How to ensure your staff give a fabulous first impression

So, off I popped with my business partner ‘in disguise’ and in we walked to the reception area. We were greeted in a friendly enough manner, asked to sit down while we waited and then I was met and taken to my appointment leaving my business partner to wait, and watch.

Oh and watch she did! What unfolded before her very eyes started with a chat between the two reception women about when to take their lunch breaks so they didn’t have to work with ‘Fanny Adams’ when she came in the next day (and no the lady in question is not called Fanny before you ask), progressed through to calling a competitor to ask for some customer’s details (err, data protection anyone?) to letting another customer’s children hurry around the reception area on their scooter with the words of ‘no that’s alright, they mean no harm, bless them’, to completely ignoring two other people who had entered and waited only to get frustrated and walked back out. Finally, they began discussing their bunions and how the shoes fit! I kid you not!

When I remerged, it was to find my partner hiding behind her phone so her nervous laughing was only noticeable by her shaking shoulders. My experience? To be ignored initially, and then received like a long lost friend by calling me by my first name. No I do not know you, and not even my mother calls me by my full given name of Catriona! That is way too friendly and over familiar.

We all know first impressions count so much in business these days. Sitting there, we were potential new customers of this business and instead of being warmly, yet professionally introduced to the great and wonderful world of this company, we left having to give feedback and recommendations for some serious brand awareness and customer training.

When competition is so great, it’s these little things that can put you off doing further business. Selecting the right person for each position within your company is imperative, but the receptionist is probably one of the most crucial. When current or potential customers come to your premises, the first person to greet them is that receptionist. They create the first impression that a client has of your business, whether it’s good or bad, so it’s important to choose the right receptionist for your company’s image. I’m guessing two gossiping ladies, with their shoes off and feet on display discussing their bunions is probably not the image that you want to convey, unless you happen to run a chiropody practice (and even then?).

So what do we suggest to help you ensure your reception team creates that crucial first impression?

1. Brand awareness – make sure they know what image you wish them to portray and ensure they remain ‘on message’.

2. Clarify their role – Do they know what their duties actually are, not what they might have become? The receptionist’s duties include acting as an ambassador by welcoming people to your business, screening phone calls, setting appointments, and directing client traffic throughout the work day. It’s not sitting there discussing other members of your company in broad daylight, in plain view of your customers.

3. Keep them busy – Give them the tools to do their job and keep them busy, but not so busy the customer service is lost. If they have nothing to do they should be aware they need to get something to do! You should ensure they see if other co-workers need assistance etc. In ‘corporate world’ I discovered one of our receptionists doing a cross word under the desk during ‘down time’. If they genuinely have nothing to do maybe it’s time to reengineer the role to add to it, or restructure the cover arrangements?

4. Explain communication expectations – It’s about having diplomacy and proper etiquette. Not being overly familiar, but being polite and courteous. Telephones should be answered politely with a standard greeting such as “Good Morning, thank you for calling our company, how may I help you?’. As soon as someone enters they should direct their attention to them, immediately, and give them a pleasant greeting, and an expectation of when that customer will be dealt with if things are busy. They should ignore customers so they leave in frustration.

Often we forget just how important these roles are in the company, and how critical their impact is on the future of our business.

Is it time to assess the first impressions made by all your front line roles, be they reception staff, customer service operatives or your sales teams? Maybe it’s time to consider some secret shopping of your own to evaluate their impact and implement development plans to give you that competitive edge?

For help with your ‘mystery shopping’ employee development needs or advice about HR issues contact us at www.threedomsolutions.co.uk or follow us on twitter @3domSolutions

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