Customer service is the basis for our existence in the community. Our job isn’t to just respond to fires anymore and we need to consider that when we are planning for our organizational future. We daily face open hostility toward our pensions, investigative reporters who want to expose our “shoddy practices”, negative comments, and a total lack of respect for the service we provide. So what can we do about it?
Before we can begin to improve relations between our organization and our customers, we must first understand who they are and what they really want. While that might seem obvious, is it really? What does the public actually expect from us? In some communities, changes may have occurred over the course of years that have replaced the people we thought we were serving with an entirely different demographic.
Just take, for example, gentrification efforts in some of our largest metropolitan cities. What might have been a predominantly lower class, poorly educated population might be filling up with young, urban professionals with higher expectations. It’s easy to say that we don’t care what the new expectations are; a lot of fire departments do. But be forewarned that if we do take that attitude, don’t feign surprise when one of those individuals gets elected (and they do, regularly) and they become our worst nightmare.
Research their basic interests, wants, and needs and begin transforming programs to better accommodate these values. Before we may have done more outreach to troubled youth in the neighborhood; now perhaps development of language skills to deal with an emerging ethnic population becomes important. Ultimately, the goal is to build rapport with our constituency, but above all, we must keep it simple.
Go out and talk to the people. Find out what’s missing in the community. This is where knowing what the taxpayers want becomes important. That investigation may very well lead us to discover what our competing interests aren’t doing right and avoid those pitfalls ourselves. On the other hand, by fixing this disconnect and filling a void, we’re not only going to stand out from the others as an organization who cares about the people they serve, but we also have a chance at building more opportunities for our personnel in the process.
Let’s face it. We keep having fires, but they aren’t at the levels of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, so we need to maintain a firefighting force, but we also have to consider that our job function is changing and we need to anticipate those evolving needs. After all, if we aren’t already moving in a direction, it’s going to be hard as hell to shift gears when it does happen.
Join us again tomorrow for more on adding value to our service.