Is Your Receptionist Helping or Hurting Your Business?

The telephone is the most common form of communication for businesses and telephone communication can either make or break your business.  So why isn’t every receptionist properly trained?  Wait a minute, you say, our receptionist is perfectly trained; our calls are answered, callers are greeted and transferred properly, visitors are greeted pleasantly and announced properly, and we have not received any complaints about our receptionist.
It is likely that your receptionist was hired because they have some experience, good phone demeanor and can handle overflow administrative or bookkeeping duties.  Training likely consists of explaining the process; how to use the phone and computer, what to say when answering a call, how to screen calls, and transfer calls.  Unless there is a complaint, it is unlikely a receptionist receives soft skills training and even then it is usually limited to better handling that situation in the future.  In reality, it is unlikely you will receive a complaint because the caller will be long gone – calling your competitor.
Did you catch “screen calls” in that last paragraph?  Believe it or not, most executives have no idea what their receptionist is saying to people – customers — calling the company.  Worse, they have no idea that asking the receptionist to “screen calls” give them great power to drive business straight to your competitors.  What you see is a pleasant receptionist answering, transferring calls efficiently and protecting you from callers you don’t know.  The caller may be a customer who experiences a stern gatekeeper- a roadblock.  Your receptionist is the first and maybe only person a caller speak to, the first and probably the last person a visitor will see.
Do you know what kind of experience the caller has had before the call is transferred to you?  Do you know how many calls are not transferred to you because the receptionist has “screened” them out or the caller gave up and called your competitor?   Unfortunately, these are some real examples of what receptionists say to callers:
  • They are in a meeting and unless you tell me why you are calling, I cannot put you through to their voicemail.
  • If you don’t tell me your full name, company name, phone number and the reason you are calling, I can’t transfer you.
Would these callers have had a different experience if they had been transferred immediately to the person or department they asked for rather than meeting this roadblock?  Why does your receptionist need to know why every caller is calling you?  Perhaps you really are too busy and you really do need your calls blocked so you can do your work – in that case the caller would be better served calling your competitor who is not too busy to take their call.
  • Have we done work for you before?  Then, why are you calling?
  • The person you asked for works in accounting and not sales.  [then says nothing]
  • Our sales people are not in the office and I can’t give out their cell phone numbers or email addresses.  All I can do is try to call them and give them your message.
The top and bottom line will suffer if the entire company does not work to make sure the sales people and the sales department are easy to contact.  Are your competitor’s sales persons this difficult to contact?  If a caller does not hear “that person’s cell phone number is …” their next call may be to a competitor with accessible sales persons.
  • Mr. X’s line is busy.  I can put you through to voicemail or you call back later.
Would the caller have had a different experience if they were asked if they want to hold until the line was free or if they could be transferred to someone else who can help them.
  • You’re late for your appointment, you need to reschedule. [then says nothing]
  • That appointment time is already booked. [then says nothing]
If the company wants to retain this business, this receptionist should have empathy, problem solve and offer alternatives until the customer is satisfied including offering alternatives so the person is not turned away, suggesting different appointment times or scheduling an appointment at that time with a different person if possible.
These are all every day examples of receptionists who need immediate phone-skills training; these callers are given the impression they are not welcome and they are not important enough to have the gatekeeper transfer their call.  Unfortunately, you are allowing these receptionists to drive business straight to your competitors.
Instead of training your receptionist to screen calls, they should be taught their role is to greet callers and transfer them, provide customer service, give all callers a helpful, positive experience and do what they can to make the business as profitable as possible. Their goal is not to protect their boss from callers. The goal should be to turn every telephone call into a customer by making a positive first impression, providing helpful information, problem solving when necessary, transferring the call to the person or the department the caller has requested and providing direct phone numbers to better facilitate communication.   That is – unless you really are trying to hide from callers!
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