Customer Service Keeps The Focus

“What number are you calling from?”

“My cellphone.”

::eye roll:: (Really?) Follow-up –“What is that number?”

Got it. Confirming location: “Where are calling from?”

“(Blank) County, City (not the address you need).”

::head drop:: (almost hit the console with that one)

Telecommunicators are all too familiar with scenarios like these, receiving the dumbest answers to the simplest questions. A telecommunicator’s eye roll is right up there with that of the frustrated parent. When they include the unseen and often added gestures of shaking the head, sighing heavily, grinding the teeth, waving hands … they are the true multitaskers of our profession.

What you do next with the caller falls under customer service. Customer service is a major focus these days. The problem with customer service in an emergency services environment is that most callers are in crisis and have one request: “Send the (pick your poison) a) Fire Department (b) Ambulance (c) Police,” and they don’t want to answer questions. They want you to magically send them what they want and have it arrive within three seconds after they request it. Unfortunately, you cannot arrange instant arrivals, and this is where your customer service comes into play.

While hanging up on them or yelling back at the caller is what you want to do, it is not what you can do. What you can do is remind yourself that you are a professional (you are getting paid to deal with this person.) PS: Yes, please, add more zeroes on the check and increase the pay. Or, maybe, try this: Put yourself in the caller’s position.

This is a Big Deal—capital B, capital D—for them to call you. Even the “frequent flyers” have a threshold before they call. Whatever has happened has obviously upset/angered/frustrated/confused them. Now they are dealing with a system they are not familiar with, in an emotional state. While we understand the system, they don’t. This compounds their emotional state and their interaction with you. Consider when you are dealing with your health insurance provider, your bank, or your cable/internet provider. How fast do you get aggravated? Now add a life-threatening situation—someone assaulted, a witnessed cardiac arrest, a bad accident—and it ups the stakes. If you respond with your own poor attitude, or how we sometimes would really like to respond, you will more than likely only deteriorate the situation.

What can you do? Channel your patience. Some callers go into a cursing rant; let them get it out. If you stay professional, they’ll probably calm down and apologize. Even if they do not, your professionalism will keep you out of hot water. No one likes that supervisor conversation discussing their performance or hearing their recording.

What else? Try hard to push your bad day away. This caller isn’t the reason for your already-existing bad mood. They can trigger a bad mood, but then you are giving them power over you. Is it easy? Nope. Ask yourself if that particular caller is worth you getting a write-up. Definitely not. Always remember, they need help and you are their best and maybe only chance of getting the help they need.

Do not forget that everything is recorded. Positive media is nowhere near as plentiful as when a telecommunicator screws up. Then it is big news. Do you ever want to hear yourself on a national morning talk show or news program the one time you slipped on your customer service?

Callers are good at pushing our buttons. Customer service is how we show that they don’t get to us (at least on the recordings). It is a tool, and if used well, it will protect you against complaints. Tone, delivery, word choice—all matter to the receiver’s perceptions. While it may be an annoying “buzzword,” customer service is part of case reviews for quality assurance. Use it as your tool to protect you.

Heidi started in late 1993 in police dispatch and meandered down the career path of calltaking, backup fire dispatch, statistician, SARA TITLE III assistant, supervisor, and finally shift manager for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services in Maryland (USA). What an adventure!

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