It’s clear that public outreach is essential to building a culture of safety in your community. But, how do you know if your outreach programs are making a difference? How do you measure their success? And, how do you build upon that success?
Simply put, benchmarking is the process for obtaining a measure—a benchmark. When it comes to public safety programs, the right benchmarks can help gauge your performance and the information gathered through the process can identify gaps in organizational processes, ultimately helping you to close them and gain advantages. Accordingly, benchmarking helps utilities align strategic planning (and in turn, outreach programs) with core customer expectations, desires, and needs.
Understanding the Customer is the Cornerstone
Customers are, of course, central to public safety. In order for your public safety outreach program to succeed, you must understand the behaviors and preferences of your customers—workers, first responders, school children, residents, and other at-risk audiences. This is critical to meeting their expectations, ensuring that they use your information, and for targeting performance improvements.
When you understand your audience, you’re able to hone your message, determine the best vehicles for communication, and capitalize upon the right channels in order to effectively reach them. Furthermore, understanding the audience is vital to continuous improvement, which is essential in today’s ever-changing marketplace. Competitive organizations constantly monitor key audiences. This work is the cornerstone of public safety and the benchmarking process.
Aligning Corporate Goals with Customer Metrics
It’s equally important to understand your organization’s goals, guidelines, and performance indicators before embarking on any initiative to measure performance and target improvements. Assimilating this information into your efforts and tying performance indicators to appropriate customer metrics are essential ways of determining whether or not you’re meeting your goals. For example, for many utilities a key performance indicator is a targeted reduction in overall utility-related incidents. Therefore it’s important to track metrics relating to how at-risk workers use utility-sponsored safety information.
Other key performance indicators may relate to customer satisfaction. Prominent studies indicate a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and business advantages (e.g., J.D. Power reports that every one-point increase in customer satisfaction generates millions in shareholder equity). Therefore, in our work with utilities, we focus upon tying metrics like workers’ perception of a utility’s safety efforts and the perceived value of the information that utilities provide to customer satisfaction levels.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Accident Prevention
It’s important to measure the effectiveness of accident prevention. In other words, you must measure the effectiveness of your program before accidents occur. This benchmarking strategy is an essential part of public outreach, and its metrics act as leading indicators, revealing the level of preparedness in the community. It is important to measure customer engagement with your communications because there’s a strong correlation between accident prevention and the engagement level of an outreach audience.
Historically, utility companies have only measured the results of their public outreach via loss-oriented data by calculating the number of incidents, accidents, and injuries, and compiling a list of lawsuits and damages. This method provides data about the program’s impact on community safety but it is a lagging indicator. It measures results of the outreach efforts after the damage has been done. These are certainly important metrics, but in the new paradigm they equate to checking your math—they serve to validate the prevention-based leading indicators.
Using the prior example of “reducing the number of incidents” as a corporate goal, it’s clear that by calculating the number of incidents at the end of each year’s program cycle, you will indeed determine whether or not you’ve made an impact. However, in contrast, measuring customer engagement will tell you if your outreach program is making an impact, and why or why not. This measurement will also provide useful information on how to improve it.
Top-Down Support is Essential
It’s worth stating again: For benchmarking to have any value, you and your research partner must have the support of executive leadership. When your benchmarking efforts align with corporate management’s objectives, you’ll establish more meaningful metrics. Subsequently, your public safety programs can be fitted with the research tools necessary to gather customer feedback and data.
Properly engineered surveys and questionnaires, along with online, telephone, and direct mail-based information gathering tools, can be integrated into your program. The resultant data is then used to establish baseline measurements—an important step toward improving your outreach programs. While benchmarking allows you to compare your public outreach programs against the industry’s best, baselining will help you gain your bearings and set initial organizational goals. The baselining process is a key mile marker on your way to establishing a best-in-class public safety program.
Achieving a Strategic Advantage
Benchmarking is intended to compare you to the industry’s best, but much of the value is in the process—identifying your customers’ needs, aligning with your corporate goals, setting baselines, establishing metrics, identifying gaps, instituting improvements, and capitalizing upon best practices.
While comparing your organization to its peers is revealing and can kindle the desire to compete, it’s really your utility’s service area-specific data that’s transformational. Time after time we see the power of outreach program metrics produce positive change within an organization—generating important conversations, breaking down barriers, and enhancing strategic planning. For utility companies who are looking to improve their public safety programs, the benchmarking process can have a profound impact.