Good receptionists make great goodwill ambassadors

Dear Joan:
I am a retired executive secretary who worked for the President and CEO of a medium-sized company for many years. While I was employed there, your weekly column was frequently the subject of Monday morning conversation and often the subject matter would be the basis for discussion at meetings, either one-on-one or in general meetings.

I hope you will be able to address an issue which I feel is very overlooked: Many meetings are conducted for project managers, customer service representatives, etc. in which service to the customer is the key to maintaining a successful business. Rarely have I seen the receptionist included in these meetings, even though that person's reaction to visitors, vendors, customers and strangers leaves a lasting impression. It is generally assumed that if the receptionist answers the phones and greets customers then she is doing her job. A problem is often created when someone else has to fill in and feels that the position is beneath his/her level. The attitude comes through loud and clear.

I had a personal experience at a doctor's office that makes this point. The receptionist avoided making eye contact or even acknowledging my presence until she had finished the task of the moment. On my final visit there I stood unacknowledged, while she typed a statement, typed an envelope, stamped and sealed it and filed the folder at which point my blood pressure had risen sufficiently I didn't need a doctor to tell me what I already knew. I now go to a different doctor, whose receptionist greets me pleasantly, and if she is on the phone when I arrive she still manages to make eye contact and at least acknowledge my presence.

Perhaps you will agree with me that being "just a receptionist" is really a lot more important than people think. They can affect how others see the company and its service.

I think you make a great point. Receptionists are indeed the first person anyone meets when they call or walk in the door. They are the good will ambassador and company representative. If they aren't welcoming and friendly, the company seems cold. If they aren't accommodating, the company appears indifferent. If their work area and the lobby is a mess, the whole place is suspect. And if they treat customers rudely, customers take their business elsewhere, as you did.

It's a serious mistake to omit them from company meetings where customer service is discussed. But I'd go a step further. Isn't it also a mistake to fail to educate them about all the things that they need to know to sound well-informed and provide good service? I've often asked a receptionist specific questions about the company, and how he or she answers tells me a lot about how well all the employees are educated about the company's mission, products and customers.

I'll never forget the time I asked a receptionist about some of the product displays in the lobby. She said, "Oh those. I don't know. That's the stuff we make, I guess. I don't know what they are." What does that say to a customer about the other employees commitment to their needs? It's not fair to judge all employees by the actions of one person, but in another comparison, don't we judge a restaurant by the cleanliness of it's bathrooms and employees? It's just the logical conclusion we draw.

On other occasions I've been treated graciously, asked if I wanted anything to drink and was pleased to find that the receptionist not only could answer all my questions, she was an enthusiastic supporter of the company and it's people. That's the kind of company I want to be associated with and I suspect you do too.

The same is true for other professions that often are underestimated; the parking attendant and custodial staff come to mind. How they treat the people they come in contact with sends a strong impression about the company and how it values it's matter what their level or their job.

The bottom line is this: if these people are made to feel a part of the company through education and active two-way communication, they not only will be wonderful company representatives, they will give you valuable feedback about customers you would otherwise miss.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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