"Defining Customer Service through Crisis, Chaos and Conflict"
Incident-Driven Customer Care
By: Mike Hamel
Take a moment and recall the finest, most memorable customer service you have ever received. What did the person, team, or establishment do that was so impressive?
Now, ask yourself, does your example involve—however minor—any degree of crisis, chaos or conflict? Or, was a person or team aiming to solve some kind of problem?
In a survey of friends and colleagues, most provided accounts involving some degree of troubleshooting after unforeseen circumstances arose. From this perspective, customer service is most memorable—and most closely scrutinized—on the heels of an unexpected occurrence, causing some form of crisis, chaos, conflict or problem.
Law enforcement is one such profession. Law enforcement exists to serve people who are in crisis or who need help solving their problems. Therefore, every contact with a law enforcement customer is a special opportunity for the police officer to make a lasting impression through the delivery of stellar service.
The degree to which the officer demonstrates genuine care and compassion, competence, patience, respect, responsiveness and creative problem-solving will determine the victim’s level of trust, respect and confidence in not only the individual officer, but the officer’s organization and profession as well.
The sort of customer service I am referring to—quality service in the wake of chaos, crisis, conflict or unforeseen circumstances—can be called Incident-Driven Customer Care. Anyone working in the customer service industry should be cognizant of moments requiring Incident-Driven Customer Care. And, those who work in law enforcement should remember nearly every customer contact will require Incident-Driven Customer Care.
Incidentally, there are many other professions, like law enforcement, that exist to serve people in crisis who need help. Professions related to emergency medical services, nursing, disaster response and crisis counseling are a few that require their employees to engage in Incident-Driven Customer Care on each call.
Incident-Driven Customer Care
Incident-Driven Customer Care is defined as the delivery of quality customer service to an individual who has experienced crisis, chaos, conflict or any problem stemming from unforeseen circumstances.
Incident-Driven Customer Care is characterized by 1) genuine care and compassion, 2) responsiveness, 3) effective communication, 4) ability to anticipate needs, 5) professionalism, 6) respect, 7) patience, 8) competence, 9) dignity and 10) creative problem-solving.
Remember the three keys to providing Incident-Driven Customer Care. First, contacts are always memorable. Second, sometimes unreasonable requests have reasonable solutions. Third, customer satisfaction can be the sole purpose for the process.
Remember whatever actions you take will leave a lasting impression on the customer long after the contact is over that will impact not only how you are personally perceived, but also how the organization and the profession you represent are perceived. Be sure to make the customer contact as important to you as it is to the customer.
For example, a police officer may take a dozen crime reports in a given week, or a nurse working in a hospital may see a hundred patients. However, for the victim and patient, their experiences are much less frequent, and much more traumatic.
While the notion of traumatic, infrequent experiences being more memorable is intuitive, the concept is actually based on science. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution have demonstrated how the hormone norepinephrine, which is released during emotionally charged events, increases the sensitivity of brain cells responsible for memory, enabling them to better preserve experiences for future recall.
The odds are, a year later, the victim or patient will remember the details of what transpired better than the officer or nurse. The experience will create indelible memories for the customer and be recounted to friends and family for many years to come. How they were treated will be an integral part of their story every time they tell it. At the end of the day, you will be left with new ambassadors for your organization or embittered detractors.
Unreasonable Requests – Reasonable Solutions
Customer requests and expectations, especially amidst crisis, chaos or trauma, may seem unreasonable or unorthodox. When people are experiencing trauma, frustration or grief, they often make all sorts of unusual demands. They may be rude, insulting or difficult. They are likely to ask you to do things that seem impossible to accomplish, or represent a significant departure from standard operating procedure.
Specifically what they are asking you to do may truly be unreasonable. However, before dismissing the request, pause, and focus on the outcome they are hoping to achieve from the request. Perhaps their end game can’t be accomplished their way, but you know how to reach the same end point by doing it your way.
Make no mistake, your way may be unorthodox, whacky or even a little time-consuming as well. However, so long as it is consistent with your organization’s Mission and Values, then management should support your plan of action if it solves the problem.
Problem solving is complex, especially when rules, processes, people and timelines are involved. However, it is this same complexity that may offer a different path to the same goal—you just have to be willing to look for it. In short, there are often entirely reasonable solutions to seemingly unreasonable requests.
Sole Purpose for the Process
Why is any process undertaken? Generally speaking, a process is a means to an end, intended to produce some measurable result or desired outcome. Consider completing a police report, for instance. This process is intended to memorialize important events likely to be referenced in the future or document specific facts to assist detectives and further investigate a reported crime.
It is for this reason policy will often mandate report completion for serious crimes or injury traffic collisions, but generally not for minor matters, such as neighbor disputes or noise complaints. But what if the reporting party wants a police officer to document the argument with his neighbor? Should the officer do this?
An officer who has embraced Incident-Driven Customer Care will take the report, understanding customer satisfaction is an important desired outcome. While the report may have little or no value to a detective or insurance adjuster, the customer will certainly value the effort.
An officer with an incorrect mindset says, “I am not going to take a report, because policy does not require me to do so.” Rather, an officer with the correct mindset says, “I will take a report, because policy does not preclude it, it is consistent with my agency’s mission, and it will satisfy the customer.”
From this perspective, we understand a process need not be undertaken only when it intends to accomplish the outcome for which it was designed; it’s entirely OK for customer satisfaction to be the sole purpose for the process.
An officer who understands Incident-Driven Customer Care will reach to the outer limits of the organization’s rules, systems and protocols to best serve the needs of the customer in crisis or chaos. These officers are resourceful, relentless problem-solvers, who routinely employ appropriate discretion designed to make their customers feel special.
They know the culture and structure of their organizations, know how to leverage every resource available to them, and how to link these resources to form sophisticated service strategies customized for specific customer needs. They are masters at navigating their organization to identify and assemble the people and processes required to effectively troubleshoot the unique problem before them.
Mike Hamel is the Deputy Chief with the Irvine, Calif. Police Department and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.