If you’re a small business owner, you could be scratching your head. The most overlooked
employee in a company? Is it the customer service representative? The salesperson? The
social media manager? Nope, it’s none of those people. This person is sitting right under
your nose and if you’re like too many business owners, it’s never occurred to you just how
important this employee is. Who is the most overlooked person in most offices? It’s the
receptionist. You heard me right – the guy or gal answering the phone.
If your business has been around less than five years, you may be thinking, “No way, the
receptionist isn’t that important. After all, she’s the lowest paid person in my office and
she’s disposable. Receptionists are a dime a dozen.” If this has been your train of thought,
you couldn’t be more wrong.
What Does Your Receptionist Say About Your Business?
To your customers, your receptionist says a lot about your business. From the way he or
she answers the phones, to how knowledgeable they sound, to the clothes they wear, to
how clean their desk is – your receptionist speaks volumes about your company. When a
potential customer calls your office, how they are handled by the receptionist can literally
make or break the deal.
If the receptionist is short with the potential customer, if they come across as rude or
uncaring, if they provide incorrect information, or if they send the call to the wrong
department, the potential customer can think to themselves, “This place is unprofessional,
I’m certainly NOT going to give them my business.” You’ve probably done it yourself.
Another issue is a foreign-born receptionist with a thick accent. If the caller cannot
understand the receptionist, they can assume that they have reached an overseas call
center. While this may not be fair to the receptionist who is trying his or her best to do a
good job answering phones, the caller can lose all interest in doing business with the
company because they’re certain they’ve reached someone outside the U.S. I mention this
because it happens a lot. Sometimes at the price of lost business. And guess what? You’ll
never get a second chance to clear up the confusion.
What to look for in a receptionist:
• Someone who is professional.
• Someone who is easy to understand.
• Someone who is neat and well-kept.
• Someone who is patient and polite.
• Someone who has a pleasing voice.
• Someone who can multi-task.
• Someone who is a good listener.
• Someone who thrives in a fast-paced environment.
• Someone who has a good attitude.
• Someone who is sharp and understands the company.
Reception is an entry-level position; this is why things can get hairy. Often, the receptionist
is one of the lowest paid individuals in a company, if not the lowest-paid. But, the
receptionist needs to be smart. They need to be quick on their feet, and they need to be
someone with potential, someone who’s on the rise. The best receptionists know every
employee and their schedules. They know every detail. They know how the company runs,
and they know where everything is.
As the business owner, realize that the receptionist is the first person customers see when
they walk in the door. And no matter how much we’d like to pretend otherwise, first
impressions count. Do you want your customers to be greeted by a rude receptionist? By
someone who is grossly underdressed? By someone who makes the customer roll their
eyes and scoff? The last thing you want is your customers questioning your hiring
decisions. It’s just bad for business.
Starbucks Barista Theory
I was talking to a colleague the other day who works in an office with hundreds of
employees. She told me about her Starbucks barista theory. She said to me, “Most
receptionists may have to learn a program – maybe an Excel spreadsheet. Whatever they
don’t know about computers can be learned.” She continued, “Knowing the activity level
involved in reception, I’d hire a Starbucks barista over a person with office experience any
day.” She explained how a Starbucks barista is well-versed in customer service, and why
this is a valuable skill.
My friend’s theory: Starbucks baristas deal with customers all day long, and they’re not all
nice. They have to multi-task and remember a lot. They have to remember how to make
drinks, and they have to remember customers’ orders. Compare a skilled Starbucks barista
to an office worker who can only handle one task at a time, or someone who is shy or anti-
social. The friendly, outgoing, multi-tasking barista is far more qualified for the hectic
position as a receptionist. That is, if the receptionist can be paid as much as a Starbucks
Bottom line – executives must understand how valuable the receptionist position is. So
many people think it’s just the receptionist. Just the gopher. Just the assistant. But in reality,
the receptionist is the face of the company. As the business owner, do you wish to make
your first impression a good one? You better. Scrimp in this department and you can lose
valuable business, sometimes well-before a call even makes it to a salesman. Why is this?
Because, first impressions are everything to a business. Make sure yours is a good one.