Customer Engagement Summit Blog: David Wales

With the flagship Customer Engagement Summit just over a month away, we sat down with some of this year’s speakers to hear more about their industry and what you can expect from their case studies. Today, we took five with David, Customer Experience Manager, Kent Fire and Rescue Service.

  1. Tell us more about the customer engagement approach that Kent Fire and Rescue Service adopts?

The UK Fire and Rescue Service has a good record of actively engaging with our communities to deliver the services we provide, whether emergency, community safety or regulatory. However, as part of a ground breaking research project studying human behaviour (in house fires), Kent Fire and Rescue Service learnt a lot by asking people to tell us their story in their words. As a result we wanted to use this perspective more widely across our business and found the ‘customer’ model compelling. It had a number of attractions including the ability to apply it across all relationships (internal and external customers), it was a well-established and familiar term, and it provided an ability for us to learn from the best customer organisations, regardless of sector.

So we will continue to develop our community links but will need to enhance the way we interact and what we ask, not just at point of delivery but by seeking to use co-creation and other methods to bring us closer to customers. Along with this we are also looking at how incorporate the customer model and mind-set across our own departments and with service delivery partners.

I still get a few quizzical looks when talking about our ‘customers’. I think some people initially struggle with the concept of that in the emergency environment they associate us with, although that is only one part of our work. And actually, as we talk through the insight and opportunities that a customer model gives us, then they appreciate how transformative it will be.

  1. How do you maintain that culture throughout the whole organisation?

We are the first Fire and Rescue Service to commit to using a customer experience model, and are still at a relatively early stage of our journey. We have had many discussions about what a customer culture would look like for us and are already seeing encouraging signs of change.

We have had excellent advocacy at corporate level for this approach and it is now firmly embedded as our direction of travel. We have, and will continue, encouraging open and honest discussions and to promote our successes and acknowledge where we could do better. We recognise that we need to explain proposed changes to colleagues and that we are doing so because it is the right thing to do. We have found workshops have been a very successful approach for specific teams.

As part of our ‘Customer Focus’ project, we have also trained 33 Customer Advocates to provide a cross service team. They have been a great asset and are starting to introduce customer thinking and tools in their departments.

  1. How do you measure your customer experiences?

We have traditionally asked customers whether they were satisfied with us and always achieve very high scores. However, that may be due to how people feel about us in general and their gratitude at being helped, especially if it is in a moment of distress. It has obvious limitations as a means of underpinning service improvement. We want to move from the customer satisfaction space to providing the best possible customer experience and benefit.

Like other Fire and Rescue Services, we have a mixture of nationally determined and local Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). However, none of these really give us a robust measure of customer experience. As such, we will undertaking some exciting and innovative research to understand what matters to our customers (both internal and external) in two pilot areas. This is not an evaluation of existing products/services but aims to capture what immediate or longer term benefits people seek or are able to realise with our assistance. From this research we will develop a blue print to test other areas of our activity and to inform the development of customer informed KPI’s.

  1. In your case study, you mention identifying research and insights needed to rethink your relationship with the public. Could you tell us more about this?

About 10 years ago, we wanted to understand why the public were not behaving the way we expected or we had advised them to prior to our arrival at house fires. In the absence of relevant current literature, we undertook a local survey which led to a national study, attracting international interest along the way.  One outcome was the creation of the world’s first large scale database of human behaviour in dwelling fires.

The research resulted in 6 key insights, one of which was regarding the role of the public, and our relationship with them. It became very clear that we would need: to better at recognising and respecting their individual priorities and needs; to work with, rather than against, human behaviour (by not assuming we could just get them to follow our standard advice); to recognise the emotional experience of emergencies and to work differently with partner agencies to join up services around the entire customer journey. The research told us we had made a number of incorrect assumptions and did not entirely share the same aims as the public in terms of what they valued and would do to achieve their priorities.

Over the past six years, we have also worked with the burns sector which led last year to the production of a report titled ‘Saving Lives Is Not Enough’. This set out a new vision for how we could achieve a better experience and quality of life outcomes for people who receive a burn injury. Using a customer journey and end to end approach, quickly highlighted ways in which we could see something that was very familiar to us in an entirely different light. All the recommendations in the report are being taken forward and have gained a lot of support in the UK and internationally.

  1. What do youprovide to your customers that will make them experts with your service?

This is a very interesting challenge. We are not a service that people will think about or use very often and, certainly for emergency events we do not want repeat custom. So customers may not ever have really thought about or know what to expect from us. They may even have an impression gained from different sources including television. So we are increasingly trying to introduce ways for customers to understand what services we offer (which is much wider than most people are aware of) and the standard they should expect from us. A recent example is that we have recently published our Customer Promise (one for external and one for internal customers). But we want to go further and help customers have an ability to assess whether we met our commitments for individual services. Linked to this is ongoing work to ensure we make receiving feedback an easy and comfortable experience.

We appreciate that, increasingly, the best customer experience organisations will set the standard for all of us regardless of which sector we operate in. We welcome that. So, we will keep on listening to customers, provide explicit information about what they should expect from us and find ways for them to work with us to create the services they need.

  1. What trends do you feel will be around for years to come in customer engagement?

From my perspective, I hope that we will see more work to bring organisations together to deliver genuinely end to end and joined up services. There is already great scope to do this but it requires a different approach to partnerships and a willingness for public, private and third sectors to work together flexibly. Finding compelling business benefits and creating a shared aim for all partners may be a challenge. But, we know the public find it frustrating to have so many organisations to deal with when they have an event or issue involving multiple agencies/companies. Whilst we all have a strong sense of our particular organisations role and uniqueness, our customers do not always care so much and just want someone to take responsibility.

So, my hope is we maintain a relentless focus on the customer/human needs and opportunities and then look to technology and other tools to provide these.

  1. What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Customer Engagement Summit?

The programme looks very varied and I always enjoy hearing from such an interesting range of speakers. Despite such differences in products or services, the challenges faced by most organisations in the customer experience arena seem to be similar. This means you can build great connections and really think about things from a different perspective. It also means we can learn from the best and take away some great case studies from brands that colleagues can relate to. This in itself is very motivating and reassuring as we develop our customer focus.

However, networking and the chance to meet such passionate and knowledgeable delegates is undoubtedly one of the highlights for me.