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Harness the Power of Your Company’s Most Important Asset: the Receptionist

By Marsha Lindquist

In companies around the world, those in the reception role – whether it be an office receptionist, a retail establishment greeter, an airport counter clerk, or any other front line position—set the stage for how customers view their entire experience with the organization. In fact, in five seconds or less, the reception person’s greeting, attitude, and words will either prompt customers to investigate other options for their needs or will encourage them to stay and do business with your firm.

Unfortunately, when asked about the reception person’s performance, many managers shrug it off, stating such things as, “She’s fresh out of school,” or “He’s just a $7 an hour worker…what do you expect?” But just because someone is inexperienced or low-paid does not mean he or she does not have to greet and treat customers appropriately.

The fact is that the person who initially greets your customers is one of the most important employees on staff. The initial greeter sets the tone for the customer’s entire experience and can very easily be the difference between your company losing customers or gaining lifelong raving fans. If you want your reception position to be an income generator, keep the following seven guidelines in mind.

1. Always have some sort of reception person. While you don’t necessarily need to have a designated reception area, you do need to have designated people who are the greeters and who deliver the first impression to all your customers. Too many companies today have client calls go straight to voicemail, or customers enter the establishment and must find their own way around. All consumer-oriented companies must get back to actually greeting customers and having designated people to do precisely that.

2. Give your reception people an adequate orientation. Make sure they know the company’s values and goals, and why customers deserve to be treated a certain way. Bring your reception people into the fold early and teach them how important their job really is. If you simply tell them what to do—“seat people,” “answer phones,” or “direct people to the appropriate associate”—but you don’t tell them what’s behind those actions, you can’t expect to get the results you want out of them.

3. Make sure the reception department’s manager observes his or her staff in action. Realize that not everyone is going to get it right the first time. That’s why you need to observe what the reception people are doing and offer continuous feedback. If you leave your front line workers on their own to “wing it,” you send the message that what they’re doing doesn’t matter. However, by doing regular observations and keeping in continuous communication with your reception people, you reinforce the message that “your job matters.”

4. Get feedback from others, such as peers, vendors, and customers. The feedback you receive on the reception department’s performance must come from other sources than just the direct manager. If you only get feedback from one source, then that person’s biases and blind spots will distort the big picture. When you seek feedback from outside sources, though, you fill in any gaps. So always ask for feedback from others, and make sure your reception people know that these other people will be offering their suggestions for improvement.

5. Invest heavily in training. In a consumer-oriented environment, the best way to train new hires is by using the buddy system. That is, team up your new hire with a veteran employee who can show the new person “the ropes” of how things are done and why. Too often companies give new employees a verbal overview of the job, a process manual, and a job description, and then they expect the person to thrive without any guided direction.

6. Offer kudos freely and often. During your training and observations, give your front line workers pats on the back when they’re doing a good job, especially early on. Very often those in the reception roles feel overlooked. The more positive reinforcement you can give, in the form of praise, awards, and encouragement, the more you’ll see your reception people blossom and do things the way you expect.

7. Encourage creativity. Encourage your reception people to get creative in developing new ways to make what they do interesting for them and a positive experience for the customers. Help them feel a bigger sense of belonging so their job is more than just a paycheck. Remember, these people usually know the customer better than anyone else, simply because they have the most interaction with customers. So listen to what they have to say.

Shift Your Mindset for Greater Profits: If you believe that hiring people for the reception position is simply a matter of putting a warm body in the role, then guess what…all you’ll get are warm bodies. However, when you believe the reception position is crucial to your company’s success, then the people in that role will believe they are important as well and will work hard to make sure the customer has a wonderful first impression of your company.

In the end, it all comes down to your front line workers treating customers the way you’d want to be treated—with respect and appreciation. So no matter what industry you’re in, get past the attitude that the reception positions don’t matter. They do matter. Embrace the fact that your reception people are the most important employees in the entire company. That one simple attitude shift will change how people perceive the job, and will dramatically improve your company’s bottom line.

Read other articles and learn more about Marsha Lindquist.

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