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The changing role of the receptionist

With National Receptionist Day taking place on the 14 May 2014,
Jane Streat explores the changing role of the receptionist.

Has the role of the receptionist changed over the years or is it people’s perception that has changed? 

Jane Streat, Head of Client Services at Lexington Reception Services explores the changing role of the receptionist.

There was a time when being a receptionist was just a passing phase, something you did to earn money while you were studying or when you didn’t know what else to do. It was a revolving door.

People’s perception was that being a receptionist was easy, no skill involved after all, all you did was sit around all day drinking coffee and filing your nails! Businesses just needed someone to sit at the front desk and be there for when guests arrived.

Being a receptionist is now considered a career
I remember in the early days of my reception career someone asking me what I did. When I told them they tipped their head to one side and said, “Oh that’s nice” – this was a code for “poor you, obviously not capable to do anything else!”

But the truth of the matter was the job was never “easy” and as for drinking coffee and filing my nails all day –chance would have been a fine thing besides the fact that I would have been hung by my manager for doing either on the front desk!

I worked with many people who had lots of skills and had trained to do other things. Some of us may have fallen into reception work, but we were never just receptionists, we worked hard and loved what we did, it was a career.

Fortunately these days being a receptionist is seen as a career and more people/businesses now recognise the importance of the role – the reception is the face of your company. It will have an impact on what people think of you as a business and this initial interaction can even have an impact on whether or not someone decides to do business with you.

The role of a receptionist has changed
One of my first roles was pure reception and I have to say it didn’t involve much variety. I stayed fairly static at my desk, got up occasionally to meet and greet clients, and had to follow a set process to log the client into the system. 

These days we have to be more than just the person sitting at the desk, we offer more of a service and are ambassadors of our company. We need to tailor our approach to individuals.

Our expectation of service has increased massively over the years. People don’t compare like with like anymore, they compare experience with experience, which raises the standards in businesses – as a result receptionists can play a huge role in enhancing organisational brand and creating a positive and truly memorable customer experience.

The role of the receptionist is also much more mobile. With the way people work becoming much more mobile means reception has had to change to accommodate this. Yes, they are still there to greet you but much more likely to be up out of the seat walking towards you to welcome you.

Most will now offer some additional facilities or business lounge that allows clients to recharge their phone or tablet, sit with a laptop and prepare for a meeting, make a phone call or just sit and have a coffee. As a result the role of the receptionist has also had to change – as well as welcoming guests, they need to be able to assist with the technology and they have become more of a host.

They are also often the first line support for any technical issues relating to meeting rooms and therefore they need a basic understanding of technology so that they can help and support clients and eliminate the need to call IT for minor issues.

Most receptions also now provide a more “concierge” style approach to the service so knowing the local area, restaurants, bars, how to get to the station, airport etc. or even checking flight and train times is the norm for a good reception team. They know they are there to provide a service and this is all just part of the job, nothing is too much trouble.

How technology impacts on the role of a receptionist
Technology has made things easier and much quicker. However, there needs to be a balance so that the technology doesn’t stop us from providing service.

We have all had the experience of calling a company where a robotic voice tells you “press 1 for…” and none of the options being what you need. The key is to use technology to enhance the customer journey not remove all interaction with a real person.

The modern-day receptionist…
As our expectations and demand for excellent service has increased receptionists have had to adapt the way they work. If we want to succeed we have to offer our clients more because I can guarantee that if you don’t someone else will. 

Companies have realised that reception can have a huge impact of their business and give much more thought to how it works, what facilities are available and most importantly the people that are working there – they are the face of the company and every person that walks through the front door will meet them and decided what they think of the company based on that interaction.

Most businesses now realise the value of getting it the reception right. Not only does that first impression have a huge impact on clients/customers receptionists can provide additional support across the business, which is invaluable as organisations look to do more with less.

Being a receptionist is not an easy job. You have to think on your feet, be proactive and multitask. You need to know everything and everybody, and keep smiling even at the person who is shouting at you because he can’t remember who he is there to see! But it is also a really rewarding job – no day is the same, you learn lots of different skills and there is opportunity to progress. 

The receptionist is arguably one of the most important roles in an office and ultimately can help ensure the smooth running of an organisation.