Think of your receptionist as the front line of your business, the person who takes on 300 calls a day and fends off the crazy ones. Without a receptionist, you'd be forced to deal with anyone and everyone's outrageous business propositions, from game show ideas to anonymous whistle-blowers claiming they know all your competitors' secrets.
But beyond being the company's filter, good receptionists may know more about the inner workings of your company than you give them credit for. As Blanche Cribbs, a Jacksonville-based receptionist of more than 30 years, put it, "When you get hired as a receptionist, everyone tells you how important you are and then they forget that."
As the gatekeepers of your company, receptionists know more than just how to make a good first impression. We spoke with a few seasoned front-desk veterans to find out what you never knew they knew.
1.What your body language says about you.
Karen Vassal, of the Coleman, Yovanovich & Koester law firm in Naples, Florida, says she's become a body language expert in her 23 years working as a receptionist, and has become even more adept at analyzing the way both employees and employers speak over the phone. "You have to know the A-list, the B-list and the C-list clients. You have to know who employees want to see and who they can't see at the moment," she says. "Because I come into contact with everybody it's a given that I know everybody's personality and their defining characteristics."
Dig Deeper: Nonverbal Communication
2. Who's driving interest in your business.
You probably already know who the top performers inside the office are. But you may not know who the public is most interested in speaking with and who's getting your name out there. A receptionist can give you some idea of when your salespeople are doing something right based on how many callers ask to speak to them in a given week. "They're probably the ones doing the best job of seeking business," says Cribbs. "That's the person you need to use to train the rest of the people in your organization to bring people into the company."
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3. What issues you're having.
"You're the first one to know that your phone system isn't working properly," Cribbs says, adding that most of the calls a receptionist takes are regarding technical issues for the IT department. An issue here or there is to be expected, but the receptionist gets the most up-to-the minute feedback on what persistent issues need to be addressed.
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4. Who's a team player.
While other employees have the option of taking a walk around the office or going out for a business lunch, the receptionist, as Vassal put it, is "chained to the desk." It becomes especially important, then, that employees volunteer to cover a lunch hour, deliver a package or help out in some way. "We have people who can play well in the sandbox and can't play well in the sandbox," she says. "The ones that don't are very isolated. It comes across in their interaction among themselves, with clients, everything. It's a personality trait."
Dig Deeper: Five Team-Building Exercises
5. What employee morale is like.
Both Cribbs and Vassal agree that the receptionist gets the most honest opinion of how employees feel about their work. The front desk, in many places, acts as a psychiatrist's couch, where employees go to vent. "I became the mother," Cribbs says. "I listen to everybody's problems. It's much easier on the receptionist if the employees are happy."
Dig Deeper: How to Handle Employee Complaints