Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

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.

Customer Service – Remember my name

A client of mine, someone who has traveled and entertained extensively, told the following story. It is a story with a message worth remembering, especially by any of us attempting to provide a service or a product for a fee.

My client was entertaining a group of business associates at an elegant restaurant in another city. He anticipated a productive evening and an excellent dinner. Even more importantly, at least to this oenophile, was a fine wine to complement that dinner. Although perfectly capable of selecting an excellent pairing himself, he requested the assistance of the restaurant’s sommelier. A good sommelier may know of something new, untried, and incredible. A wine connoisseur is always searching and learning.

This sommelier may have been very knowledgeable, but he was a sommelier with attitude. He was arrogant and off hand in his service to this client. Put out, our client decided he had had enough. He beckoned to the sommelier, and then waited as he came forward. He gestured again, encouraging the sommelier to bend over so he could speak softly. The sommelier bent over.

“I think you’ve forgotten my name,” the client said. The sommelier was somewhat taken aback. Part of his job was to remember the bigwigs. He had one of those “Oh my God” moments. Who was this guy? Mr Big? A serious VIP? Was the sommelier in serious trouble for missing the presence of a celebrity? Arrogance beginning to crumble, he bent and listened again.

“My name is Customer.”

Message received. How often have we all experienced that irritation caused by arrogant service people? It seems so pointless and stupid, at least to all of us customers. After all, we are paying them for service, right? You would think they’d get a clue. All we ask is that they smile when they take our money. Seems the least they could do.

And yet, how many of us forget this simple lesson when we are on the other side of the transaction? My partner remembers attending a class in the basics of telemarketing. They call it “smiling and dialing”. To be successful, one must have the right attitude. Smile before you dial.

I believe this applies to answering the phone as well. Yes, we all get busy and that ringing phone is one more interruption in the work flow. But, what if the person calling is named “Customer”? Or is the voice on the other end of the call Ms. Potential Client? How about doing some “smiling and answering”? Might be a good idea.

At the very beginning of my working life (I won’t say just how many years ago), I worked for Sears Roebuck. I held a number of different positions there, including sales, department management, even customer service management. In those days, Sears employees actually received their pay in cash. Hard to believe in this day of computer generated checks and direct electronic deposits, but they received an envelope every week filled with cold, hard currency, both bills and coins. Customers paid for their purchases in cash, too. There is a hard reality to cash transactions that we have lost in these days of checks and credit cards. Sears provided goods. Customers picked out what they wanted and paid for those goods in official legal tender. Those hard-earned bills and coins went into the cash register. At the end of each business day, the money from the register was transferred to a bag, which went to the cashier in the cashier’s cage for counting, then into the store’s safe. On pay day, that same cash found its way into the pay envelopes of the employees who helped Sears customers make their selections and smiled when they accepted their cash payments. Is there a message here? Yes. It was absolutely clear to Sears employees that their wages came from their customers.

Just in case any of the Sears employees missed that obvious message, however, there was an even more direct message delivered with each pay envelope. Written, in script, on the outside of that pay envelope was the following important reminder:

“Satisfied customers make our jobs more secure.”

Helloooo. Remember my name? My name is Customer.

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