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The reception dilemma

Author : Glenn Jackson

23 December 2011

Your company may always need a `brand ambassador’ on the front desk, but outsourcing some, or even all, of your reception services could be a more efficient way of working. Glenn Jackson takes a look at the pros and cons of using an outsourced reception service.

22The reception is a vital part of any company’s brand as it immediately defines the business and its relationships with its customers - right from the first moment of contact.

Of course, every business has a different approach or desire in the customer contact area; be they a high quality service industry or a low cost volume business. Small companies for example, with no reception, often rely on staff who are comfortable using their smartphones and laptops to communicate. Equally, some large corporations may choose to contract out their entire customer call-handling facility as part of an `umbrella’ outsourced package - where everything from night security to copier print cartridges are taken care of by one partner company.

Getting the reception right is important for anyone looking to save money or deliver excellent service. If we focus mainly on those looking to deliver a good customer experience we need look no further than the old business saying, `you only get one chance to make a good first impression’ and very few things annoy people more than poor customer service attitudes, unanswered phones or mishandled enquiries.

Research shows that 62% of callers will not ring back if they hear an engaged tone, whilst 79% say they won’t call back if their call goes unanswered. A 2011 survey on the topic of British people’s patience found that being put on hold was the third most likely cause of people becoming impatient and annoyed with companies. Reception service matters and probably always will.

Striking the right balance between reception costs and maintaining an excellent standard of customer service is the key factor. Whether you outsource completely, divert calls at peak times, or stick with the traditional two reception staff, cutting back on quality is always likely to prove a false economy.

No substitute for expertise
For most businesses their greatest overheads are staff, whether full or part-time, when you consider sick pay, employer’s National Insurance, annual leave and so on. The return on that investment is that you get a trained, polite and hard-working receptionist who knows the business inside-out, from the Director’s private mobile number, to who delivers the lunchtime sandwich.

But even exceptional reception staff cannot answer the phone and deal with an important client who has just arrived at your offices simultaneously. They will also need a lunch break and someone to cover for them during their annual leave, or when they may be ill. This is where an “overflow” outsourcing strategy can work well.

Typically, the busy company will receive most phone calls in two surges, from say 10am until 12 noon, with another spike in calls between 2pm-4pm. Most visitors to an office will arrive in those time slots as well, so this is when the usual standards of customer care and professionalism are under stress.

The advantage of using an overflow reception management method is the sheer flexibility it offers. Essentially, your outsourced partner company is acting as a safety net; plugging the gaps when several calls hit the phone system at exactly the same time. Choose your outsourced reception company wisely and you will find they offer a dedicated receptionist, which for some companies is the perfect scenario. Having someone on hand, who spends time getting to know your company’s main products and services, as well as having those essential contact numbers and emails for key staff, is invaluable. Your customers don’t realise that they are talking to an outsource partner and feel confident that they are being given the right information – it’s a win-win in terms of service quality.

The technology

There’s no doubt that having a receptionist who can multitask text messages, emails and track staff movements/meetings is the ideal business model. But modern communication technology offers a range of choices and these same enhanced functions can now be effectively managed by an outsourced reception partner. For example, many leading outsourcing companies now have an app for smartphones. This allows the client to update their details on the move, so that an outsourced receptionist can pass messages on using an appropriate method, making it more likely that the message will be seen and acted upon.

Of course a large facilities management company can set up the same process, as the software exists to automate this communication easily. But you may miss the personal touch that a dedicated receptionist – whether in-house or via a dedicated outsourcing partner – can offer.

The latest caller recognition software allows any receptionist to identify regular contacts, who may be key account customers. This saves the receptionist having to confirm the caller’s contact details each and every time so technology is helping build stronger business relationships.

Whatever your preference on handling telephone enquiries there’s no doubt that having a system where the company structure, job titles, department numbers etc. are on hand and integrated into your receptionist’s call handling technologies are essential. The rapid rise of the smartphone and ever-increasing use of mobile wi-fi also means an outsourced receptionist can be kept `in the loop’ on an hourly basis.

People remember great customer service

As customers, we form perceptions within the first few minutes – sometimes seconds – of speaking to new people. This is where a quality receptionist can really help your business long-term. If the receptionist is well-trained and knows your business thoroughly, then customers will almost immediately trust your brand to deliver. Of course many companies, large or small, simply haven’t the resources to effectively handle every call in this way – hence the use of outsourced call handling or push-button phone menus.

For the typical SME or larger company, the choice is often even more complex and can depend on a variety of factors; the nature of the calls, their complexity, the frequency or company policy on screening them. Outsourcing, particularly at peak times, to someone who is a trained and professional - never a ‘next available operator’ facility - provides a unique and more personal service.
So what is the ‘ideal’ reception? The answer is simply one that matches the business’ needs and delivers the company’s brand values through its customer’s experiences. For businesses looking to deliver good customer service then the focus must be on that initial point of contact and ensuring that the receptionists chosen to handle your important calls are well trained, have people skills and make use of the latest communications technology.

Glenn Jackson is Managing Director of Moneypenny

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