Early in my career I was fortunate to come across a real pro and learn a lot by seeing things from “her point of view.” Beverly Catalano was a great receptionist and as she was approaching her retirement she authored an article to post on my website. It has been some time since Beverly shared this but the message is as relevant today as when she first wrote it.
In her own words, Beverly Catalano’s “From a Receptionist’s Point of View”
“Several years ago, when someone asked what kind of work I did, I would sheepishly reply, “Oh, I’m just a receptionist!” I emphasized just, because of the gum chewing, nail filing types you often see portraying the receptionist. Ten years down that road I now hold my head high and proudly announce my vocation.
Not too long ago, our Vice President of finance approached my desk, asking for his Wall Street Journal. As I gave it to him, I assured him that our stock was up a quarter percent, and I was sure now that I would be receiving my long impending pay increase! After all, where could he hire a psychologist, a detective, a diplomat, an entertainer, and a communication expert, all at a little above minimum wage! He politely smiled, nodded and went on his way!
There are almost four thousand people, all over the world employed by the company I work for. At least two or three times a day I get asked, “Have you seen John Doe? Do you know where he is, or if he’s in? Why isn’t he answering my voice mail messages?”
Oh, Voice Mail! What a wonderful business tool – if used correctly! But while Suzie Sunshine (John Doe’s assistant) is out visiting her neighbor in the next cubicle, or powdering her nose, Miss Receptionist/Psychologist, must find a way to entertain Mr. Vendor/Customer, until she chooses to go back to her desk and pick up her phone! “Funny, (says Mr. Vendor) I have left so many messages on her voice mail, and it took her almost a week for her to get back to me!” “So sorry, I know she is very busy. If she had the opportunity, I’m sure she would have answered you right away”, I replied as Ms. Receptionist/Diplomat!
At this point I must inject a few words about Mr./Ms. Vendor. Vendor # 1 calls, and has pictured in his mind the gum chewing type mentioned in my first paragraph. I greet the caller with my usual greeting. “How are you”, he asks. “Say, I just talked to your Vice President of Research and Development, Mr. um, what’s his name again?” Not only do I have red lights on my console, indicating I have several calls waiting for me, but red flags are shooting up in my head! Does he really think I’m that naïve?
But then there is Vendor #2, who thinks if he is honest and above-board this receptionist will help him and politely asks if I could help him with a name of someone he could contact that would be interested in his product. For this person I’ll do all I can to direct him to the proper person.
Dealing with a cold call vendor works in much the same way! Patronizing just screams–Don’t tell this guy anything! Be honest, nice, but not overbearing and don’t treat us like we just managed to squeak by sixth grade!
To all of you receptionists I want to say that you are probably one of the most important people in your organization. You represent the entire company. What you say and how you say it could ultimately make or break a sale. Empathize with each caller and visitor. Be kind, helpful, and make them feel at home. When you enter someone’s home as a guest you certainly don’t want to be ignored or treated as a stranger. When folks enter your eight to five home (your lobby) be hospitable and courteous. Treat people, even Vendor #1, as you would like to be treated!
Speed, efficiency, and accuracy are key functions in your job. Have a good grasp, even memorize most used phone extensions. Always use your best telephone manners, using please and thank you. Have a firm grasp of what your company does. Again, even memorize a definition if you have to. Know your department and department heads and their support people.
In the course of the day, you are asked to help with all kinds of situations: call cabs, order lunches, find a maintenance man for a toilet that is overflowing! Do all of this with a smile, but never at the cost of ignoring your phone or guests. They come first!
Often callers get wordy, and you can see other calls coming in on your board. You must tactfully ask them to hold. Example: I will be happy to answer as many of your questions as I can, if you don’t mind being put on hold. I have several calls I must take, and then I’ll be back to assist you. Never leave the caller on hold long, even if you’re busy. Go back and tell them you’re sorry, you’ll be with them as soon as you can.
There are many variances to your job, and many questions with no pat answers. That is why a good grasp of your company’s product and people is so vital! You must develop a way to listen to your phone caller, and your lobby visitor at the same time, keeping in mind, both are of equal importance. You can speak to your visitor with a smile, your eyes and hand movements, while you’re putting through a telephone caller.
The most important thing is, no matter how you feel, or what’s on your mind, everyone who enters your lobby, visitor or employee, needs a cheerful hello and a good morning or good afternoon. Your attitude sets the mood, and relaxes your visitors. The tone of your voice on the phone, or in person welcomes the caller to your company. Put your visitors at ease.
Remember that you are the gateway to your company. Your visitors’ impression is a lasting one. Make that impression a positive one.
Beverly Catalano, Receptionist”
John Kypriotakis is the President of Lysis International,
a Tampa based Sales and Management consulting firm,
specializing in B2B Sales, Management and Leadership.