Message Management McCormick L.A. Long Beach, CA“May I help you?” – More than you know. 

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.

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