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Fire Prevention Beats Firefighting in "Hotness" Stakes, Surveys Say.

Blog by Ian Luck
February 14, 2018
[caption id="attachment_1980" align="alignleft" width="124" caption="McQueen: "You know where to reach me""][/caption]"I'm gonna keep eating smoke, and bringing out bodies... " quips Steve McQueen, playing the courageous fire chief O'Hallorhan at the very end of The Towering Inferno, closing one of the defining firefighter portrayals in movie history. The "Firefighter as a hero" with all the attendant risks and valour is a popular image both in film and real life, so is it possible that something so humdrum as "Fire Prevention" could be somehow more heroic?Yes, it can - in the world of customer surveys, and in the number of lives saved.

Fireman Tony: Prevention is the key

Tony McGuirk is a hero thanks to metrics. As the Chief Fire Officer of Liverpool, he cut the number of fire-related deaths in Merseyside while holding down costs. Over 10 years the number of fires fell by half, with a similar fall in fire deaths. And this happened because of a radical rethink of the role of firefighters, who until then had focused on reducing the time getting to fires.Instead Mr McGuirk concentrated on preventing fires in homes, especially in poor families where causes like smoking or chip fryers, and lack of fire alarms caused a disproportionate number of fatal fires. His specially recruited team evangelised fire prevention - dispensing advice, checking 350,000 homes and fitting 700,000 smoke alarms. However, it was initially unpopular. The press headlines only reported a reduction in the number of fire officers. But later, McGuirk defeated a strike with just 200 officers running a full service. “It’s not my job to be popular, it’s to deliver,” he said at the time. The results proved his case: fewer lives were lost, and less money spent, with his fire service being voted the UKs most efficient.  -  [The Economist 7 Oct 2010].

Fire at Work

To stretch the Firefighting metaphor to the world of customer care, it now seems to be a common occurence that unsatisfied customers, frustrated with poor call centre experiences are able to find the name of the Managing Director and write directly to him/her with a raging complaint. Think of this as a "Four-Alarm Fire" situation. Then the typical response: a testosterone-fuelled charge by a senior manager wanting to play fireman, breaking all processes like an axe through a burning door to try and satisfy the customer (and the boss). And that, by the way, sets the behaviour for the other employees. They start to hint to customers that an issue can be fixed by writing to the top...Is there a better way? We think so -

Fire-Fighting the Net Promoter way

  • Put the alarm system in place

    • The first step in reducing these "business fires" is to proactively reach the customers, and give them a chance to tell you if something is starting to go wrong. Many of our clients use CustomerGauge connected to their e-commerce or transaction systems. Philips, for example, has setup CustomerGauge to send an email after every sale on their online store inviting customers to rate the experience (using the Net Promoter Score®), and a comment on a short survey. There is a also a checkbox which a customer can select to request a response from Philips. You can try it here, on page 2 of this example survey.
  • Planned Fire-fighting

    • The second step is to tune the response to customers. The object is to catch an issue before the customer gets frustrated. We call this "Fire-Fighting", and in our most successful clients (judged by Net Promoter Score) customers who asked for a response get a call-back or an email within 24 hours (or one business day). That speed of response already goes a long way to diffuse a poor experience. In CustomerGauge, a "Fire-Fighting" alert email is sent to the right person in the organisation (typically call centre, but it can be setup for various situations and roles). This email has enough information to help an agent or manager to respond immediately.
    • Closing the loop: Clicking on a link in the escalation email directly reaches that issue detail in CustomerGauge, and that issue can be set to "closed", "in-progress" or kept "open", with some added notes from the agent. It's easy to see if your team is keeping promises to customers in CustomerGauge - a management screen shows which issues are still open/in-progress/closed to help see how quickly your company is responding.
    • Not all customers are equal: In an ideal world, you would call back every customer instantly, but that's rarely possible. Instead, CustomerGauge helps with Triage. You can set flags in the system to respond to VIP customers more quickly. And for e-commerce clients, CustomerGauge automatically segments top customers by showing number of purchases, or total cumulative spend, so you can prioritise response.
    • Extra workload? Not really. Proactively asking for response just time-shifts the issue forward. Either the customer will respond with a complaint (which they might anyway) or they silently defect (costing lost sales). In any case, calling out to a customer in response to the alert allows the call centre manager to schedule calls outside peak incoming call periods.
  • Fire-Prevention by Metrics

    • Now you have a better tuned Firefighting System but you are still putting out the same flames, albeit more efficiently. Here's where CustomerGauge can really help you - by showing the metrics. Analysing the data can help you understand how many times a particular blaze was tackled. And the diagnostics on our survey system, together with our Waterfall analysis can help you prioritise what actions to take to prevent further fires. As an example, one of our clients had a big issue over non-deliveries of low cost items - the process meant that a customer signature was need on every item. Turned it it was cheaper to put lower cost items in letter post (no signature needed) and immediately resending with no questions asked if the odd item went astray. Experience was much better for customers - they no longer had to wait at home all day. Just that process change alone saved thousands, and added a few NPS points.
    • Track improvements: CustomerGauge allows you to see what response your process changes make. Its continuous automatic emailing routine means that even small changes can have a visible Net Promoter impact within weeks, showing on your dashboard.
We think that it's time for Fire Prevention to be seen as a heroic act. Key to success is a metrics based approach, like Fire Chief McGuirk, or using CustomerGauge like our clients do in their every day task of fighting customer fires.Even The Towering Inferno's Steve McQueen seems happier to work as Fire Preventer than Fire Fighter. As the towers architect, Paul Newman's last line to McQueen is  "OK, I'm asking...[how to design a safe skyscaper]" and McQueen responds "You know where to reach me..."
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