When the transformation began in 2017, it was the desire to consider a fresh approach as a public service to focus more on the communities being served, which was the driving force for change. Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) wanted to adopt a more inclusive narrative, which involved making the people of the county the protagonists of their own safety stories.

Jon Quinn, KFRS Director of Prevention, Protection, Customer Engagement and Safety, said: “Our approach to the customer is about how we think and feel as an organisation, and what we do to put the customer first, every time in every situation. It’s about wholeheartedly focusing on the people we serve and helping to create a safer future for Kent and Medway.”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service leaders have worked with colleagues through webinars, refreshed the KFRS brand, delivered a redesigned intranet and internal campaigns, and held virtual open-door sessions to take colleagues on the culture change journey.

Jon said: “It’s important to get everyone at KFRS on board with what we are trying to do. We’ve welcomed challenges and worked with anyone to help them understand how customer-focus is the way forward for a modern-day fire service like ours.”

The pace of change stepped up considerably in 2019 when a new overarching Customer Engagement and Safety directorate was formed, shortly followed by the creation of a team dedicated to customer experience and behaviour change.

Richard Stanford-Beale, KFRS’ Customer Experience Strategic Lead, said: “Traditionally the fire sector has used its expertise to ensure a quick, effective and safe response to fires, road accidents and other emergencies. However, we identified an opportunity to strengthen our focus on our customers and their individual needs, while also working to prevent future incidents.

“We decided to put the people in our communities at the centre of everything we do, while maintaining safety, professional standards and quality of service. Taking a customer-centric approach means designing our services and processes around the people in our county, to ensure they receive the best possible experience.

“To fully achieve this though, we need a greater understanding of our customers that goes beyond setting service standards and transactional performance indicators. It’s about getting to grips with our customers’ emotional needs and using that to transform our brand, behaviours, values and services.”

It can take decades to truly embed culture change throughout a large and institutionalised organisation, and while great strides have been made at KFRS, its leaders are under no illusion that there is still a way to go. However, evidence of progress made so far is demonstrated through a number of accolades awarded to the service, topped off by a record-breaking Net Promoter Score of 95.3 out of 100 for overall customer satisfaction.

Kent was the first fire service to achieve ServiceMark accreditation by the Institute of Customer Service in October, which is a national standard recognising an organisation’s customer service excellence. Most recently, KFRS was recognised with a Bronze Award at the iESE Public Sector Transformation Awards for innovative work in embedding a customer-centric culture and tailoring services.

This latest success acts as a springboard for KFRS as it embarks on a pioneering project to really get to know the people it serves.

Richard said: “We’re about to go live with a large-scale customer insights project – the first time a fire and rescue service has undertaken such an initiative to truly understand peoples’ needs, behaviours and motivations. We’re doing this because we recognise that everyone is unique, we all think, feel and act differently, so to help keep people safe we need to really understand Kent and Medway residents to a greater depth than we thought we already did. We will embrace the differences and use what we find to shape what we do.”

Information being gathered will include demographics, attitudes and perceptions about KFRS, service awareness and accessibility, fire safety behaviours and attitudes, and communication channels.

Richard added: “This intelligence will be vital as we seek to always improve, ensure our services are equally accessible to everyone, and embed our customer-centric culture even further.”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service has ambitions within the coming years to enhance internal services, including HR and IT, to boost internal customer experience and achieve further efficiencies.