Most people watch fires on the news. The people who don't are the firefighters and the people whose house is on fire.
Glenn Usdin is the founder and President of Northeast Fire Apparatus, Inc., an affiliate of Freightliner LLC, located in Lancaster PA. His company has over 40 employees: the vehicle sales division buys and sells more than 100 pre-owned fire apparatus a year, they also equip municipal and industrial FDs, and Usdin runs an award winning Command School which conducts real-world training conferences across the US.
Glenn Usdin is a one-of-a-kind entrepreneur that makes things happen, and puts out fires, literally. You see, he also serves as the Fire Chief of the Lancaster Township, Pennsylvania Fire Department since the formation of the department in 1991. The all volunteer fire department protects the 15,000 residents of Lancaster Township, and runs 550 fire calls per year. The Lancaster Township FD has developed an extensive Customer Service Procedure modeled after the Phoenix FD standard. The department has a simple fire suppression benchmark that has never been broken. No fire shall extend one single inch past the point that it has already burnt, after the LTFD arrives on scene. (www.lanctwpfd.org)
As if that weren't enough, Usdin also teaches progressive media relations, incident management for suburban FDs, fireground photography, and planning for successful strategic outcomes.
One minor problem - Glenn Usdin's customers are on fire.
In an interview with Glenn, I resisted the sales questions about his company, and instead asked him about customer service as a firefighter. A pretty delicate situation considering when he and his crew arrive on the scene, a house is on fire, people are injured, in panic mode, hysterical and or burned.
His responses were eye-opening and can be adapted to your everyday business situations - (see the italics after each point):
- No Choice. Choice. Our customers don't have a choice who they call for emergency assistance, but firefighters have a choice in how they treat the customers. Unlike private sector customers who can (sometimes) choose who they bestow their business, firefighters own the franchise in their service area. That doesn't mean they can't decide how they are going to treat the customers. (Everyone chooses how they treat customers.)
- Bad Day. This is the worst day of the customer's lives. Firefighters see bad situations every single day as part of their job. It's the first time the customer has been involved in something so serious. Use your experience and compassion to soothe and comfort scared customers. If you don't have any compassion...then get another career. (Show compassion in all dealings.)
- Your Family. Every customer has a family and is a family member. Treat them like they were a member of your own family. What would you do if it was your grandmother in the car accident? (Treat customers as if they were the family members you like.)
- Phone Home. Can I call someone for you? Just about every person in an emergency situation was going to be somewhere or has someone that needs to know about the problem. Use your cell phone and call their family or friends and let them know a familiar face is on the way to visit them. (Small efforts and actions of comfort and compassion will win praise, thanks, and loyalty.)
- Bad News. Bad News. Never lie to your customers. If you have bad news for them, give it to them straight. We deal with death and dying, and severely injured people know they are hurt bad. Don't tell them its gonna be great when they know its not. You lose credibility in their eyes. (The truth is ALWAYS the best and most appreciated response.)
- Set Tone. Your positive attitude will go far in making a bad situation a little better. You set the tone for how the recovery process for the customer goes. Make the best of bad/serious situations. (Recovery is 90% attitude - your attitude.)
- Maintain Poise. Everyone deserves respectful care. Some of our customers vomit on us, curse at us, scream at us, wish they never saw us, and don't understand what we are doing to help them. Respect them as human beings in trouble, not victims. (Your self discipline, self confidence and poise lead the way to your respect of others.)
- False Alarm. Forgive Others. Repeat customers still need to be treated nice. It's sometimes hard to be nice when the little old lady calls you out three times in one night for the same imaginary problem. It may be non-existent to you, but to her, it's a real situation. She gets the same care as anyone else. (Don't blame others even when it's their fault.)
- Create Solutions. If it means driving someone back from the hospital, or taking the melting groceries home or to the fire station refrigerator, or picking up the customer's kids from school, do things a little out of the box to provide your customers with WOW! Customer Service. They'll remember you they next time your FD needs additional funding! (Customers want, need, appreciate, and respect solutions.)
- We exist to serve them! The basis that the community funds our fire department is to help them in time of need. Don't ever forget or lose sight of the fact that the customer owns the fire stations, the apparatus, pays us, and gives us the franchise to operate in their area. Its for them, not us. (Your customer is your paycheck.)
My interview with Usdin was a classic. Pardon my pun, but he's a man on fire. I could almost feel the pain and suffering experienced by his customers. Your business situation could never be as bad - please don't make your customers suffer.
Remember, only YOU can prevent poor customer service.