I walked away from the blog for a little while to catch up on some priority items. In the meanwhile though, another blog was born from Capt. Tom (ems12lead.com) named Customer Service, Technology and Social Media and I'd recommend you check it out. He's also got a Facebook page that you all should "like" because he's already begun to link some really pertinent articles on there, one of which I want to discuss in regard to this forum as well.
The article I wanted to share was written by Carmine Gallo at Forbes.com, titled Customer Service: The Disney Way. In the article he discusses three points that should be addressed by every business in order to improve their customer interactions, and all three are well-advised. The point I wanted to touch on, however, is contained within his advice to "Provide Communications Training". He states:
Every team member at Disney Parks is trained to be an effective communicator. For example, everything at Disney runs right on time – rides, shows, and trains. If the train is a second late leaving the station, the conductor gets on the speaker and explains exactly why the train is delayed and how long it will be until it gets going. The staff is also trained to answer common questions, even if it's "not their job".
Related to our conversation, this is incredibly important. As we have alluded to before, as leaders, our customers are not simply the obvious ones: the external customers we know as victims, patients, taxpayers, etc. Our customers are also our internal ones: our own bosses (Fire Chief, Deputies, etc.) as well as the fire marshal's office, maintenance, the administrative staff, the social club, the training division, and any other number of interactions we share even as volunteers or career emergency service personnel.
Most importantly, in the aspect that we are serving, our customers are those we are leading. If you aren't seeing the point here yet, let me clarify; what makes that customer interaction so valuable in this Disney scenario is that there is an emphasis on communication, and even more so, on honesty, transparency, and a shared interest. As the customer, you are likely more willing to forgive a delay or any other kind of "disappointment" if you understand the cause, especially since, if everyone is on the same page of being committed to the customer interaction, the customer understands that you were already trying to put your all into it.
This requires a certain sidelining of ego. If I am serving, I have to be able to put YOUR needs before MINE. I must be able to admit if I am wrong. I must try to provide that positive experience and demonstrate a reason why you should trust that I am. This requires, sometimes, some pretty candid conversation. For example, there was a project that I was working on that failed to achieve support by the administration. The troops felt like it was a priority item, but unfortunately, there was another item with a higher priority for all resources available, including manpower, funds, etc. While the unsupported project was very important to the guys on the line, in the big picture it was obvious to me and other chiefs that we needed to take care of the other project first.
Realistically I could have said, "This is what we are doing. I am the Chief and just do what I tell you". And there are times when we have to do that, like on the fireground, for example. But the times that you handle communication by decree really should be as limited as possible, because then when you issue that order, it is taken that much more seriously. But by taking the time to explain the bigger picture, you not only show others what the true issue is, but you educate them in the process and you bring them up to a better level than the one they were previously in. Doing this gains you support because you show that you are worthy of trust, you demonstrate concern for their perspective, and you let them know what to expect.
So long as you do things for the right reasons, there should be nothing to hide. If you govern others like you would want to be governed yourself, and consider their perspectives on each situation, you should have no reason not to be transparent and you should be able to count on those individuals to work together to support the greater good.
Take an example out of the Walt Disney Company playbook: treat others not as you would want to be treated yourself, but even better. You'll find that the interaction pays back exponentially.