How Good Is Your Front Of House?

One of the most interesting parts of a consultant’s job when visiting different organisations is seeing how strongly the way they organise their reception and switchboard, revealing how customer centric the wider business actually is.

Firstly a generalisation, that unfortunately contains a real truth. Outsourced reception facilities do not perform as well as wholly owned ones. Even when the first line of contact is a security desk in perhaps a shard facility with a ‘proper’ reception behind it, the experience is still mostly debilitating. We won’t even bother commenting about the impression that unmanned receptions create.

It sounds obvious, but the receptionist is the most important component of the reception experience. Good eye contact, a proper greeting, efficient visitor administration, and the offer of drink, take your coat, a seat, and directions to the loos should all be delivered in a friendly and professional way.

It’s when you sit down and wait you can observe what’s going on and really learn about the organisation. It’s amazing how many receptionists who, when they’ve ‘dealt’ with you, assume you are not there any more. They conduct private conversations on mobiles, moan to passing colleagues, and ignore ringing phones. The best ones realise they are still ‘on stage’, keep you informed, even chat if they have the time, or if they see you would like too.

The quality of a receptionist and their service delivery is a leading indicator as to the quality of the organisation’s more general offering.

If there is a TV on it should be broadcasting an appropriate channel, local radio phone-ins are not really appropriate (we’ve heard them). An internet terminal should be working and showing the organisations home page and an invitation to use.

On the broader environment, how current are the magazines? How early does today’s newspaper appear, we know one organisation where it doesn’t get put out until 11.00am after the post has been circulated. Internal people put before early arriving customers.

Why does it say DO NOT REMOVE FROM RECEPTION on company literature? Customers aren’t going to take it (shouldn’t they be encouraged?), so it must be staff. Why can’t staff be informed in ways other than showing customers staff can’t be trusted.

This brings us to a key ‘atmosphere’ builder in receptions; Signage. There should be as little (none?) negative signage on view to customers. The stickers on brochures previously mentioned is a great example of negative signage. Positive signage creates a very different ‘atmosphere’. It makes people feel they are allowed. No smoking, do not use mobiles, no admittance without a pass, type signs all send a compliant but negative message. The same feeling can be experienced when you enter a hotel bedroom and see all the little signs on the table and in the bathroom telling you what you can’t do.

Why not audit your reception?

Your front of house is where you reveal much about how you really view customers.

We leave you with a final thought. In one South African company’s reception we visited we saw the following ‘Guns must be handed in at reception’. The ultimate in negative signage, or a customer centric business reassuring its visitors?!