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Volunteer Professionals
by Jason Zigmont

The importance of wiping your feet

Good customer service makes all the difference in the fire service

By Jason Zigmont 

Customer service is an essential part of every business, yet it is often overlooked in Fire and EMS. Maybe it is because we are the only "safety business" in the town we serve. Maybe it is because our customers cannot chose which department serves them. Maybe it is because we think saving lives is doing "enough" for our customers. No matter why we think it is OK not to provide good customer service, we are wrong. Our public deserves great customer service in addition to saving their lives and property.

While we do have a monopoly on providing fire and/or EMS services in our area, that does not mean we can neglect our customers. When the public calls for an emergency, not only do we have to respond, but also we have to treat both the customer and their property with proper respect. Our duty is to mitigate the emergency and save their life and property. If that means wiping our boots before we go in for the CO call to save their white carpets, that is what we need to do. If it means we need to take the time to explain thoroughly to them the risks, that is what we need to do.

Departments and their members need to realize that our customers do have a choice. The community we serve also provides our funding and publicity. Negative experiences can mean lasting negative publicity and potential budget shortfalls. Communities have even gone so far as to bring in another department to serve their town because of bad customer service. When your department needs the public's backing for a new truck or LOSAP plan, customer service is what determines if they come out in force to the town meeting. Our customers pick their department by choosing to provide support and funding or not.

It is not enough just to save lives. While saving lives is huge, it is actually the way we act while doing it that people remember. There is quite a bit of data in the medical field that demonstrates that when we are nice to our customers they are less likely to take legal action even if there is a negative outcome. Our customers call us at the worst times in their lives and small acts of kindness go a long way towards easing their pain. It is also just the right thing to do.

Customer service does not have to be arduous. A small act such as feeding the elderly patient's cat before taking her to the hospital will help her rest soundly. How about taking the time to tarp the hole you just cut in their house? Or maybe just making sure you clean up around the fireplace after you put out the chimney fire. Even more importantly, how about making sure you and all of your members speak appropriately to each and everyone? Just being polite and courteous is at the core of customer service.

Providing good customer service may sound like just good common sense, but unless your department makes an effort, it will be overlooked. We are trained to take control, and "do what it takes" to help the public. Unfortunately some members take that just a bit too far. We do not have to break every window in the house just because we can. We also do not need to destroy everything in our path like a bull in a china shop.

We are a public service, but we need to remember customer service also. Good customer service is not only the right thing to do but it is what will make our life easier. If your department is truly "Neighbors Helping Neighbors," lets help them in every way we can and make their time of crisis a little bit easier.

About the author

Jason Zigmont, PhD, NREMT-P, currently serves as the Manager/Educator for the SYN:APSE Simulation center at Yale New Haven Health System. He was the founder of VolunteerFD.org, and has written extensively about Bylaws, Fundraising, Grants, Recruitment and Retention, SOGs and Training. He has been a member of the East Berlin Fire Department for more than 10 years, most recently acting as Training Officer. He holds a BS in Public Safety Administration and earned his PhD in Adult Learning at the University of Connecticut. He can be contacted at jason@volunteerfd.org.



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