The first communication frontline: the (E-)reception.

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You know it all too well. It always starts with an incident that you have to solve. The receptionist puts an existing customer through to the wrong extension, the helpdesk rudely responds to an important prospect and an applicant does not receive a reply to his/her e-mails with CV.

The welcome in a company (or a public service) is the first introduction for many, a complex communication exercise, and it is also undervalued by many. And no, it’s no longer about the friendly young lady at the reception desk, it’s also about appropriately answering e-mails or social media messages.

The reception is therefore the first communication frontline, and actually the first direct line of communication. You can previously visit the website, read a brochure, view comments in specialised forums: that is no direct contact yet. When you contact the company directly with a question or comment, you want to be attended to professionally. What should a communication expert remember from all this?

Let’s start with the digital reception. This is undoubtedly where most visitors pass through today. Be aware of one thing above all: the digital customer is notoriously impatient. Carefully monitor what comes in via the website and what is posted on social media. There are many simple tools for that. Then try to answer within a short period of time, not the day after. That is what digital visitors expect: a quick response. Always answer “to the point” and keep it business-like, which creates a professional impression. Be sure to adapt to the languages (answer in French if you are addressed in French). A correct and flawless use of language is essential. Visitors hate short meaningless sentences and hate mistakes in their language. If you are not sure, ask for advice from a “native speaker” in your environment, that is the safest thing to do. And no, do not blindly use Google Translate. That has already led to many misunderstandings.

The same rules actually apply to the reception desk. Monitor who comes in carefully. At the reception desk, the people who come in usually have an appointment and can be included in a common agenda (there are also a lot of simple tools for that). That makes it easy to prepare and anticipate the visit. Don’t let the phone ring unnecessarily and make sure you have a pleasant waiting music when the line is busy. Staying friendly is the message (so “obvious”, but oh so often forgotten), and of course adapting your language. The physical customer is king – just like the digital one.

Avoiding incidents? That can be done through good co-ordination between the teams responsible for communication and reception (usually this is under “building and facility services”, and is often outsourced). Set clear arrangements in advance, about forms of courtesy, waiting room, use of language, referrals and discretion or confidentiality (think of GDPR), among others. Select multilingual employees at the reception desk and E-reception. Make sure you do a good “casting”, because not everyone is equally gifted for reception work. Finally, ensure that everyone keeps to the arrangements. Obviously, discuss any possible incident immediately and make sure it is remediated quickly.

None of all this is that difficult, but it requires teamwork and some discipline. And don’t forget: you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Kris Poté, vice president, Capgemini, 3/12/2019.

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