How receptionists are killing businesses

Uganda is known as the country with very friendly people. What they don’t tell is that “people are friendly because they expect something.” The British, our colonial masters, brought the English languange and so many good things. It is in our DNA that visitors bring good things. Being friendly is the best strategy to be given.

Contrary to this perception or culture, most people in employment tend to be too harsh especially to their countrymen. One such group are Receptionists.

In Uganda, you realize that receptionists are people who sit at the front desk to welcome customers who come to transact with the business. Many times, people especially Human Resources Managers think that someone to become a receptionist should be kind of a failure that has not succeeded in education. You are just keeping them at the front desk to be smiling to customers.

From a human resource management point of view, a receptionist is anyone who can smile to the customers and strangers. However, that is wrong approach to the business. The receptionists are the first contact point with the company customers meaning that you have to put your best foot forward. The person at the reception should be one of the best people who understand the business.

For this reason, if you look at business from the strategic point of view, the CEO or managing director is the best receptionist. S/he understands the business, focus as his role is about relationship building and long-term growth. How to do you build relationship and give strategic focus as CEO? You attract more customers to the business and make the experience of those who visit exceptional. As a CEO or MD, you are able to articulate and understand who your best customer is and their “customer value”. What experience do you want your best customers to get when they visit your business? That is why you must invest and empower your receptionist to be great at what they do.

Before you get a receptionist, first consider the following;

 What are their skills?

Ideally you do not want to hire a person who is below a degree to be on your receptionist. You want a person who will understand and appreciate how to engage any customer who comes in. You approach a company, the receptionist looks at you from head to toe and they continue checking their messages on Skype and Facebook.

They are not so much bothered about you even when you make inquiries. I have seen this experience in big companies especially government institutions where receptionists have that clout so big to understand that the customer is worth attending to. This comes because the receptionist does not understand his or her role. They think their role is to connect phone calls to the people in the offices instead of understanding their role as customer relations. This is why it is important to remember that a receptionist should be one of the best paid people in the PR or marketing. S/he is interacting with the customers who bring revenue.  You find that some one in marketing or public relations is getting a lot of money when their work should be at the reception. They are not thinking that the role of the reception is strategic in nature. The receptionist should know the customer’s value. For example, if I am a customer of DHL a shipping company and every week I have to send materials or I have to pay US$ 100 dollars to deliver my package. This means that in a month I am paying (US $100 x 4) which is US $400 or US $4,800 a year. If I come one day complaining about a small thing, maybe my order was not delivered properly and I lost US $200. You want to ensure that your receptionist knows that I am a critical customer and the decision to indemnify me should be the powers of the receptionist. Why would it take a whole month to fix the customer’s problem which could just be 1 per cent of the total revenue they bring to your business? This is why I do not consider HR department serious people since they don’t provide clear outputs or result areas to the receptionist.  Most HR managers do not understand the business and think they are managing objects as people. They do not know who is supposed to be where, what is the key result area for that position and how to measure progress?

What exactly is the role of the receptionist?

The work of the receptionist is to take simple operational problems to ensure that customers are happy.

By the time you escalate a problem; it should really be too big for the receptionist to fix instantly especially for the high value customers. You find that in the long run the business is suffering not because it is not efficient in the back-end, but just because receptionists are not powered to take minimum decisions or they don’t understand fully their role as problem fixers for the customers. The receptionist’s role is wrongly conceived, instead of adding value, they are actually being paid to kill the business. It is so disappointing that a company spends a lot of money on advertising and when you get attracted to go to the company, you reach at the reception, and they do not know the next steps. They do not know how you can sign up to get the product or services. They instead keep you waiting for someone from sales or finance to give you just a form, which you should have got from the reception or via the company’s website. They have to first call the finance, the whole process is tiresome.

In my experience, receptionists represent some of the critical people in the business just like PR, HR or CEO. S/he is the first point of contact and impression. It is very important to empower them to deliver to the business’s operational strategy. And that includes effecting small fixes.

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, 2015. All rights reserved.

About M. B. Mugisa

Mustapha Barnabas Mugisa is one of those rare people who provides business consulting and advisory to professionals and corporate entities who demand the very best. He is a prolific speaker and governance (strategy and risk) expert. His speaking involves making key notes at major conferences and business events on both technical subjects and leadership skills. A change agent and motivational speaker. Mustapha provides tools and proven methodologies to remarkable results through making people appreciate change. Visit Mustapha's LinkedIn profile to know more. Mustapha is the architect of #WinningMindset Leadership and #WinningTheGame strategy approach that combines Harvard Business strategy Playing To Win, with the Blue Ocean Strategy and Balanced Score Card to deliver a strategy that is easy to execute and monitor. Visit for special insights to improve your condition. Are you too good to be great?

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