Volunteer Vision: September 2018
By Tom DeSorcy
By Tom DeSorcy
Every one of us knows the customer experience firsthand. We’re all consumers, and at some point each and every day we receive some form of service. Hopefully, we are treated properly as a customer.
In the fire world, much has been written and said about treating the public we deal with, not as victims, but as customers, providing not only the anticipated or expected level of service, but often going above and beyond whenever possible.
Leaving them with a positive experience on what can be their worst day, strengthens our reputation and brand, and that’s why we communicate a customer-first standard to the members in the department.
In my early days as a volunteer firefighter, I was in broadcasting for a while. I had the opportunity to work in sales, so I’ve always dealt with customers or clients. In one of those jobs I was a salesperson for a distillery, representing various brands of beverage alcohol to retail stores and licensees. As a sales rep, it really was a dream job in that there were no orders to take, no deliveries to make or bills that needed collection. This was a time in an industry where brand loyalty meant something.
Achieving such brand loyalty is key to any product sales. The shape of the packaging and colour of the label all play a huge role. A company can ride this wave of success for years on one name alone, but competition or one false move in quality or public image can easily topple years of dedication. To me, this begs the question: Have we achieved such a brand loyalty in the fire service? The obvious answer to that question would be ‘yes.’
The beverage alcohol industry, however, began to change in the late ‘80s. Tastes changed and as customers aged there was really no one to replace them at the same rate. There’s an age limit as to who could be a future customer and more didn’t want to be consumers at all. Sound familiar? So how and where do we find these customers?
Advertising is a big part of product success and it’s well known that a lot of products shown on TV and in movies are there for a reason.
So how about our brand? Can you imagine what a company would do to achieve popularity such as ours? Seriously. We’re always featured on TV shows and the big screen.
We don’t have to earn brand loyalty. We just need to maintain it. So, we should always adopt a customer-first attitude, without question, every single day, even taking it above and beyond and into our fire halls.
Our packaging remains the same for the most part. And our quality of service? Well, it speaks for itself. This, however, puts pressure on us all. The most popular and often most successful companies carry their product quality and support forward to their employees. They make their staff proud to make or be part of a favourite consumer good.
Are we doing the same in the volunteer fire service? Do we do what we can to make our members feel proud to be associated with our brand?
Providing great customer service goes beyond the public one-on-one that we deal with. I would even go as far to say that when we treat our volunteers more like customers, we build an even stronger brand. A simple thank you after each and every call, for example, goes a long way.
Our organization remains sought-after by many. Yet in more communities there aren’t enough people to fill the spots.
Many companies have become good at rewarding brand loyalty and, as such, many a fire department has done the same. We may not be in a position to reward our paying customers, but those that represent us will do that as they become more loyal to our brand.
Never take the image we have of the fire service for granted. A lot of people before us have created our reputation. Our organization is raised onto a pedestal every day, so we should continue to ensure our people feel honoured to be part of it.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he was appointed fire chief in 2000. He is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.