A Tale of Two Receptionists

The job of receptionist is seriously undervalued in the business world.  It is typically viewed as an entry-level position and staffed and paid accordingly.  It is frequently eliminated altogether.  I believe that businesses ignore the reception function at their peril.  The receptionist may be the first contact a customer has with a business and first impressions are tough to change.  Two recent experiences reinforce my opinion.

I approached the reception desk in a medical office.  The two women behind the counter ignored me.  It wasn’t busy in the office, but neither woman spoke or looked up.  Eventually, I had to announce my presence.  Reluctantly, one of the women consulted her computer to verify my appointment and requested my co pay.   I gave her $25 and she proceeded to argue with me.  “No, no, it’s $15!”  I explained the recent increase in my co pay, but she obviously believed her computer, not me.  Finally I said, “You have 2 options.  You can take my $25 and give me a receipt, or you can take $15 and bill me for the additional $10.  I think it’s simpler if you just take the $25.”  Clearly, my presence was an interruption of her day.  Some welcome.  I sat down, pulled out my magazine, and waited to be called for the appointment.

The wait stretched out to over an hour.  The doctor’s nurse finally came out and looked at me in surprise.  “Dennis, how long have you been waiting?”  I told her more than an hour.  She apologized profusely, saying, “We did not know you were here.”  The receptionist had added insult to injury by not even troubling to tell the medical staff that I was there!

Some weeks later, I visited a different medical office and approached the reception desk, this time staffed by 3 women.  One looked up promptly and smiled. “May I help you?”  She proceeded to check me in, pleasantly and efficiently.  When I told her my co pay was $25, she looked puzzled. “The card says $15.”  She wasn’t arguing, just requesting clarification. I explained that the co pay had increased, but we had not been issued new cards.  Question resolved, she took my money and gave me a receipt. “Do you need parking validation?”  All checked in, I sat down in the waiting room.  While waiting, I observed the 3-woman reception team in action.  They were all courteous, pleasant, prompt and efficient. 

Later, I complimented the reception team to my doctor, telling him what a positive impact they make on the patient’s impression of the practice.  I commented that, in my experience, the attitude of receptionists reflects the attitude of management.  Someone was doing a great job of hiring and training of his staff.   He thanked me, saying that he considers the impression given by the receptionists critical to his practice.  Receptionists are the first contact, either in person or by phone, that the patients (i.e. customers) have and it’s important that it be a positive experience.  This doctor clearly “gets it”.  He understands not just the medical side of his work, but also the management side.

 So how are the receptionists at your office? Are they treating customers and potential customers the way you would like?  Good first impressions are critical and tough to change.  Remember, the main issue here is attitude and attitude flows primarily from management.  Make sure yours is reflected well in the people who greet your customers, clients, patients, and prospects.

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