First Person: Your Receptionist Is the Voice of Your Small Business

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Early in my 30 year sales and marketing career, I realized the receptionist often creates the first impression with prospects. I was making prospecting phone calls. When I called this one company, the receptionist sounded so depressed I wondered if everyone in the company had just received their pink slips. Obviously, she failed to make a great impression for either the company or herself.

Is the Answer Automation?

So, is the solution to put in an automated telephone system? Ironically, the real solution is to do a better job of hiring and training your receptionists. People hate dealing with phone trees and automated systems. They are frustrating to deal with and impersonal. If you are running a manufacturing facility, you can get away with it.

Personal Touch

However, when dealing with the public, your main purpose is to build a relationship so that they will want to buy from you. A human receptionist adds warmth to your business. The advantage your small business has is your company is small enough your receptionist can get to know your employees, at least your department heads and executives.

Interestingly, you can mix a human receptionist and a voicemail system. The caller can get an answer from the human receptionist then decide if he wants to leave short message with the receptionist or leave a more detailed message on the voicemail system.

What about Expenses?

In today's marketplace, every small business must watch its expenses. In most small businesses, you have few people dedicated to one task. Most employees do multiple tasks.

In my small business, I had the customer service manager answer phones and greet visitors. My wife, as administrative services manager, was the backup for her. When everyone else was out, I covered the receptionist duties. We answered all calls within three rings. If I too was out, we used a service to keep the human touch.

Tips for Minimizing Expense While Maximizing Employee Satisfaction

If your small business is large enough to justify hiring a receptionist, the following are some ways that you can minimize your expenses while still ensuring a satisfied employee.

- Hire people part-time who are retired or semi-retired

- Alternatively, hire college students

- Hire temporary employees through an agency

Being a receptionist can be a boring job. You want someone who wants the job and will stay with you for a while. The advantage of hiring retired/semi-retired people or college students part-time is that they are actually looking for part time work not a full time position.

The easiest way to use part-time employees is to set them up as morning and afternoon receptionists. An added financial benefit to your business is that part-time eliminates benefits costs.

While using a temp agency can be effective at avoiding both benefits and unemployment costs, temps usually want a full-time job so they might just make the minimum effort. The other thing is that they will lack pride in your company which can affect your first impression.

Have the Receptionist Do Other Tasks Too

- Labeling folders

- Researching on the Internet, like finding information, on prospects

- Making tweets for you

- Doing data entry, like business cards - even with a business card scanner, this takes time

- Assembling marketing packets

- Filing

- Other scanning

- Opening and sorting mail

Look For a Person Who Is:

- Warm, friendly and has a pleasant voice

- Someone who enjoys helping others

To Get the Most Out of Your Receptionist

- Provide a resource book with names, titles, areas of responsibility, extension, and - for emergencies - mobile phone numbers

- Explanation of how important this role is

- Description of your company values and commitment to providing an outstanding experience to every customer.

- Train in how to take messages, e.g. spelling the person's name and the company name, repeating back the phone number and any extension

- Provide access to company database to input messages - and pull up the person in the database

Whether you choose to hire a full time receptionist or make it an additional responsibility for someone, remember that your receptionist not only answers your phones and greets walk-in customers. As such, she is the voice of your company, the one making your company's first impression on people. This article included suggestions for minimizing your hiring expense as well as ideas to maximize the value you receptionist can provide to the company.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

More from this contributor :

First Person: Are Sales Gatekeepers a Help or a Hindrance?

First Person: Structuring a Profit Sharing Plan to Motivate Employees

First Person: Controlling Unnecessary Labor Costs

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