The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

"Receptionist" vs. "Director of First Brand Impressions"

I needed to change my flight plans—and dreaded going through the process.

I'd done it with other airlines, and it was always a protracted, frustrating ordeal. To make matters worse, this particular morning I was on a deadline and had little time to spare.

I braced myself for dealing either with an automaton-like personality or, worse yet, the dreaded "Press 1 for this. ... Press 2 for that. ... Press 3. ... Press 4. ... and if you'd like this menu repeated, please press. ..." Yikes! I drew a deep breadth and made the call.

"Hello, my name is Susie. How may I help you today?"

I paused, dumbfounded!

"Are you a real person?" I replied, after propping up my jaw.

"Yes," she said in a friendly, receptive voice. "My name is Susie. How may I help you?"

"Well, Susie, my name is Larry, and I have a problem. I need to make a change to my departure time to New Orleans."

"That's no problem, Larry," she said. "Just tell me what changes you need to make."

I did, and in the process we laughed and joked about my initial anxiety about making the call. I was off the phone in less than 10 minutes—and didn't even mind paying the $70 fee to make the change to my ticket.

But before hanging up I asked Susie for her supervisor's telephone number and called to compliment how well Susie had served me over the phone. "Susie's a great Director of First Brand Impressions," I told her supervisor, without reservation. "And I'll fly with your airlines any chance I get."

But What Really Happened?

After getting off the phone, I tried to analyze what had just happened. What had Susie done to make me want to spend the extra time to call her supervisor—on a morning when I was pressed for time, at that?

My answer was surprisingly simple: Susie was just doing her job, albeit, in a competent, friendly manner. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Isn't it sad, I thought, how low our expectations have become for receiving good service—and how much we recognize and appreciate it when we are served well.

Fact is, the overwhelming majority of first contacts to most organizations come over the phone. Yet we often overlook the critical impressions those contacts have on callers.

I don't know about you, but in my years of calling hundreds of organizations and dealing with countless "phone receptionists," I've often been given bad information, talked to as if I were an imposition rather than a valued caller, put on interminable hold, felt like I had just woken the person up, or been treated downright rudely. Heck, sometimes I don't even get past the receptionist and I'm already questioning whether or not I want to do business with this group.

Take the test yourself. Call your own organization, and then ask, "Was I received in a way that would make me want to call this organization again?"

What's it take to turn a "receptionist" into an effective "Director of First Impressions"?

  • Put the right personality in the job. Hire someone who is competent, capable, outgoing, and who truly enjoys interacting with people.
  • Educate them. Through appropriate training, let them know what's expected of them when they answer your phones.
  • Value that person(s). So often, the people who answer our phones are at the bottom of the organizational chart. They're usually paid the least, get invited to the fewest meetings, and receive little attention, recognition, or respect from others on staff. Yet, when it comes to first brand impressions, they're where the rubber hits the road. Give them the respect they deserve. The results may surprise you.
  • Make them "heroes." Let them know the critical role they play in helping your organization achieve its mission. This goes for all "support staff." If an important document needs to go out at 5 p.m. on a Friday and there's no toner or paper in the copy machine, I'll guarantee you that neither your board chair nor your executive director is the most important person in your organization at that moment.

And, for heaven's sake, if you need to use an answering machine, please, please make it sound like a human being recorded the message. And keep the menu options to a minimum. I beg you!

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2010, Checco Communications

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and author of Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding.

Topics: Communications