On-hold messaging and proper training will help your receptionist make positive first impressions with visitors and callers alike.

It’s unlikely Will Rogers was thinking of an office receptionist when he said: “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” but that’s a truism every business should take seriously. Your receptionist is the public face of your organization and often the first employee customers encounter in person or by phone. Some companies even have this job title for their receptionists: “Manager of First Impressions.”

But what if they’re trying to do a minimum of two things at once: greet a walk-in customer and handle a ringing phone? Deciding who takes priority is the classic “receptionist’s dilemma,” and your business needs a plan to resolve it.Who Gets Served First? If you interrupt a conversation to answer the phone, the person waiting gets angry, but a ringing phone annoys everyone. Most offices train their receptionists to apologize to the live customer for the interruption, answer the phone, and ask the person to hold. But here’s the problem: what if the caller hangs up before you can get back to them?

That’s likely to happen. Few people are as patient as the Chicago Tribune writer who described his experience with Amazon’s customer service: he waited on hold for 3 hours before finally giving up. Surely he’d be considered for the “On Hold Hall of Fame,” if there were such a thing. Studies show that callers holding in silence will hang up within one minute; 99% will hang up within 40 seconds. What a terrible first impression!

We’ve all experienced both sides of the receptionist’s dilemma. Not long ago, I waited, and waited some more – to pay for my haircut because the salon receptionist interrupted the transaction to answer the phone. Do you know how long it takes to schedule haircuts, massages, and manicures for a bride and her entire wedding party – who all want appointments at the same time on the same day? I do.

Once, I called a local spa to purchase a gift certificate for a relative. The receptionist didn’t even put me on hold: she just laid the phone on the desk. Instead of soothing on-hold music or informative messages about spa services and specials, I listened to her serve the current customer, then another, then another. I purchased a different gift – and shared my not-so-relaxing “spa experience” with others.

Training Helps Solve The Receptionist’s Dilemma

A customer’s negative experience is a real danger to a business in this new era of social media and customer review sites. Those function as the new backyard fence, where people make online connections and share information, good and bad. Research in 2009 found that just “one bad Tweet” or other social media post could cost a company 30 customers.

Make sure that your “Manager of First Impressions” has the skills and training necessary to solve the receptionist’s dilemma.

  1. Proper Training: Your receptionist should understand her job responsibilities and procedures. Who gets served first? Which tasks are time critical? How does the phone system operate? She should know all this before answering her first phone call.
  2. On Hold Messaging: Callers will stay on the line up to three minutes longer with hold messaging than with silence. On-hold messaging also adds value to the customer’s experience, by offering information about products, sales, and company news.
  3. On Hold Procedures: People get angry when they think you’re wasting their time, and rightly so. You need a policy that defines how long people will be left on hold without having a live person check in on them.

Remember: your goal isn’t to set up a hierarchy of customers or favor one over the other. Proper planning, equipment, and training ensures that every caller and visitor to your business leaves with a great first impression.