Friday, September 04, 2009

Lions at the gate and fresh meat answering the door

At your workplace, does your first line of public contact really know your company? For most companies and organizations, their front desk staff may be the lowliest person on the organizational chart, but they're really one of the most important.

This point was reinforced for me recently when I called a large, local business trying to reach someone who could provide some specific clarifications about their product. The person answering the phone (who I later learned was an intern) transferred me to seven (!) different people before I finally reached someone in the know. Each time, she prefaced the transfer with, "Um, okay, I'll try this one." She had no idea what each one did and didn't know what their titles meant when I suggested options.

When I finally reached a real person who knew something, I told them about the difficulty I'd had reaching them. His reply? "Well she's an intern and you know, good help is hard to find." I'm not sure how much he was joking but really? In this recession?!

Having done my time as that phone answer or receptionist, I know it's usually not the most exciting position and often requires that you take the brunt of a complaint from a disgruntled customer. But it does give you an opportunity to really help people and give them an impression of what your organization or company is about.

I work for a government agency and I'm often forwarded a call from a resident unhappy with some aspect of the agency's service, or more often, just frustrated that they can't reach anyone who can help them solve a specific problem or answer a question.

Answering these questions or helping them find the right person is not part of my job description. But I feel it's one of those things that falls under the category "other duties as assigned." I always hear them out, figure out who can help them, offer to call them back in a few minutes if I can't figure it out quickly, then connect them with the right person and give them my direct number and full name in case they need to follow up.

Often, the department or person they're having a problem with isn't even my own and they just need help navigating a confusing bureaucracy. Again, not officially my job, but certainly part of being a public servant in my book. And the few minutes it takes out of my day is certainly worth it when I hear, "Thank you so much! You're the first person who's taken the time to help me. You've restored my faith in government." Hey: glad to help!

While snazzy websites can do a lot to present a company's image to the world, I suspect some businesses spend more time haggling about the placement of a button on their website than about the skill level or appropriateness of their reception or other staff that interacts with customers.

However, more companies should realize that the person in that spot and the customer service approach of the entire staff is just as important as their website in providing an impression of what their business is about, how it handles things and whether it's a place to which customers will want to provide repeat business or to which they'll refer friends and associates.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a receptionist before and know that it's much more than just transfering calls. You have to know who does what so you can tranfer accordingly.

    Then I worked at a place where all the staff were getting trained/briefed about changes from reorganization, but the receptionists were not included in briefing. Duh.