Customer Service – The Clincher

So while I don't like finishing a series with a cynical side, it is a very important message and if you aren't already sold, this one might do the trick.  A while ago, Capt. Tom from EMS12Lead.com and I were having a discussion on customer service as it relates to our own employees (he and I work together at our real jobs, if you didn't know). One of the things he brought up to me, which just reinforced our shared opinion on the subject, was a study relating to attitude and the likelihood of malpractice complaints.

In this recently accessed article from the New York Times, at least two studies at the time (1994) found that doctors perceived as displaying poor bedside manner were more likely to face malpractice lawsuits than those who displayed compassion, empathy, ad respect.  Given the number of legal inquiries going on these days, not just in EMS, but in all things relating to emergency response, I thought you might like to know that.

There is no overcoming competence for keeping the lawyers at bay.  But given that kind of information, it makes sense to lower the odds of being taken to court.  I say this because I know personally, regardless of your competence, if the recipient doesn't perceive that you have their best interests at heart, they don't care how rational your advice or directions are: they aren't going to follow.  And indeed, this is the clincher.  Customer service doesn't start outside the bay door. It relates to how you work with others as well.

If you are a total ass, nobody wants to work with you.  If you can't get along with others, or you seek ways to make other people miserable, you aren't going to fit in well with the team.  Attitude has a funny way of seeping into your personal life, regardless of how hard we try to compartmentalize it.  If we have a bad attitude at work, we will likely then have a bad attitude at home.  Your cynical side, however funny it might seem at times, gets old after a while.  You need to know where the switch is and use it.

There's nothing wrong with sarcasm and cynicism in my view.  I am as cynical and sarcastic as they get and I have a very dry sense of humor to boot.  But there are times when it is appropriate and there are times when it is not.  Maturity implies that you know the difference.  I'll share with you that for a long time in my career, I didn't know.  There are times even still when I kick myself for saying the wrong thing.  But the difference is that now that I am aware of it, I can do something consciously about it.  How so?

I was working an incident involving law enforcement, a reported hostage situation.  Later we found it to be a false call, but that's not the story.  We were staged a block back, waiting for the team to make an entry, when I saw "The Look".  You know that look; when you are sitting in your vehicle of choice, in my case, a chief's buggy, and you see a civilian who decides they want to talk with you.  Usually it's when you least want or need to be talking to a civilian.  In any case, they came up to my window and began asking "stupid" questions.  "What's going on?" "Can you tell me what house?" You know, that kind of stuff.  I was admittedly rude and while I didn't tell them to take a hike, I'm pretty sure they figured it out, because they hustled out of there.

The difference?  I realized what I had done.  I got out, found them, and apologized.  I didn't give them sensitive information, but relayed to them our need to be able to listen to the radio, to be able to think, all that kind of stuff. Turns out this woman was the community property owners association president.  With a lot of political buds.  Who was so impressed with the explanation that she wrote a letter of appreciation.  And even better- she knew nobody was in the house we were about to storm.  They were out of town on vacation. We were able to slow down the scene, do some better reconnaissance, nobody got accidentally shot or twisted an ankle or tossed a flashbang into an unoccupied (and very expensive) home.

I admit the need for being Mr. Nice does not always sit well with me; it's not really my minute-to-minute disposition.  But it is a tool, just like a halligan, a saw, or a sledge.  I use the tool I need for the job at hand.  I know how it works and I know when it is appropriate and when it is not.  And if you are good at what you do, you know that tool better than anyone else.

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