Do we underrate our receptionists and office support staff? - [website] Email Print
Published: 17th of Jan 2017 by: Debbie Engelbrecht

I am always amazed when I have the rare opportunity of training support staff, as opposed to executives, of how often the former feel underrated.

I hear comments like, “my bosses don’t tell us where they are or what their schedules are”, or, “why should I know anything? I am always the last to hear”. The latter came from a receptionist at a very busy board who had an influx of responses to a relatively senior job advert that had been placed in a Sunday newspaper.

I’ve heard a receptionist say that she is never included in meetings as the board must always be attended to; one of the worst was, “yes the company is having their annual lunch this year, but I am not attending as the telephones still need to be answered!”

Another behaviour I find odd is that the receptionist often does not have an official back-up. Often they have to beg and plead to be relieved at the board so that they can take a comfort break or even lunch for that matter. And when the relief person does arrive it is late and they make it clear that they are doing the receptionist a favour, not taking full messages, not attending to the queries, they literally just answer the phone.

A particularly disturbing behaviour is how often regular guests or even colleagues ignore the request to please take a seat whilst the receptionist alerts a manager to a visitor, and how often managers allow their visitors to get away with this type of behaviour, nullifying the receptionist’s duties in the process.

Why are these such big issues then?

In my opinion it is clear. The receptionist is the “Director of First Impressions” and we all now know how very important that first impression is. He or she is also a professional and part of the bigger team and of all the people in the organisation that communicate with prospective clients, the receptionist most probably does so the most. If you are not able to empower the person in this position to truly own their post, you are doing yourself a disservice.

They will disengage, they will demean their post and the ramifications of this behaviour will be huge.

I recently phoned three veterinarians for a quotation on an ACL operation for my hound. In all three instances the phone was answered promptly and professionally, in all three cases the receptionists told me that they were not able to assist directly but would be in contact with the correct veterinarian and return my calls.

Vet 1: the veterinarian called back and asked “how can I help?” - no indication that he had the full story, which was because he didn’t. I asked. The message simply read: please phone back regarding a quotation for dog’s operation.

Vet 2: well, they never even phoned back.

Vet 3: the receptionist called back and asked me to hold with reference to my enquiry for Spud’s ACL ligament operation, (she even remembered my dog’s name!) she would be transferring me to Dr Van Der Merwe who was the senior specialist and who will definitely be able to assist me. She then did so. Dr Van Der Merwe immediately responded to this transferred call with “good day, Debbie, I believe you have an interesting challenge for us, let me just make sure that I understand it correctly before I give you my recommendations as to your next step.”

In summary, Vet 1 was slightly cheaper than Vet 3. Pretty much the same procedure recommended and pretty much the same timelines, guarantees and post-operation procedures explained. Guess who I will entrust my golden boy to?

It’s a no brainer, Vet 3 has demonstrated to me that they are a cohesive team, they are all fully engaged in their jobs, they have an attention to detail and that they are caring. They had clearly had a full conversation with reference to my request before they acted and if there is one thing I know, it is that communication breakdown is the major cause for errors in most organisations. And when it comes to a hugely expensive procedure, I, as the paying client, in this instance entrusting my faithful companion’s life to someone, I don’t want any errors.

In conclusion thus, if you are making the error of underrating your reception and administrative staff, turn it around now. You cannot actually afford not to.

© Debbie Engelbrecht

Debbie Engelbrecht is the MD of Staff Training, established in 2001. She is a soft skills facilitator and management coach and strives to enthuse, assist and empower her fellow South Africans wherever she has the skill to do so.


Staff Training are hosting their popular Frontline I and II workshops in both Cape Town and Johannesburg on the 25th and 26th January 2017. Book now to secure your seat.

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