Let’s pause a moment shall we and give a nod of appreciation to those who provide front-counter reception excellence. These men and women are often the first point of contact for customers and clients, hence they shape the first impression people have walking in your door.
How much thought do you give to the people in your organization who occupy this role? Do you even know their name? What exactly do they do all day? Do they essential or do you feel anyone could sit there and be successful?
I suspect if you compared the job descriptions of Receptionists across a number of organizations, you’d find common functions such as: greeting people who call in person or phone in, directing calls, notifying employees when people appear for appointments, accepting deliveries from couriers etc. Just as probable, I imagine you might find each performs functions in their organization which others with similar titles working elsewhere do not.
For example, you might find a Receptionist in an organization has the responsibility of accepting and distributing mail to staff via their mail slots. In a larger company, such tasks might be handled by staff working in a mailroom; where the sheer volume of correspondence cannot reasonably handled by a single individual greeting the public.
When you take on the role of Receptionist, you take responsibility for interacting with whomever walks in your door or is on the other end of the phone line you pick up. Whether they are angry, bitter, pleasant, happy, hopeful or any number of other states of mind, the Receptionist deals with them all.
And job applicants? Job seekers view the Receptionist as the Gatekeeper to be by-passed in some way; be it through building an ally, circumventing through deception or charming them with wit and friendliness. Some see the Receptionist as a lowly peon; their function solely to run and fetch the important people with whom they wish to converse. Contrast this with the person who approaches the Receptionist and pours out their business leaving it for the Receptionist to determine who in the organization would be best to speak with the individual.
We expect our Receptionist to be smiling, welcoming, pleasant of voice, helpful and gracious in receiving those into the lobby area. Their interpersonal communication skills therefore must be top notch. If the role they occupy requires they file documents, type correspondence or log visitors, we require of them multi-tasking abilities and computer proficiency. It is also a position that requires sound judgement; can they handle the person at their counter themselves or do they call in others for help – and if so, who and at what point in the interaction?
The really outstanding Receptionists play a vital role in calming down emotionally charged visitors. Through conversation meant to distract or delay, a sympathetic ear, an offer of a beverage etc. these folks often de-escalate clients and customers which benefits the people the client or customer is about to meet. Do it well and staff themselves may never know the role the Receptionist played in making that face-to-face meeting run smoother.
If we care to admit it, they often get trapped too. They cover for staff who are late, who have neglected to advise the Receptionist of their appointments at all. They cover for staff on extended coffee or lunch breaks, poor employees who routinely keep their clients waiting or situations where someone is behind in their meetings. It’s a fine line between commiserating with a client kept waiting and supporting their other customer – the staff they support.
Some Receptionists have to endure the customer who opts to pass the time flirting with them, or having nothing better to do than share their life story. There are still files to file, phones to answer, documents to type, mail to sort and data to be keyed in. Everyone wants their full attention, being THE customer. There are couriers requiring signatures, the lost needing direction, the children needing distractions, the magazines or literature to straighten and routinely update. There’s the fish someone thought would be calming that need feeding, the plants that need watering, the coffee or tea machines that need supplies replenished.
The job is an ongoing balancing act, day in and day out ensuring that everything runs smoothly. As the most important person in any organization, the customer or client must deal in some way – briefly or regularly with the Receptionist. And yet, despite the importance of the role, there are some who see this person as, “just” the Receptionist. It isn’t fair but the only time some people really take note of the person acting as the Receptionist is when they are on vacation, off for a day and someone else fills in, or there is a problem. Then everybody has an opinion about both the role and the person who fills it!
How about today as you read this, you say a word of thanks to he or she who makes a living in this role? A word of appreciation, their beverage of choice, a thanks for how they handled a tricky customer or client.
It’s a good idea to remember that a Receptionist might not show up on your list of team members, but he or she is the first point of contact when your clients or customers arrive. Not a bad thing to remember. Express your thanks for a job well done.