Who is the most important person in your office?

By Hal Becker

So who do you think is the most important person in your office? If you answered yourself, deduct two points and then go look for a dose of humility!

Right up front, point person, numero uno, supreme commander, the holiness who rules the office, yes, we are talking about your receptionist. This is the key ingredient to the office that lives and breathes customer service when compared to all the other ones that just say they believe in it or say they "give good service."

It amazes me how so many companies go on and on about how good they are or how much they believe in service. Then what do they do? They cut out the most important person, the receptionist, and replace that with the voice-mail receptionist.

You heard me right. If you have voice mail to replace your receptionist, you don't get it! I know I have heard all the excuses, but bottom line is that your customers want the receptionist. Isn't that what is really important; what your customers want?

Don't get me wrong, I love voice mail, but I would much rather have a pleasant voice answer the phone. After that, then I can say, "Can you connect me to their voice mail?"

I recently gave a speech for Inc. magazine's annual customer service conference, and I asked the audience (people from all over the world) how many of you hate it when you get voice mail instead of the receptionist? At least 75 percent of the people raised their hands to let me know their frustration level. My next question was, how many of your companies rely only on voice mail? You could see them all look around the room. They were pretty embarrassed and they all got the point.

You still don't believe me? Think of two companies known for their customer service. Call them and see what you get. If you can't come up with two companies (since there are so few really exceptional companies that are known for their service) I'll help you out. Call any Ritz Carlton Hotel or a Nordstrom Department store and just listen to how the phone is answered. Then think about how it makes you feel.

Now let's get down to business. What are traits you should look for and how do you go about finding that perfect person? However, I must first tell you that I have never hired one myself. Being an author and speaker, I really don't need one in my house, even though it would be nice to have someone to screen all those pesky solicitations.

Here's what I like to hear or what really impresses me when I call a business:


  • Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm. Do you get the point?
  • Good attitude. Good attitude. Good attitude. Good attitude. Good attitude. Good attitude. Are you getting it yet?
  • Someone who likes to have fun.
  • Someone who is reliable.
  • Someone who can think on his or her feet.
  • A take-charge person.
  • Someone with a good sense of humor.
  • Someone with a pleasant voice.
  • Someone who doesn't seem to be doing you a favor just by answering the phone.
  • Someone who is willing to do a little extra. Someone who is willing to page the person you are looking for instead of saying, "I'm sorry they are away from their desk." Maybe the receptionist would actually find the person just like the good old days in the 1980s and before.
  • Sincere. Sincere. Sincere. Sincere. Sincere. I know you've got it now!

Obviously, when hiring this dynamo you need to have good interviewing skills and you don't have to ask, "Have you ever answered a phone or know how to use one?" When you find the right person to hire, you will feel it in your gut. It will be someone who understands life and is enjoying it. This person will be a people person, someone you would like to have over for dinner. This person is your office!

The receptionist sets the tone for all of your employees. This person also creates the first impression for anyone who calls your office. Sure, automation is great, but sometimes we get impersonal just to save a few bucks or to make it more convenient for us. The final result is that the customer loses or becomes not as important.

Remember, everyone loves to feel important and the best place to start making someone feel important is right at the beginning, with the first person the customer has contact with. That's right, the all-too-important receptionist!

Reprinted with permission from Hal Becker, nationally known expert on Sales, Customer Service, and Negotiating and author of "Can I have 5 Minutes Of Your Time?"

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