Father Bill speaks

Life goes on, but a piece of the community goes away

Mon, 07/01/2013 - 8:30am

The recent ambulance situation in the Midcoast was stressful, to say the least. The outcome was very sad, but predictable. Every day I work with businesses to show them how customers feel about what they say and do. It’s basic stuff, but I believe it’s what makes the difference between success and failure.

When I’m working with a business client, after we’ve established a clear focus, we discuss what it is that customers want. Not what we think they need, but what they want. If a citizen dials 911 for a cop, they expect and look forward to a cop arriving and solving their problem. Whether it’s a fight, a dispute, car accident, whatever, they look forward to the cop solving the problem. It’s the same with fire. If you have a fire, you want the cavalry to arrive quickly and put that fire out. Fire is kind of a catch-all in that people call for fire and dispatchers send fire for anything that doesn’t fit in for any other agency. An interesting thing about fire is that most people support fire departments so that their neighbors can be safe. It’s rare that anyone actually believes that they could have a fire in the house, but certainly want the neighbors to get prompt, professional response.

Now let’s look at EMS. Nobody ever calls an ambulance because they want an ambulance. What they want is to be in the hospital and they need an ambulance to take them there. (I understand that there are “frequent flyers” that just enjoy the ride and attention.) I admire the EMS providers and what they do. This is in no way making light of the services they provide. I also understand that there are protocols for things that need to be done prior to arriving at the hospital. I’m not talking about any of that. What I’m saying is that most people who think they’re having a heart attack, have been injured in an automobile accident, or suffered some other medical event have very little interest in the ride that gets them to the hospital, but a great deal of interest in the treatment they receive once they arrive at the hospital. Now, after the event, they will have high praise for the care they received and share that with others, but there are way more people who have never ridden in an ambulance than those who have.

So the reality is that when there is a situation involving EMS, it’s very difficult to get the public behind them if it involves spending more money. If the circumstances are such that there are no other options, then the public will more often than not fund whatever is presented. But if there’s a lower priced option presented, that’s the one people are going to go for. Yes, the people who respond are wonderful. Yes, they’ve been doing it forever, but I really don’t ever want to call them and if I do, I just want them to take me to the hospital. That’s it. Lives are saved every day and we’re all very fortunate to have the level of pre-hospital care that we have, but the reality is that when it comes to ponying up extra money, it probably won’t happen.

So the cards were pretty much stacked against them just on the basics, but then a second thing that I teach was missing. People buy for benefits, not features. If the presentation can convince the taxpayer that they will receive a benefit that is worthy of the expense, they are more likely to support it. Not always, but more likely. There were a lot of features presented, but very few benefits that would support the extra money.

The best that can come out of a situation like this is that lessons are learned. Life goes on, but a piece of the community goes away when the local ambulance service no longer exists. Understanding your customer, whether you’re in public service or private enterprise, is the most important factor in determining your success. Never lose sight of that.


Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of BPackard.com.  He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant. 


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