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The CEO of First Impressions
Published Friday, January 27, 2017

Karen Kaplan joined Hill Holiday, a marketing firm in Boston, in 1982 as the receptionist and considered herself the CEO of reception. Thirty one years and 12 positions later she is the CEO of the company.

“People will say ‘I am just a receptionist. I just answer the phone.’ I really want to point out the importance of the position of receptionist. They are the face and voice of the company,” explains Judith Bowman, president and CEO of Protocol Consultants International, after recalling Kaplan’s story. “Having the face of the company represented in a positive way really enhances the
company brand and allows the company to stand apart.”

At some businesses, though, that face and voice of the company is disappearing. While large companies and health care providers almost always have a receptionist and a reception area, many smaller businesses are forgoing a full-time receptionist in favor of an employee who multitasks between reception and another role; an open office without a clear reception area; or a bell, a phone with a list of extensions or even an iPad in place of a person where people sign in to make their arrival known.

Bowman wishes all companies had a dedicated receptionist but recognizes that finances don’t always allow it. Still, she says, how you receive guests says a lot about your company, so she advises companies to be deliberate with their reception protocol.

“I have found myself wandering down a hallway and knocking on a door,” she says of businesses without receptionists, though she adds most companies have someone who keeps an eye out for visitors. “The companies who don’t have a receptionist may not have a choice. Others may just think it’s efficient and it doesn’t matter. It does matter. Having a point person, the first brand if you will, of the company is an opportunity they should really embrace if they can.”

Bowman adds that for companies who cannot afford a receptionist, it is important to have a point person responsible for keeping an eye on the door. When a visitor arrives, the designated person should know about a visitor’s arrival if it is a planned visit and greet them by name. She says it is important visitors do not come in to an empty office and start wandering.

Barbara Cacarillo, director of design for Office Interiors in Dover, adds that if someone isn’t staffing the front door, make it clear what guests are supposed to do when they enter so they don’t feel awkward and end up walking down the hall in search of someone.

The Welcoming Center
How you greet visitors is not the only consideration. It’s also where you greet, them. It’s important to put thought into the area where your clients and visitors will first encounter your brand. What impression do you want to leave?

“It depends on what type of business you are,” says Cacarillo. “A reception area for a doctor’s office needs to be warm and welcoming. A Google-type place needs to have energy. It’s vastly different for every type of business.”

Cacarillo says she tries to incorporate company colors and logos in reception areas. To guide her design, she asks clients what they want customers to feel and notice when they walk in. Increasingly, she says, clients are melding reception with the rest of office. While there is still a reception area, it is open and guests can see the people working behind it and what the company is all about.

One company where Cacarillo recently worked wanted its reception area, dubbed a welcoming center, to be a dual-purpose reception and meeting space with lounge chairs. “When you walk in, you instantly get the feeling this is a fun place,” she says.

Some companies include signs, electronic or otherwise, that have greeting messages for guests, including the name of the visitor and their company to make them feel welcome before they even reach the receptionist.

The Greeter
Best practices, Bowman says, dictate a receptionist should stand up and come out from behind the desk to personally greet someone and shake hands.

She says companies should seek out people who are outgoing, well dressed and pay attention to hygiene. Flossing and body odors are delicate topics, she notes, but they are an even bigger deal when you are talking about a receptionist.

Bowman says well-dressed does not necessarily mean a suit; it means the receptionist matches the company culture. “They can wear jeans and a t-shirt if that’s the company culture. But they should be pressed and not wrinkled,” she says.

Office Team, a Robert Half Company in the staffing business, suggests eight skills a receptionist should have: communication, multitasking, ability to set priorities, organization, computer skills, initiative and problem solving, and dependability. “Regardless of the discipline or the company culture, people refer and hire people. It starts with the first greeting, the first point person,” Bowman says. “It tells you a lot about the type of company and [its] culture just by the reception area.

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