Your Front Door to the World
Your telephone operators, receptionists, secretaries, and even file clerks often interact with your customers or clients. Receptionists and telephone operators, particularly, are often the first person a customer or prospect sees or hears when contacting your firm.
Unfortunately, some companies do not respect their first-contact people, paying them poorly and not investing in their education. This is dangerous for companies dealing with the public (and don’t we all deal with the public?) because your employees’ interactions with clients and customers, and those employees’ language skills and appearance, are part of the customer’s experience with your service.
Your receptionist or whoever answers the telephone is your front door to the world.
EXAMPLE: I once called a law firm, listened to the phone ring nine times, and then heard “Smith & Jones, please hold. [Click.]” How would you feel? I know I was a little miffed.
When the receptionist finally came on the line, I said “Mr. Jones please” and was asked “Who’s calling?” So I said “Dave Cottle” and the reply was “[Click.]” I wondered whether the receptionist even heard me, let alone understood me.
Finally I heard “Mr. Jones’s office,” so I said “Is he in?” and Jones’s secretary said “Who’s calling?”
caused two bad reactions:
Needless to say, I felt a little miffed.
Perhaps as much as 90 percent of your communications from the outside world comes through your receptionist. What kind of impression does he or she make?
Usually, it is not the receptionist’s fault. One question I asked executives at a company retreat: “Who has the most contact with your customers or clients?” After the obvious answers of “the President” or “the Marketing VP,” they finally realized it was the receptionist. And then I asked “Who is the lowest-paid, least-trained person in the firm?” Light bulbs lit over everyone’s heads.
This relatively new company had enjoyed spectacular growth in its first two years. Then the growth had slowed. Asking the question about telephone operators directed their attention to the receptionist. They had recently hired a new one, and she had no experience. Her lack of telephone and people skills had affected the entire firm’s public relations and marketing. I am happy to report that after the retreat, they gave the receptionist some training, and they now report that she is doing fine.
KEY POINT: Your receptionist (and telephone operator and secretary if you have separate positions) are your most important salespersons.
PRACTICAL TIP: Invest in training your receptionist and others who handle phone calls. Buy audio or video cassette programs or send them to seminars, but train these key frontline people first.
PRACTICAL TIP: Don’t screen calls. That’s right, talk to anyone who wants you.
Most managers underestimate the importance and complexity of the receptionist position. Often they hire a new receptionist and say something like, “Here’s the phone, there’s your desk, good luck!” Then, 10 minutes later, their biggest customer calls, and the new receptionist asks, “Could you please spell your name?” Don’t laugh; it happens. See why I say not to screen calls?
KEY POINT: Never put a brand-new person on the front desk without training them.
Here’s a few things your receptionist can learn from a good program:
Your receptionist has to know:
These are not just nice-to-know; these are bare essentials to function at minimal efficiency.
I’ll bet you didn’t realize until you read the preceding list just how complicated the job is, did you?
David Cottle Consulting