As always, we have the conflict in emergency services as to whether the individuals we serve are “customers” or simply users of our service. Many of us, over the years, have used value-based leadership in guiding our organizations, targeting actions that do whatever possible for “Mrs. Smith” And while you may not necessarily agree this is “customer service”, it is, at least, a good way to maintain positive community relations.
Any of us who are really professionals in the business of leading and managing emergency services, though, constantly seek other avenues to learn what is best for serving our communities, so when I was forwarded a link to an article and was asked if there was anything I saw in it that could benefit my readers, I did see some things and plan to show you these over the next few days.
I will define the issue just in case you are a new reader. Why do I believe customer service is paramount in what we do for the community? Well, unless you have been hiding under a rock over the last five years, you might notice a certain attitudinal change toward the firefighting and emergency service sector as a whole. This isn’t just simple objection to a budget increase; anyone can see that we all need to check our perception of what is needed versus what the community can afford on a regular basis. No, we are talking about open hostility toward public service pension plans, angry letters to editors and negative comments on webpages, a not-in-my-backyard approach to stations and facilities, and of course, a total lack of respect for the service we provide.
We have, however, done a lot of this to ourselves. I read and listen daily to brother and sister public servants who look down on taxpayers as a necessary evil. There is still a prevailing attitude of disdain toward those who use our service, because after all, who else are they going to call? And of course, we have even still, in the day of instant and globally-circulating news, constant problems of immaturity, poor judgment and criminal behavior. Worse yet, some of us explain it away as “tradition” and can’t understand why the general public is infuriated with that answer.
There is no reason why your organization can’t put the customer/user/taxpayer first. It isn’t an issue of money; if you create something that they find value in, they will readily buy into it. And that’s at the heart of the matter. If they felt like your service had value, they’d be all for it! So simply, the mission is to find out what it is the community wants and provide it. Apathy is one thing; if people are apathetic, they may or may not be I your corner. But if the people who vote are angry, like it seems like a number of them are lately, we need to look into what it is they are angry about and develop an understanding of the cause.
Unfortunately, there are a number of people who are simply upset and we are a convenient scapegoat for their anger. And even more unfortunate is that sometimes those individuals get elected. But if you can build value into what it is you provide, you will make it infinitely more difficult for them to target your organization. You certainly don’t want to give them more ammunition, so this is a best practice for how not to let that happen. Join us tomorrow as we talk about some of the basics on the subject.