Customer Service and the Police Service… Does It Really Matter?

Customer service, it’s the glue that binds

Over the last 15 years there has been a considerable transformation in how the UK police service views customer service. While many forces still have some way to go, there are a significant number who now recognise that providing outstanding customer service across all police/public interactions not only improves the experience and perception of service users, but also aids in the prevention, detection and reporting of crime and ASB, and in turn enables the more effective deployment of what are limited police resources.

In essence good customer service is the glue that binds the police and their communities together and is absolutely critical to improving the publics’ trust and confidence in the police service.

Customer service, training and learning that works

The importance of good communication and customer service has been reinforced by a recent study by the College of Policing. The report provides evidence that improving the communication and customer service skills of police officers can significantly improve ‘quality of interaction’ and how the public and the victims of crime feel about their experience and treatment by the police during their interactions. The same study also highlighted significant differences in approach between the trained and untrained officers.

The trained officers in general showed a distinctly different approach to interactions with the public and held more positive views about delivering a quality service, showed greater awareness of the need to listen, recognising the value of building empathy and rapport with victims, and reported making decisions that involved the victim in the process.

What is clearly evident is that the right communications and customer service training can make a significant difference to how police officers and police staff interact and engage with the public and considerably improves both public confidence and police performance.

Our executive briefing on the 10th December will provide the police service with the opportunity to gain deep insight in how to develop outstanding customer service in policing and specifically how our Communications and Customer Service learning programme (CCS) can help all police forces, large and small to transform the quality and effectiveness of their in house learning and delivery of customer service force wide.

Soft skills or core skills?

So why does customer service in policing continue to have such a bad rap and why do many still see this topic as just ‘soft and fluffy’ stuff or as one media outlet recently described it as ‘politeness skills’.

It is my belief that there are two main reasons for this, firstly there is a lack of a common understanding as to what good customer service really is and its value to an organisation and secondly there is some confusion about what these skills actually are and how to develop them. There is also a cultural belief within the police service that many officers already possess outstanding communication skills and this type of learning is teaching experienced officers to suck eggs.

Is this misunderstanding one of the reasons why this area is so undervalued and often neglected by the police service? Think about your own force and consider how much learning is provided in customer service and communication skills? Is it truly valued or seen as just another management initiative?

Interestingly when you talk to individual officers the majority will talk openly about the importance of good communication skills, although when you ask them how they could improve their own communication skills they will suggest that they don’t really need to as they already possess these skills, often gained through years of experience and little if any structured learning on the subject, although they are not slow in identifying other officers who in their opinion lack these kind of skills and should definitely attend this type of learning programme. Funnily enough when these same officers attend our programme they begin to realise just how much there is to learn and in fact they too can improve their own performance and service provision.

The organizational leadership often unknowingly reinforce these beliefs through the lack of importance they too place on, what I am convinced are the most important skills in a police officers armory. And as I like to say, customer service starts internally, good internal service communication and relationships drive positive external service experiences.

Is it any wonder then, that when it comes to delivering training and new learning in this area, many police forces have either ignored these critical abilities or failed miserably in developing the new thought processes, behaviours and skills to deliver outstanding communication and customer service.

Police/public encounters, improving ‘quality of interaction’

As you think about customer service consider how important good communication and customer service skills are when your officers are:

  • Conducting street/traffic stops
  • Carrying out Stop and search
  • Dealing with victim/offender
  • Dealing with victims of crime, repeat victims and ASB
  • Handling 101 and 999’s calls
  • Attending community meetings and events
  • On the beat/public initiated contacts

Improving quality of interaction is the single most effective way to improve the experience of people who use police services and integral to this is how the customer feels they have been treated during the interaction. This requires real leading edge learning and development and not half a day event talking about the theory of service and then expecting everyone to suddenly become professional communicators and advocates of customer service.

At Future Vision we know what works, and have developed a successful track record in designing and delivering bespoke learning in police communication and customer service. As importantly we know what doesn’t work, and how you can avoid wasting time and money on training that has little or no impact and only serves to alienate your officers and reinforce the belief that customer service is just soft and fluffy.

Executive briefing ‘Transforming customer service, the emotional connection’

The good news is that there is now a communication and customer service learning programme available to all police forces that are serious about improving quality of interaction and how their police officers engage with the public and the victims of crime. The CCS programme is the only fully tested learning programme of its kind in the UK police market and consists of and develops the following five key areas of learning:

  • Self-awareness and awareness of others
  • Resilience
  • Empathy
  • Communication skills
  • Customer service skills

It provides a framework for customer communication and service based on moving from a transactional to relational style of service provision, helping police officers guide customers through the process while focusing on the relationship and creating an emotional connection between the police and the public they serve.

Executive briefing: Future Vision Training & Greater Manchester Police

‘Engaging Communities, Transforming Service in a Climate of Diminishing Resources and Shifting Demands’

Attend our executive briefing event, ‘Transforming customer communication and service in policing and the public sector’ taking place at the Greater Manchester Police headquarters on Tuesday 10th December 2013.

imagesYou will discover and learn about the latest learning in communication and customer service and how this programme can transform how your officers deliver service and why doing nothing is simply not an option in a climate of increasing expectations and diminishing resources.

Customer service really does matter and now with so much evidence to support its importance and value, is it not time for every force in the country to stand up for service and ensure that every single police officer delivers great service first time, every time, all of the time?

Tony Dain, MD Future Vision

Tony Dain

Tony is the co-founder and MD of Future Vision. He has been working in customer service and contact centres since 1993 including frontline retail and contact centre roles, before becoming a supervisor and team coach. In 1997 he joined CCC, one of the first training organisations dedicated to customer service and contact centres, where he established the telebusiness function. After three years he became the sales and services director before leaving to set up Future Vision.

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