By Chief Jeffrey D. Johnson, EFO, CFO, MIFireE
From the May 2010 issue of FireRescue magazine
If you’ve ever watched TV, you’ve likely seen a commercial that sounds something like this:
“For three easy payments of $29.95, this limited edition set of elevator music greatest hits can be yours. But wait, there’s more! If you call in the next 10 minutes, you’ll make only TWO payments. And that’s not all! For the first 10,000 orders, we’ll throw in a set of Ginsu knives!”
What? Why are they giving us knives with our elevator music greatest hits? The answer is likely one of two reasons: Either they think we’ll want to end our misery after hearing the music or, more likely, they’re trying to give us more than we expect. Marketing experts have determined that one of the best ways to make us happy as consumers is to set our expectation (three easy payments), exceed our expectation (two payments) and then exceed it again (Ginsu knives).
If we exposed citizens of a Third World country to our nation’s services, such as water, schools, roads and public safety, do you think they would be more impressed than you or me? I have to believe they would be. However, given the preceding precondition, who is correct in their opinion? Us—because we’re accustomed to receiving these services—or the people from the Third World country who have an entirely different perspective on what is essential and what is luxury? I believe we’re both correct. What we’re accustomed to receiving affects our perspective on whether a service is essential or satisfactory. For example, if you drive a new luxury car, you’re probably going to be less impressed with the ride and handling of a mid-priced sedan than, say, someone who just upgraded from a 1970s clunker.
So why is this important to the fire service? Because our taxpayers use businesses every day and are accustomed to having their expectations exceeded at the retail level. When treated poorly, they simply find another business. Like it or not, we’re judged against Cabela’s, Costco, Nordstrom and other customer service-oriented businesses that are committed to and known for exceeding customer expectations.
This is why at my home department, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R), it’s not enough to be good at the “big stuff,” like battling a three-alarm fire or reviving a cardiac patient. Our crews are expected to demonstrate our commitment to exceeding our public’s expectations by going the extra mile on smaller issues that are big problems for the people experiencing them. Examples: stopping to change a tire for a stranded motorist; putting away groceries for a mom who’s riding to the hospital with her injured child; providing cab vouchers to an elderly patient on a fixed income who needs to go to urgent care; and hanging a strand of Christmas lights on the home of a man who just fell off a ladder. In addition, TVF&R officers have a department credit card that they can use to help citizens with critical recovery needs in a timely fashion. For example, if a crew forces a door on a medical incident, an officer can immediately call a repairman to fix the damage and secure the home.
So, what’s your organization’s, “But wait, there’s more!” factor? My hope is that first and foremost, you’re great at your craft. Unlike the retail world, your customer doesn’t get to choose which fire department serves them. Next, I hope you treat everyone you encounter with empathy, compassion and a service-oriented attitude. And finally, I hope you have value-added services that exceed your customers’ expectations.
If not, have you thought about giving out Ginsu knives?
Chief Jeff Johnson began his career as a firefighter in 1978, and he has served as fire chief of Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Fire & Rescue since 1995. He is past president of the IAFC Western Division and Oregon Fire Chiefs Association. He is a member of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association and has been active in many IAFC sections, including Fire & Life Safety, Volunteer & Combination Officers, EMS, and Safety, Health and Survival. Chief Johnson is a National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer graduate and has received his Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Designation.