Treat others as you would want to be treated. iStock
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Have you ever called a business or company with a problem or complaint and felt that your concerns have fallen on deaf ears? In most instances, if you’re unable to resolve your issues what’s your next course of action? Do you choose not to do business with the offending party and take your business and money elsewhere? Most of us would.
Unfortunately, the public doesn’t have the luxury of choosing another agency if they’ve had a bad experience. In the public safety world, the customer is usually calling us in their most dire moments. They’re victims, injured, desperate or scared. They come to us and expect us to solve their problems, rescue them and calm their fears. Positive customer service skills are more important than ever today in order to portray a positive image for your agency and reduce litigation.
When we think of customer service, we generally think of sales or the retail world. But we really need to stop and think that customer service exists in the public safety field also. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we need to remember that we provide a service. So stop and ask yourself, “Who’s my customer?”
Answer: Everyone you come in contact with is your customer. Whether you work in the field or in a communication center, you’re the face and the voice of your agency. It sounds simple really, but even the most seasoned of us need to be reminded to use good customer service skills sometimes.
Good Customer Service Skills
Supervisors, you need to have your best people as your CTO/FTOs. The most senior person isn’t always the right one for the job. Trainers, you need to pass on your best habits and traits to your rookies—and that includes customer service! There are several ways to accomplish this and I will share them with you. It’s so much easier to portray a positive image for your agency then have to pay the consequences for bad customer service.
Let’s look at what some might consider the most important group, the public. As I mentioned earlier, folks don’t typically call us on their best day or to tell us how much they appreciate us. So to make things easier on them and us, we need to concentrate on good listening skills. What’s the hardest thing for a public safety professional to do? Stop talking! I know we like to be in control and are used to managing everything in our public safety bubble, but sometimes if we stop talking long enough to hear the entire message, we make it so much easier on the caller to get their story out. Show an interest and avoid judgments. Take notes and repeat information back to make sure that you understand them. Never argue or criticize them, be patient and empathize. Know that it’s OK not to know the answer. People will be much more understanding if you’re honest with them.
How do we apply good listening skills to our co-workers, supervisors and other agencies? Giving information in a timely manner and having all the pertinent information before you make contact. Don’t leave them hanging. If there’s a reason for a time delay on why you haven’t been able to give them the information they need, let them know. Don’t forget how much faster time goes by in the field. One of my biggest pet peeves as a telecommunicator is when another agency calls us for assistance, I send a unit and they arrive only to find that the requesting agency has already handled and cleared the call without telling us. Remember to update or cancel as soon as possible! I always give my extended family the priority when possible and it pulls from my resources when I send someone to assist when they’re no longer needed.
If you can learn to appreciate the many different types of behaviors and temperaments that make up our customers and work place, our job can be a little easier. You also want to always display cooperation and respect for your customers. Remaining calm, confident and professional is the key.
Stay Organized & Prepared
If you organize your work space, you’ll be ready for the job with the right tools in front of you. I recently attended a CTO roundtable and one of the managers said that she had a problem with her people constantly forgetting or losing their headsets. I can’t even imagine! That would be like an officer or deputy coming to work without his weapon or handcuffs. Keep your equipment in good working order. Replace old or broken tools as soon as possible.
Keep Up With Rules, Regulations & Training
You can’t perform your job effectively if you don’t know the limits and the authority of your position. Don’t overextend yourself. The added stress at trying to be the super dispatcher or super cop isn’t worth it. Besides, stretching yourself too thin is asking for problems—you’re opening yourself up for liabilities if you should miss something. Be confident in your training and take advantage of any ongoing training that your agency offers. This occupation of ours is changing at such a rapid pace that if you don’t remain in the loop, it will outgrow you. You and your co-workers can’t afford for you to be left behind.
Poor Customer Service Issues
There are several reasons for poor customer service. Low morale and negativity in the workplace seems to be the one that pops up the most. This can be caused by a number of things: job dissatisfaction, different attitudes and personalities, personal issues and agendas, lack of communication between management and personnel, as well as unwanted or misunderstood changes in the agency.
The majority of calls that we handle include the disgruntled, injured, upset or the traumatized person who may be in an altered mental status. Be aware of the amount of negative incidents and events that we come in contact with every day may sometimes have a harmful impact on us. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. They are several avenues you can take. Look to a trusted colleague or family member. A supervisor or a friend can sometimes give you the sounding board you need to get you back on your feet. For more serious issues, don’t forget your EAP and for the specific critical incidents, hopefully your agency utilizes CISM.
If you can implement some of the suggestions I listed earlier in this article, my hope would be that some of these issues would diminish for you. You can also take care of yourself. Get enough sleep and rest, engage in hobbies, have a social life outside of work, include your family in ride alongs, plug in and share your day. Don’t forget to take time off from work (preferably planned!).
Customer service is so important in the public safety field. Poor customer service can lead to litigation that may affect budgets and salary. It can generate complaints on you that can affect your employment status. Poor customer service causes unneeded stress on you and your co-workers. Customers aren’t an interruption of our work, they are our work. It can all be boiled down to the one thing that we all learned on our first day of kindergarten: Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Remember: You represent your department. You’re the first impression the customer receives of your agency. What you say, how you say it and the quality of your work reflects how others view you as an individual, your division and your agency. Go forth and serve!