Customer Service in EMS

By: Paul Giannini, NRP, CCEMTP, FP-C

I’ve been volunteering and working in public safety since 1983.  In the 80’s, 90’s and even into the early 2000’s, customer service wasn’t a term I heard or spoke very much.  I got into EMS for the same reason I think that most of us did, to help people. I suspect, not until recently, that most of us have not thought about the customer service we provide.

When we arrive at the scene of an incident, we step out of the ambulance with a billboard-sized logo announcing the name of our service, in our clean pressed (hopefully) uniform, the public presumes that we are clinically competent.  The vast majority of people who request our service have no idea whether or not we are providing good clinical care.  What they will remember is that we made grandpa walk downstairs when he couldn’t breathe, or we didn’t put a second blanket on grandma when she was cold.  These are the incidents that make customers angry and cause them to start asking questions regarding the care we provide.

The service we give our customers goes much deeper than the sophisticated clinical care we provide.  It starts with how we treat them as human beings.  Imagine the reaction when we:

  • Roll our eyes because they call 911 at 0345 for a fever and vomiting that has been present for 3 days
  • Are a little more rough than necessary while moving a patient in pain because we are in a rush
  • Are not responsive to a family member’s questions of the condition of their loved one they found unconscious on the bathroom floor

All these things are noticed and remembered.  I’ve heard providers say things like “Does it really matter?  I’m who they get when they call 911?”  Yes, it matters a great deal, because we are called to treat people, not conditions.  It also can matter for financial reasons.  Many municipalities in America have ambulance service provided by volunteers, either fire department based or third service providers.  Customer service matters to them because most ask their communities for donations or do subscription drives.  What happens to the subscription drive letter when one of the aforementioned situations occurs? What happens when the letter arrives in the mail two days after your partner leaned out the window and waved with fewer than all his fingers because a car didn’t move out of the way fast enough?

For a municipal provider, the bad press created by your community when the service provided is sub-par has far-reaching effects on budgets, staffing, and the way we are perceived by the community.  Even if you work for a for-profit agency, providing poor customer service can cause a community to go shopping for another provider. I’ve seen it happen first hand.  I was one of the authors of a successful bid to assume EMS coverage for a municipality.  Customer service was the reason the municipality was replacing their existing service.

Paul started his public safety career in Connecticut in 1983 as a volunteer EMT in his hometown of Trumbull and joined the fire department a year later. A certified paramedic and firefighter since 1986, he has been involved in all aspects of fire and EMS. Paul left career fire service in 1995 to become a training/QA manager for a large, national ambulance company and has worked for public and private 911 ambulance companies and a hospital-based critical care program since that time. Paul holds several instructor certifications and maintains NRP, CCEMTP, and FP-C critical care credentials. In addition, he is the current director of clinical services for ZOLL Cardiac Diagnostics, a medical device company near Pittsburgh, PA. He continues to volunteer as a firefighter and work part-time as a paramedic where he lives in Monroeville, PA.