Quick — who is the most important person in your business? Is it the CEO? CFO? CIO? Actually, it might be someone you would never expect: your receptionist.
That might catch some people off guard, particularly members of the C suite particularly enamored of their role within the organization. Sure, executives are pretty important. However, they don’t have the same impact on business success that your receptionist does.
Why are receptionists so critical to business success? While it might not be apparent at first glance, it becomes pretty obvious when you dig a bit deeper. Consider the following:
Take a quick look at how US News and World Report defines the role. “Receptionists might find themselves answering phones, entering data, directing schedules, ensuring office operations run smoothly, and even managing projects and events. As the initial point of contact, receptionists help form a visitor’s first impression of a business or organization.”
What can you derive from that information? Simply this:
Receptionists are often the public face of the company.
They’re the first person to speak to callers and visitors, the first person visitors see when entering the business, and often the first person that employees see when they arrive in the office. They interact with an incredibly high percentage of customers/clients, business partners, suppliers, vendors, and more.
As such, it’s incredibly important that you choose the right people for the role. That applies whether you’re hiring for an in-house position or you’re looking to outsource your receptionist needs to a professional provider.
While receptionists are essential to the growth and success of your business, whether you go the in-house or outsourced route, the right skills are essential. Without the right knowledge and capabilities, a receptionist will be unable to deliver the benefits you need to see. So, what skills are most critical? Below, we’ll dive into the most vital skills and capabilities, and also touch on some nice-to-have capabilities that deliver additional value.
If you guessed that communication would be at the top of the list, then here’s your gold star. It makes sense, too, since a receptionist’s primary job is, well, communication. Communication with whom, though?
Really, anyone who steps into the office or calls the business is very likely to interact with a receptionist. So, communication is the single most crucial skill to possess. They must be able to communicate with just about anyone, about just about anything. What’s more, your receptionist must be flexible enough to pivot on that proverbial dime — they’ll need to go from answering general questions to dealing with administrative discussions in the space of just a few seconds. That requires mental agility and more.
It goes deeper, too. Humans communicate in an incredibly wide range of ways. It’s not just by speech. We communicate by text, such as in an email or a text message. We also communicate nonverbally. In fact, ThoughtCo points out that, “Nonverbal messages have been recognized for centuries as a critical aspect of communication,” before highlighting some of the many types of nonverbal communication. It goes so much deeper than mere “body language”, and includes:
A receptionist must be more than merely conversant in verbal and nonverbal communication. They must be an expert. A great deal can be discerned when someone is paying close attention. For instance, suppose a customer calls your office and the receptionist answers. The customer says, “I need to speak with Robert. He was our salesperson.”
A millisecond of introspection from a receptionist with great communication skills could surface critical insights from that handful of words.
As you can see, even answering a seemingly simple phone call requires a receptionist to tap into active listening skills, knowledge of the people within your organization, human behavior, and more. All of those go into being able to communicate effectively.
Communication is a so-called “soft skill.” These are set apart from “hard skills” like being able to use Microsoft Excel or having experience with accounting processes. Soft skills often have their importance downplayed, but more and more, we’re coming to realize that success isn’t possible without them. In addition to good communication skills, your receptionist should have a wide range of other soft skills.
Adaptability — If there’s one thing that receptionists can count on, it’s that every day will be different. Variety may be the spice of life, but for those who lack adaptability, the ups and downs can be incredibly challenging.
Creative thinking — Receptionists do more than just provide basic answers to questions. They must face unique situations and come up with solutions that fit. Creative thinking is essential to doing that.
Teamwork — Receptionists are part of the larger team, and they must be able to interact and work with other people on the team to accomplish shared goals.
Empathy — Empathy is absolutely vital for receptionists. Without being able to put themselves in another person’s position, they will be unable to deliver high-caliber customer service.
Conflict resolution — Receptionists are the front line in your defense against conflicts. They can often defuse difficult situations long before it moves to a customer service rep or a manager.
Problem-solving — From managing double-booked appointments to handling irate customers, receptionists must be able to accurately and quickly solve problems.
Time management — Receptionists must be able to manage not only their own time, but that of others — scheduling interviews, phone calls, appointments, and more will require good balancing skills.
