Had a chance to visit a local Tempe, AZ fire station last night (career night with venture scouts). I was impressed and came away with a few lessons, or at least things to think about, to improve customer service.
- Hiring. When asked what it takes to become a fire fighter our tour guide responded, "They can teach anyone to do this job. What they are really looking for is some one with people skills that can deal with the public and get along with everyone on the team." Now certainly there are certain skills that you look for when hiring for a particular position, but in my experience the fire chiefs got it right: most important is people skills. The cost of hiring someone that is hard to get along with? Read this.
- Everybody's Job. Apparently the greater Phoenix area has a dispatch system that is the envy of most metropolitan areas. Somehow common sense won out over politics in this area and the number one rule of dispatch is "closest engine gets the call" regardless of which city pays the bills. Simple but powerful, and in this case, life-saving concept. If you've decided to sequester your "customer service" people in one corner of your building and have everyone forward irate customer calls to them you are losing lives. Change your policy to "closest employee solves the problem."
- Know Your Role. When the alarm goes off, firefighters in station 2 have 60 seconds to be in their clothes, in the truck and screaming out onto the street. At night they get an additional 30 seconds to allow for wake up time. Everyone obviously has to know what their duty is, where their equipment is, etc. to make that happen. If the engineer is off or out for a particular shift a substitute driver is designated at the start of the shift--no time to do rock, paper, scissors for driving privileges once the alarm has gone off. Here's the point, knowing what they are supposed to do when there is an emergency empowers firefighters to be fast and effective. Do your employees know what their role is when the alarm goes off? Perhaps even more important, have you given your customers an easy way to set the alarm off? Someone with a house fire knows to call 911 and will follow through and do it--they have no other option. Someone with a bad experience at your business could easily just walk away and tell several of their friends. Unless you provide an easy and obvious way for them to sound the alarm, you may never know what damage is done.
Maybe it is extreme to use the firefighters as a standard for customer service--after all, they are dealing with life and death situations. On the other hand, ignore or handle poorly volatile customer situations and it could be a life or death situation for your business.