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A call to protect your brand

The changing face of your front-of-house

In the past nearly all companies had a formal reception, often with one or two staff wholly dedicated to greeting visitors and handling phone calls.

But the modern UK business now needs more flexibility to reflect changes in communications and is under increased pressure to reduce costs.

So is it now time to remove the ‘brand ambassador’ from the front desk or is this a dangerous thing.

Pick what’s right for you

The reception is a vital part of any company’s brand as it immediately defines the business and its relationships with its customers – right from the first moment of contact.

Of course, every business has a different approach in this customer contact area; whether they are a high quality service industry or a low cost volume business.  Small companies for example, with no reception, often rely on more junior members of staff to answer the phone which can be distracting for them and not necessarily where their skills lie.  Equally, some large corporations may choose to contract out their entire customer call-handling facility as part of an ‘umbrella’ outsourced package – where everything from night security to copier print cartridges are taken care of by one partner company.

But getting the reception right is critically important if the organisation is to deliver an excellent service.  After all ‘you only get one chance to make a good first impression’ and very few things can damage a brand like poor customer service, unanswered phones or mishandled enquiries.

Cover all bases

Research shows that 62% of callers will not ring back if they hear an engaged tone, whilst 79% say they won’t call back if their call goes unanswered.  A 2011 survey on the topic of British people’s patience found that being put on hold was the third most likely cause of people becoming impatient and annoyed with companies. This clearly illustrates the importance of good communication in protecting a company’s brand.

Striking the right balance between reception costs and maintaining an excellent standard of customer service is the key factor. Whether you outsource completely, divert calls at peak times, or stick with the traditional two reception staff approach, cutting back on quality is always likely to prove a false economy.

Pinch the pennies

For most businesses their greatest overheads are staff, whether full or part-time, when you consider sick pay, employer’s National Insurance, annual leave and so on. The return on that investment is that you get a trained, polite and hard-working receptionist who knows the business inside-out, from the Director’s private mobile number, to who delivers the lunchtime sandwich.

But even exceptional reception staff cannot answer the phone and deal with an important client who has just arrived at your offices simultaneously. They will also need a lunch break and someone to cover for them during their annual leave, or when they may be ill. This is where an “overflow” outsourcing strategy can work well.

Typically, the busy company will receive most phone calls in two surges, from say 10am until 12 noon, with another spike in calls between 2pm-4pm. Most visitors to an office will arrive in those time slots as well, so this is when the usual standards of customer care and professionalism are under stress.

Ask questions

The advantage of using an overflow reception management method is the sheer flexibility it offers. Essentially, your outsourced partner company is acting as a safety net; plugging the gaps when several calls hit the phone system at exactly the same time. The key however is choosing an outsourced reception company wisely as they will effectively be custodians of your brand when handling overflow calls.  Do they offer a dedicated receptionist and know your business?

An outsourced partner that spends time getting to know your company’s main products and services, as well as having those essential contact numbers and emails for key staff, is invaluable. Customers don’t realise that they are talking to an outsource partner and feel confident that they are being given the right information – it’s a win-win in terms of service quality.

The latest caller recognition software allows any receptionist to identify regular contacts, who may be key account customers.  This saves the receptionist having to confirm the caller’s contact details each and every time so technology is helping build stronger business relationships.

Take advantage of the tech

Whatever your preference on handling telephone enquiries there’s no doubt that having a system where the company structure, job titles, department numbers etc. are on hand and integrated into your receptionist’s call handling technologies are essential.  In more recent developments, individuals within a business are now able to use a smartphone app to quickly and easily update their status so their supporting outsourced receptionist can be kept ‘in the loop’ on an hourly basis and manage calls accordingly.

So what is the ‘ideal’ reception? The answer is simply one that matches the business’ needs and delivers the company’s brand values through its customer’s experiences.  For businesses looking to deliver good customer service then the focus must be on that initial point of contact and ensuring that the receptionists chosen to handle your important calls are well trained, have people skills and make use of the latest communications technology.

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All the functions and support of an office phone system, minus the hardware.

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