It’s a new year and decade, and we are back on the road. I think within the first week of being back everyone was eager to get on time management principles. Almost everywhere I went, someone asked me if we had any training for front desk team members. Now you can call them Receptionists, Customer Service Reps, Directors of First Impressions or anything you want — there is an art form to being efficient and effective as the air traffic controller for your squad and the clients. In my findings, there isn’t much out there on how to be ridiculously amazing at this critical role!
In order to be ridiculously amazing at anything you must first start by understanding your mission and your value to the team. All too often I hear, “Well, I’m not licensed. I’m really on here for support.” NOPE! You are the central nervous system of an agency. In many agencies if someone wants to speak with an agent, they must go through you first. You are either the world’s greatest director of first impressions or just someone who answers the phone; I know which one I would pick.
In your role you have 2 customers:
- The clients calling in
- Your team for whom you are defending and protecting their time
This is where things can get a little muddy. You hate to have customers wait, or you hear customers calling back because they haven’t received a phone call response, and it’s easy to side with the customer. The customer is always right, right? We have been trained forever that customers shouldn’t wait and we must attend to them right away; their time is valuable. If Geico is 24/7, we must be cautious not to have customers wait. Yes, but…
Name one place in 2020 that is not a fast food restaurant where you don’t expect to wait. Even at the jiffy oil change places you expect to wait. We need to be efficient, however, we also need to honor the invisible customers. These are the people we made promises to before this next walk-in and call-in. We can’t see them since they are in line, but they are there!
When a customer walks in and they have to wait for a few moments, it’s ok. Allowing your team to wrap up their current task is equally important. A small interruption can lead to a mistake or a missed expectation. As a front desk professional, you need to get good at small talk and educating the customer. For agencies that use chat, a simple chat can help dramatically to let the customer know they will be with them in 5-10 minutes. The customer may go out and get a cup of coffee.
In addition, we strongly advocate that every agency place a sign in the lobby that says appointments are recommended. When clients can make appointments we can best manage our time and the clients’ time!
One thing that all front desk professionals have in common is protecting their team. Your role is to be a bit of a gatekeeper. We recommend you answer the phone with: “It’s a Great Day at AGENCY NAME, how may I direct your call?”
Not “how many I help you?” Oftentimes the customer spills their guts to you, then you have to transfer them, and they have to repeat themselves. Yuck! By asking, “how may I direct your call?” you are asking where they need to go. Now let’s review if they ask for a person like the owner!
One of your main objectives is to be the gatekeeper for both the owner and your team. Remember, there are invisible clients in the team’s waiting room that are already in line! When someone calls for the owner, we recommend you state that they are unavailable and ask immediately what their call is regarding. If it’s something someone else can help with, transfer them! Don’t worry about sounding abrupt. Most likely this poor client will sit in voicemail, and then the owner will transfer the call to someone else!
In regards to the team, it’s equally important that you understand a few things:
- When you try to transfer the call and the agent sounds gruff, remember that they could be having a rough day. You can get annoyed and think to yourself — can you believe her! Or you can say to the agent, “It sounds like you are having a rough day. Let me see what I can do to help this person.”
- Your agents have invisible clients at their desks with tasks, emails and voicemails. You may not see them, but they are there.
- We all have bad days. Be kind even when it’s difficult.
To help empower our front line professionals, we recommend every agency install a call back expectation that the agency sticks to. For example, if a call comes in before 3:00, it will be returned that day. After 3:00 it will be returned the next morning. If we are short-staffed, we can amend these times.
Remember, front line professionals, you are the heart of the agency, and you have 2 customers! Don’t prioritize one over the other.