Following up on my last blog post about the importance that human resources plays in public relations, I’m going to pick on one role that is often staffed by a person who is not thoroughly trained––the receptionist. Your receptionist might be the weak link in your message management protocol.
Last week I was doing a little research for a client. I wanted to find out which companies in a particular industry (I won’t divulge which one) subscribed to a certain program. If given the choice by an automated phone system, I chose to speak to the “operator.” The operators were 100% female and most frequently were in a work space with other people to whom they could, and often did, relay my questions and then recite the answers to me. I went to the operator/receptionist person because I wanted to know whether everyone in the organization was aware of this program if they did have it.
The experience uncovered a few things I think would be helpful to all businesses. Below is a list of what I noticed, my opinion of why that is good or bad, and some tips to remedy the problem.
The operators who knew the most, did in fact subscribe to the program I was calling about. They had the program implemented throughout.
- This is excellent! This is a program that everyone in the organization should be proud of and the companies that have the program had engaged the receptionist (a frontline employee) as an ambassador.
- TIP: Follow suit! Transform everyone in and around your organization/company into a brand ambassador. The janitor, the delivery person, and all of your periphery resources/consultants.
I didn’t say who I was and 90% of the time they didn’t ask.
- Although there was nothing confidential about the questions I was asking, it is important to know to whom you are telling information. They seemed to presume I was already a client of theirs, but I am not.
- One asked if I was a client and I said that I was a consultant. True but vague. She did not press further.
- One person was on the ball, asked who I was, from what company, and transferred me to the executive she thought could answer my question best.
- I left a message for that person—no call back a week later. (Stick a pin in this for a future post: the hand-off was great and then … fumble!)
- TIP: Train anyone who answers the phone to follow the same protocol. Finding out who’s calling could be the most important part.
Some told me too much.
- This is bad. They didn’t know who I was, why I was asking, or any motives I might have. I assure you this was not information I could use against them in any way, but what if it was? What if I was asking information that could be very harmful to the company and the receptionist was giving me all kinds of back story? Even if I was just trying to sell them something, you don’t need to make it easier by discussing all of your vulnerabilities.
- TIP: Create a message management protocol so even a blabbermouth knows when to stifle the conversation. This is especially important in a crisis situation when you need to choose just
one media spokesperson.
- TIP: Track the inquiries you receive. Is there some aspect of your business that attracts more calls than other items? Does an increase in calls correlate to a news story or a really great blog post? You’ll want to know that.
Don’t have a receptionist? Then make sure that whoever does answer the phone is knowledgeable about your product and knows who the ideal person is to speak to each caller. Creating a message management protocol will solve a great deal of problems.
Founder of McCormick L.A., Leslie A.M. Smith has been a public relations consultant for over 20 years helping businesses and nonprofits of all sizes, and in multiple industries.