Improving safety with CSR training

March 2, 2018 By    

Photo by Robin van der Ploeg on Unsplash

Has your customer service representative (CSR) ever received a call from a customer asking how to start an appliance or saying they smell gas? Do you ever have to change over customers who, based on company policy, must have an inspection before you deliver propane? I am certain that all readers in the industry have these situations regularly.

I have been involved in cases where a customer calls a CSR and says they cannot get their space heater, which was just attached to their gas line, lit. In one case, the claim was that a CSR told a customer to bleed the line to get air out by disconnecting it. The CSR denied saying that exactly, but did say she instructed the customer to bleed the line by depressing the knob on the appliance control valve. The customer, however, disconnected the line and upon reconnection, an explosion occurred. Severe injuries and death resulted. A lawsuit followed.

In another instance, a customer called to say they smelled gas. They were told a serviceman or delivery driver would be right over. The customer waited in the home and an explosion occurred. The occupants were seriously injured and a lawsuit followed.

I have had many cases where customers have sought a change in propane companies. In cases where issues have arisen, the following happens:

• The new company requires a system check before it will deliver.
• An inspection is scheduled, but does not occur. It could be that the customer canceled or did not allow access.
• Despite the lack of a system check, a delivery is still made.

In these cases, the delivery person did not know that a serviceman was unable to conduct an inspection. An accident follows and a lawsuit is filed.

The factual patterns vary, but in the end the root issue for the propane company is how to prevent a CSR from providing bad advice or the wrong instructions, or how to avoid filling a tank for a new customer until the system check has been accomplished.

CSR training varies by company. Larger marketers typically have formal training programs for all personnel. Many smaller marketers have CSRs take some basic formal training such as the Propane Education & Research Council’s Basic Principles and Practice module. There is a good dose of on-the-job training, since not all situations can be anticipated. Some are rare and require some insight from and perhaps consultation with a serviceman or delivery driver. However, some issues that present risk – such as giving any advice on an appliance that won’t light or someone calling to say they smell gas – beg for uniform policy.

In these instances, the CSR should have written guidelines and a script to read. The guidelines must dictate that the CSR cannot provide advice on anything related to appliance operation. When a customer calls to say they smell gas, the written warnings the CSR must read shall be:

  1. Get yourself and everyone in the home out immediately.
  2. Don’t touch anything, not a light switch or a phone switch. Nothing.
  3. If you can safely turn off the tank valve, do so.
  4. We will send a serviceman over immediately.
  5. If you can do so safely, call the fire department once outside the home.

The CSR should document that this was recited to the customer. A call to service should be made immediately after the call with the customer.

Failing to inspect a new customer usually occurs when the customer is changing gas companies. It is rare, but what usually happens is a miscommunication – or, more likely, no communication – between service and delivery.

In my experience, when a changeover customer is being added, the service call to perform the inspection is scheduled in conjunction with the first delivery. In some instances, even if the service call to conduct the inspection falls through, the first delivery still gets processed. The best way to avoid this situation is to schedule the service call when signing up a new customer. Once the service call is completed, then the delivery is scheduled.

Experience informs us of how things slip through the cracks. Implementing policies and procedures to avoid the cracks in our safety plans has long-term benefits. Few errors mean fewer accidents. And that’s always a good thing.


John V. McCoy is with McCoy, Leavitt, Laskey LLC. He can be reached at 262-522-7007 or jmccoy@MLLlaw.com.

NOTE: The opinions and viewpoints expressed herein are solely John McCoy’s and should in no way be interpreted as those of LP Gas magazine or any of its staff members.

John Hansen, McCoy’s colleague at McCoy, Leavitt, Laskey LLC, discusses CSR training in a recent podcast produced by the Propane Education & Research Council. Check out what he has to say about the subject here

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