the nation (easy to get to), at a low cost (easy on the budget/wallet) and over a weekend (easy on the schedule). Of course, the keynoter should be Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini, the father of this movement. After all, if it weren't for him, I am not sure that we would be on this customer service journey in the fire-rescue service. Let's hope that this program gets pulled together soon.

To close, I would like to briefly summarize with the following key points that will help ensure our future success:

  1. Be good (actually great) at the everyday emergency work. This will only come through hard work, training and dedication to performing our duties correctly the first time, every time.
  2. Foster a positive attitude toward delivering great services to our customers. If you hold a leadership position in your outfit (formal or informal), remember that you are a role model to be looked up too. Act the part and set the example in all that you do.
  3. Reward and reinforce good behavior by whatever means that you can (a "thank you" does mean something to your troops).
  4. Think about adding a "customer service check list" to your command package. This document will serve you well as a great reminder during the heat of battle.
  5. Add equipment items to your inventory (when you can) that will help get families back on their feet sooner after an unplanned event. Even the little things that can be done will add up and be appreciated by the customer.
  6. Look for some type of national "fire-rescue customer service" workshop to be presented in the not-so-distant future.