EMS Revisited is an exclusive column that offers reprints of various columns and articles from our archives that are not currently available in electronic format. In the January 2003 issue of EMS Magazine (now EMS World Magazine) we began a year-long series on customer care in EMS. Here we reprint the series in its entirety.
You want to improve the service your agency provides. How do you do that? First, you must use a method to measure your current service. Then set a goal for improvement.
How do you measure service? Ask your customers. All of them. If you wait for the public to contact you, you will only hear from the extreme element—either the very happy or the very unhappy.
To implement changes, you have to motivate your employees to share your vision, and be prepared to follow through with the changes for at least several months.
If you are lucky, you can choose all of your staff and hire the right people for your needs. Most departments, however, have their own history and culture. Changing that is much more difficult than starting from scratch. If service is poor now, you’ll need to let your staff know there are changes coming. Many people resist change. You may have to fire or discipline individuals who resist you every step of the way.
Be sure you’re providing good service yourself, as an example. Standards must be applied to everyone in the agency. If any individual is allowed to slack off, it will be that much more difficult to justify your efforts to everyone else.
Once you poll your patients, put the results where the crews can see them. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and they will be encouraged to continue providing good service.
Have someone contact customers who return a bad review; you may learn valuable information. If the crew did something wrong or provided substandard care, consider giving the patient their money back. Notify the crew and let them know what happened and why.
Be generous with praise for anyone who goes out of their way to provide good service. You can initiate a “gold star” award. This is a “good job” notice that any employee can fill out and post if they see another employee demonstrate excellent customer service. Get small gift certificates that supervisors can hand out as thanks for a job well done. By creating an atmosphere that encourages and rewards good service, you will bring out the best in your employees. You can also make these issues part of the performance evaluations. If employees know that good service is being tracked and may contribute to their pay raises, they will be further motivated.
Make it clear to all employees that they are empowered to resolve a customer problem themselves. If it is the right thing to do, they do not need to ask permission. This means backing them up when they take the initiative. Trust them to do the right thing.
For example, Paramedic 2 was dispatched for a cardiac arrest. On arrival, they requested a patient advocate to the scene due to the presence of the patient’s young children. Paramedic 6, monitoring the call from a nearby posting location, went to a toy shop and bought several stuffed animals, which they took to the scene and gave to the children. They were immediately reimbursed, with thanks. This crew felt empowered to do this and felt no need to ask permission beforehand.
Training someone to provide good service is not difficult. Most people will catch on once it is explained to them. However, they do have to care about it. If you have an employee who is not interested, good luck. Your best bet is to hire caring employees. Encourage them to look for ways to help patients. Once people start looking, they will see countless opportunities every day.
Explain to your staff how customer service can make a big difference in your agency’s success. Raises, bonuses and even their paychecks are dependent on your budget. If excellent customer service leads to increased income, as it surely will, promise them a share in the gains.
EMTs who care about their patients are more likely to be happy in their jobs. A good remedy for burnout is a newfound sense of customer service, which can turn a routine or bogus call into something they feel good about.