Receptionists are more important than the Maginot Line and, hopefully, sturdier than the Siegfried Line. In my opinion, they're the first, and most important, line of defense in the image and reputation wars.
I've interacted with a few outstanding receptionists over the years who, thanks to their winning personalities and can-do attitudes, have made me feel better about the organization they represent.
For the most part, though, receptionists seem to be like interchangeable parts: they come and they go. They man the front desk well enough, but they don't register on either the visitor's positive or negative impression scales.
And, then there are the receptionists from hell. I've encountered three image-killers recently, including:
– The receptionist who must have just undergone a frontal lobotomy. The guy was totally devoid of personality, wouldn't make eye contact with me, kept talking to someone on the phone as I waited and then, after finally ending the call, looked up at me and said, 'Well?'
– The receptionist at a corporate image firm who looked like she'd just left the set of 'Friday the 13th: Part 47.' This woman's looks would stop traffic. Her skin was a ghostly white and her hair looked as if she'd just stuck her finger in an electrical socket. With the bride of Frankenstein greeting visitors, I could see why the organization needed a PR firm. And, if this is their idea of image, what sort of work must they create for clients?
– Not to be outdone by either the lobotomized lout or frightful femme fatale, a receptionist at a non-profit had an absolute field day with our name. After painstakingly writing down our names, she tapped on a microphone and announced over a loudspeaker: 'Mary, your guests from Leppercom are here!' Leppercom? I checked my peers' faces to see if any of us had suddenly contracted a severe case of adult onset acne.
Peppercom (not, Leppercom) has had its share of good, bad and ugly receptionists. Our best ever had to have been our very first: Debrah.
Ed and I bit the bullet about five months after starting our firm and invested in a receptionist/chief cook and bottle washer. And, we struck gold with Debrah. She was smart, organized, funny and possessed a wicked British accent. The latter made quite the impression. I remember one client calling me up and asking, 'Who's the woman with the British accent?' 'That's Debrah, our new receptionist,' I beamed. He sighed and said, 'My opinion of Ed and you just rose a few notches. You were always scrappy. Now, you have a touch of class as well.'
Whether it's the 56th Fighter Group Restaurant in Farmingdale, a widget warehouse in Waukegan or an image firm in SoHo, the receptionist is the first, and most important, line of defense in the relentless image wars. Knowing that, why are there still so many lobotomized beasts and so few classy Debrahs manning the front desks of corporate America? As for me, I'm still reeling from the Leppercom comment and have been regularly applying Clearasil just in case.