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Customer Service Doesn’t Matter
By Frank Ricci “Politics & Tactics”
Your fire department is missing the mark. We have failed to understand the game and we have paid a political price for our lack of vision.
Stand back and watch what happens the next time a stranger walks into your firehouse. Chances are the watchmen or firefighter will stay seated and ask how can I help you.
Even if they stand and are helpful we still fail as a service. The customer service era that started in the late 80s focusing on the tangible was the foundation for our current mindset. The meaning was to do the best job possible for our customers, but fell short of exceeding expectations. It was about providing the best service and not providing the best experience.
To be clear your department can provide great customer service and still not deliver on creating a great experience. Experience is based on emotion, etiquette and execution.
Lets go back to our friend (boss, citizen) entering the firehouse. Would the experience of our friend improve if the firefighter walked toward the visitor, made eye contact, introduce him or herself, and shook their hands, all while smiling?
Simon Cooper past CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company mastered providing an experience. He ran a chain where the customers could go down the street and stay for a lower rate with similar amenities. However where the other top hotels fell to the Ritz was by failing to provide consistency with the intangibles. The g********, attention to detail and the simple smile, ironically these are the things that are not affected by budget cuts and cost nothing. 
 
As the fire service we need to move from the customer service model and move to a customer engagement model. 
It comes down to the perception of our customers. I tell my members at each alarm we can have a choice to leave the customer with one of three impressions.
1.                     The meeting results in indifference where nothing in gained and only an opportunity is missed.
2.                     The experience is poor and they leave the meeting thinking you are an a**.
3.                     You master customer engagement and provide the best experience possible while making a new friend.
 
Number three is more than a great introduction. It is about wrapping our friends in cotton. First and last impressions matter to our friends.
Take the time to hold a hand of an elderly customer letting them know that the medic crew is going to take great care of them.
Take the time after the call to answer questions and put the neighborhood kids on the fire engine. Remember you are there on our customer’s worst day. It is up to you to make the difference.
These customers are the friends who will write letters to the editor, attend government meetings and come out to fight the closing of a station.
Engagement is the key to the lasting impression that will ensure and bypass customer service. We can and must do better. Our core values and the work in the late 80s will serve as the foundation, yet we can not rest. Now is the time to build and move our service to the front.

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Excellent!  Not only are we obligated to create outstanding interactions with our public, it is critical for our survival.  It is very obvious that passion for the fire service has taken a blow.  My earliest memories of the fire service are the times I spent hanging out in the firehouse. Rarely a day went by in the summer that I was not at the firehouse.  The members were welcoming, passionate, and had pride in what they represented. It is because of these firefighters that I developed not only a love for the fire service, but a respect for the men and women who have made it what it is, or what it was.  They were role models. I wanted to be just like them.  This was in the mid 70’s, I visited the same firehouse this past summer with my two boys who had heard so much about my experiences at a very young age.  In an instance all of the great memories were erased.  The house had no resemblance of the one I remembered.   

Somewhere we lost touch with why we exist and who we work for.  And it is really too bad.  The log books that once chronicled our daily activities are now on the computer. The guys that used to sit on the apron and visit with the neighborhood are now in the dorm on Facebook or have been prohibited by chiefs from “hanging” out. The pride that used to be displayed in showing off the rig and the house has faded. 

Integrity and transparency are closely related.  I’m not going to play the generation card, but I will play the leadership card.  Leaders have to engage their troops, if they expect their troops to be engaging.  It does start at the top. I can’t order my guys to go the extra mile. But I can provide an environment that make them feel like firemen.  I can use my experiences and influences to appeal to their emotion.  I can let them know when they are drifting towards failure, and mentor them so that they understand what they represent, how they are viewed, and the awesome responsibility that comes with the title.

The fire service is changing like it or not.  It is going to take  commitment if we hope to keep the good traditions as a part of our heritage. It’s not too late. But if those who believe in what a firefighter represents don’t work to maintain that which so many have worked so hard to establish, we will lose our identity. 

-Frank, I'll start by saying that I really dislike the use of the word "customer"; we're not selling anyone anything. And the word customer implies that you, the customer, are only entitled to what you can purchase. In the fire service however, we don't get to pick our customers; they come in all shapes and sizes and from varying levels of social strata... what we do is provide the best service possible to ALL. The following is a response I posted on training that is applicable to this discussion as well.

-I think its a reflection of our current self centered, self interested, self absorbed society and not unique to the fire service. Here is a barometer I use; listen to someone order in a restaurant. Do they ask for food and drink or demand it. "Give me, I want, I'll have, bring me", or... "may I have"? How often do they use the words "please" and "thank you"? Want to hear it in a more specific fire service conversation? Listen to which fireman is constantly talking about and scheming over who is going to or should retire because the speaker is on a promotional list that might expire. 

-People no longer know how to, or even care to, interact properly with others. They don'y like to be ordered around or to have to do for others (serve) yet this is the very thing they in fact do to others.

-What the current populace of the fire service has forgotten or has failed to learn, is that the fire service is firstand foremost a service industry based on doing for others and giving of oneself to others for their exclusive benefit at our expense. 

Thank you for this article. I believe you hit it out of the park. It is not enough to just "be nice" anymore; your points about leaving the lasting impression are huge. Our business is truly about family and we get the privilege and honor to treat our citizens like family each and every day. We must treat others like we expect our spouse, mom, daughter, sister you get my point to be treated, because when they are mis-treated we are quick to let others know about it, our citizens deserve the same respect! 

-Darrell, I guess that was my point; when did we forget to treat others as though we were caring for our family?

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