Hiring a Good Receptionist

In the 15+ years I’ve worked as a small business consultant I’ve seen many a business/ practice shoot themselves in the foot because of poor, non-existent, or untrained personnel at the front desk/ reception area.  This area seems to be neglected more than most.  I’m not sure why, though I suspect that most business owners share the idea that this area will do just fine with any warm body answering the phone.  I’m here to tell you that this is not the case.

With small to medium sized businesses more often than not, owners, managers and general staff assume that simply answering the phone is enough.  It isn’t.  The fact is that your ‘gate keeper’, or receptionist is your lifeline.  This person needs to care for your inbound calls as they would a newborn child.  Yes, that’s right.  It’s that important.

I can’t tell you how many times I have called a business or practice  to find a receptionist with the personality of Medusa and the manners of Dennis the Menace.  I am often perplexed as to how that particular person was placed in this position and am often more surprised at the lack of care shown to inbound calls and inquiries.

Despite contrary ‘opinion’ your front desk personnel need to be one of the sharper tools in your work shed, not the dullest or least intelligent.  In fact there are more than a few ‘Fortune 500’ corporations that require their receptionist or front desk personnel to have  ‘above average’ intelligence.  This is not discrimination on those that have less than adequate reasoning ability, this is smart business that ensures (In most cases) proper handling of a business’ most valued assets – your customers / clients.   With that being said, what is the ‘potential’ worth of just one of these inbound calls?

Is it 25.00?  Is it 2500.00?  Is it 25,000.00?  Regardless this may be your very first chance to make a first impression, or your last chance, or opportunity to show your customers/ clients that they are important to you.

I can hear it now:  “Good help is hard to find”, or “I can’t afford a receptionist”….yada, yada!  Are you kidding me?

The truth is that you cannot afford to skimp in this area, or ignore it.  A good receptionist is worth his or her weight in gold.  I mean it.  This is NOT your minimum wage employee.  This is a position where you stop whining, bite the bullet and create a salary for this person with more than fair compensation.  You truly get what you pay for.
The alternative is setting up a bonus system for a ‘mistake free’ day, or week, or based on how many calls are routed properly.  Get creative with it.  But PLEASE, whatever you do, don’t be cheap in this area!  Please!  Going cheap will come back and bite you in the end.  Trust me.  I know we’ve never met, but I’ve staffed over a thousand businesses and practices in the last 15+ years.  And the practitioners and business owners who thought they knew better and wound up skimping in this area payed more in the long run from loss of business or staff.

I have a seriously hard time believing what some business owners pay a person in this position.  I understand cutting corners and overhead, but this NOT an area where you can afford to be cheap.  It really isn’t.  Minimum wage often attracts those with minimum wage skills or below.  Normally you will be limited to a skill level that is just not an acceptable standard for reception.  And if you think you might run into a problem with conflicting salaries between employees, you can simply handle that by drawing up a contract which specifically states that your front desk person, or receptionist is prohibited from sharing his or her salary with other employees.  That should handle any potential animosity before it has a chance to materialize.  Violation of this contract should be punishable by immediate termination.  This way personal information and confidentiality will be taken seriously.

Your receptionist must have good aptitude and again ‘above average intelligence’.  There are tests available online to measure IQ and aptitude.    Here is a link for an aptitude test; one that I found to be adequate for many different areas of business:  http://www.aptitude-test.com/verbal-aptitudetest.html

IQ tests may also be given using the following link: http://www.funeducation.com/Tests/IQTest/IQ-Testing-A.aspx

Your receptionist must be able to think on his or her feet and have good reasoning and problem solving ability.  Gender, race, color are unimportant.  Intelligence and a great attitude are however.  And this person should have a high willingness to be trained and have no issue with following orders.  I will hire someone ‘willing’ to learn over someone trained at least 50% of the time for the reason that I can mold and shape them into exactly what my company needs. Someone who feels they ‘know it all’ will often cross your orders, or substitute their techniques for yours and generally cause problems for an organization, business or practice.  Do your best not to waste time with these types of individuals.

Although it goes without saying, your receptionist should ALWAYS be on time.  You should check his or her work history with past employers to confirm there is a good track record in this area.  If your business opens at 9:00am  your receptionist should arrive ten minutes early and be ready to answer phones right at that 9:00 hour.   You remember the saying: “Getting there early is ‘on time’…..and getting there on time is late”?  This could not be more true for your front desk.  This applies to employees in general as well.  However, if you bend the rules it’s your funeral.  Demand promptness and you will eventually reap the rewards.

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