First impressions count

* by Clive Price

Few business owners understand that their company’s reputation rests on the first impression gained by customers or prospects. How that first call is handled is all-important in creating the right perception in your customers’ minds.

Few business owners invest time or money in helping their frontline staff gain the necessary skills, such as how to handle angry customers, deal with complaints, be assertive and promote the brand.

Have you spent a lot of money building your brand, and promoting its promise through advertising and social media channels? Have you involved your frontline staff – yes, even your receptionist – in the branding process? How can they be expected to live the brand if you don’t give them the opportunity to offer their ideas and input?

Competencies to look for

What competencies do you look for in a good receptionist? Top of the list should be the ability to establish a rapport by being warm, friendly and courteous. They must also be able to actively listen and put the customer fi rst; ask questions to show the customer they understand their needs; problem solve; under promise and over deliver; and act on requests made. Analyse these skills, they’re probably the similar, if not the same, as those required from your top sales performers.

Rate those skills

Rate your receptionist’s skills by filling in the number that applies to them below. 1= NEVER do 6 = ALWAYS do

  1. Absorb customer frustration and emotion, without taking it personally, remaining in empathy/solution mode.
  2. Take an interest in the customer and their needs.
  3. Use customer name appropriately in conversations and discussions.
  4. Take care to get spelling, and pronunciation form correct.
  5. Warm transfer calls, when appropriate.
  6. Keep visitors/callers informed frequently if there is a delay Cheerful goodbye to customers at end of visit/phone call Coordinate people effectively (e.g. couriers with packages; meeting rooms).
  7. Spot and act i.e. take ownership of issues, even if the issue belongs to someone else.

(Adapted from Bryan Edwards)

How did they do? And how would you do?

Did these questions make you stop and think about how your customers are currently being handled? They should if you didn’t manage 100 percent. interview carefully When you recruit for a sales position, you probably spend days interviewing and profi ling candidates in order to assess their potential. How thorough are you when it comes to appointing a receptionist? Sadly, many business owners are way off the pace in this regard.

Your frontline staff require a wide range of skills. Perhaps it’s time you spent a day behind the switchboard to listen to the drone of daily inquiries and to face up to angry customers – it’ll no doubt convince of the need for proper recruitment policies and training for these employees.

Clive Price is MD of The Peer Group, a company that specialises in sales training and front line excellence. Clive has a BA (Econ) from Wits University and a Post Graduate Degree in Learning Psychology from London University.