John Ferraro

Story Vault

By John Ferraro

When I started my career in 1993, the theory of delivering a high level of customer service to the caller had come a long way. Call screening was no longer acceptable. If the caller wanted police for a neighbor’s grass that was too long, they got them. If they wanted an ambulance for a stubbed toe, that’s what was sent.

As I look back, I realize that the end of call screening probably had as much to do with liability concerns as it did with treating the caller’s request with courtesy and professionalism. After all, what if the neighbor’s grass was too long because the homeowner passed away? What if the patient with the stubbed toe had a bleeding disorder or was on blood thinners, and the call was more serious than first reported? “When in doubt, send them out” was a good step.

In the years that followed, customer service definitely improved several notches with the idea of using a calltaking protocol. I think back to delivering CPR instructions for the first time in my career. In less than a minute, the caller knew I was in control and there to help until responders arrived on the scene. I was doing everything I could to help the patient, and I remember being grateful that my instructions to the caller were more than, “They are on the way!”

Where are we in 2013?

Now is the time for improvement as an industry, and I offer a three-pronged approach for better customer service that I learned through experience and training.


We spend a lot of time training telecommunicators, but how much time do we spend teaching them the right way to speak to callers? Customer service training can take many forms. Here are some suggestions:

• Have the telecommunicator listen to a recording of 10 of his/her own calls, and list customer service aspects of the calls that went well and others that went poorly.

• Send your telecommunicators to retail customer service training, which is useful because of the customer loyalty angle—a concept that is sometimes lost on public safety communications.

• Complete a 30-minute training session that thoroughly covers the IAED Universal Standards for Customer Service. Since this is your basis for quality assurance reviews, it will give your telecommunicators clear expectations on how to handle their calls.

• Utilize role-playing by having one employee act as the caller and the other as the calltaker. The results are usually very entertaining, but educational.

Quality assurance

When I began as an ED-Q, the concept of reviewing customer service was difficult for me. I thought that my reviews were too opinion-based, and I was afraid my approach was less quantitative than it should have been. When I became more familiar with the Academy’s performance standards, I realized the process is quantitative, and that gives me the opportunity to address behaviors in a concrete way. It’s objective. The “yes” or “no” questions take the opinion out of my reviews. Did the telecommunicator explain his or her actions throughout the call? Did the telecommunicator provide reassurance, display compassion, and use the proper volume, tone, and rate?

When a problem is identified, I immediately talk to the telecommunicator to prevent the same mistakes from repeating.


Here’s a final piece of advice.

How many times have you walked through the center and heard a coworker delivering poor customer service with everyone looking the other way? A customer service seminar I attended a few years ago offered some good simplistic advice: When you hear poor customer service, STOP IT!

The next time you hear a co-worker being rude on the phone, offer advice in a friendly manner. Delivery is everything. Explain that you are not judging, but actually looking out for the person. You do not want to see a co-worker disciplined. Exceptional customer service = Proper care.

Several years ago, I received a call from a woman who had called 9-1-1 when her husband passed away. She complimented the telecommunicator who received her call for being so nice and helpful and said it actually helped her through a tough time. I was proud of the telecommunicator and went looking for a quote to include on her recognition certificate. Here’s what I found: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” —Mother Teresa

On every call and every call review, let’s remember why we decided to get involved in this field—to help people.