Emotional intelligence — Emotional intelligence is an individual’s ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. As you can imagine, it’s crucial to customer service and manning the front lines of a business.
Ability to work independently — Finally, while a receptionist must work as part of a team, they must also be able to work independently when necessary. A good receptionist takes initiative and is unafraid to make decisions without first asking for guidance.
It’s difficult to think of anything with a greater impact on a receptionist’s job duties than technology. That has always been true, but it has taken on even greater importance in today’s tech-driven, tech-integrated world. Simply put, virtually everything we do somehow connects with some technology platform. Receptionists must have good technical skills or they will not be able to integrate with your team.
What technology skills, though? Basic office software is a given — Word, Excel, Google Docs, and things like that. Basic email skills are also necessary, whether you use Outlook or rely on another email program.
However, it’s also important that the receptionist is familiar with other software that your business uses regularly. Some examples of these include the following:
Calendaring/scheduling software — From Calendly, Acuity Scheduling, and Apptoto to iCal and Google Calendar, receptionists should understand the basics of how calendaring/scheduling software works, as well as how to use the software for reminders, call-backs, and follow-ups. Bonus points if they are familiar with the tools already at use in your organization.
CRM platform — Your CRM (customer relationship management) platform is a critical consideration. It integrates with customer service, marketing, sales, and everything else. Receptionists must understand the role of the CRM, as well as the basic features and functions shared across platforms. Again, bonus points if they’re familiar with yours.
Time management — Time management isn’t just a crucial skill, but also applies to critical business software. There are plenty of examples here, such as BigTime or FreshBooks, and your receptionist(s) must know how to track time, invoice, and create reports.
Visitor management — Receptionists deal with visitors to your physical business, and digital tools make that task easier. Make sure that your receptionist understands the role of software like SwipedOn and other visitor management platforms.
Lead management — Receptionists wear many hats, and one of those is their role in the sales process. Because of their centrality within the business, receptionists should be able to offer things like basic lead qualification, customer/client information gathering, and more. They should also be able to use basic software like Google Analytics, or to integrate lead gen-related information into your CRM.
Communication tools — Today’s organizations rely on technology to communicate. This goes well beyond your VoIP system, though. It touches on platforms like Trello for project management, Slack for collaboration, Zoom for video conferencing, and so much more. From email to text messages and Facebook Messenger, your receptionist candidates must have exemplary skills and experience with modern communication technologies.
Again, technology plays a central role in a receptionist’s duties and responsibilities. That applies whether you’re hiring for an in-house position or outsourcing your needs. Speaking of that, how do you know which is right for you?
Once, in-house personnel was the only option. That slowly began to change and, in recent years, hiring remote personnel has become much more common. In fact, after 2020, remote work got a good kick in the pants. A Gartner survey found that 80% of CEOs plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time moving forward. A similar PwC survey found that almost 80% of CEOs agree that remote work is here to stay.
What does that have to do with the in-house vs. outsource argument? Simply put, chances are good that your receptionist(s) will be working remotely anyway, at least part of the time. While you will probably still need a limited in-person presence, much of your receptionist-related workload can be handled remotely.
That’s a mark in favor of outsourcing your receptionist needs. There’s also the fact that when you outsource your needs, you save a great deal of money. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a single receptionist is just north of $30,000 per year. On top of that, you have other associated costs — vacation, tax contributions, healthcare, and other perks.
Can an outsourced receptionist service truly approach the capabilities, skills, and benefits of an in-house employee? The answer to that is a resounding yes.
At Smith.ai, we offer a superior solution to virtual receptionist needs. Our team is based in North America, so you never need to worry about time zone differences complicating communications or leading to lower-than-optimal customer/client interactions. What’s more, we deliver critical services designed for businesses competing in the 21st century, including:
Live receptionists, 24/7 — your calls never go to voicemail or an automated system unless you want them to.
Systems and technology integration — seamlessly integrate with today’s most popular calendaring/scheduling software, as well as appointment setting, billing platforms, CRM platforms, Zapier, call-back scheduling, and more.
Not limited to inbound calls — We also offer critical outbound calls, including work status updates, appointment reminders, and web-form follow-ups.
Lead qualification — We understand the role that receptionists play in sales and customer service, and offer lead qualification and client intake with full CRM integration.
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