Who is your most valuable employee?

by: Harold Taylor The most valuable employee is usually your receptionist, administrative assistant or whoever is the first person prospects or customers encounter when they call, e-mail or visit your company. Never underestimate the importance of a first impression. And as far as the potential client is concerned, that person at the front desk or reception area represents your company. If that person is aloof, unfriendly, curt or unresponsive, that’s how your company is perceived. Would you want to do business with such a company? Qualifications for that key person should be high. Your “receptionist” must be knowledgeable, professional, friendly and enthusiastic. Not someone who talks in a matter-of-fact monotone and projects boredom or even annoyance at being interrupted; but someone who is cheerful, helpful, enthusiastic and eager to serve. Someone who is a good listener. Someone who makes the caller feel welcome, not treated as though they were just another interruption. When meeting anyone on the phone, via email or in person, it’s important for those front-line people to identify themselves in a confident and cheerful manner and ask how they can be of assistance. When answering the phone, these ambassadors for your company should smile and let it show in their voices, and once they hear the caller’s name, use it in conversation. They should speak clearly and slowly, make notes during the call, and be sure to get the correct spelling of a person’s name and contact information – while maintaining a cheerful and friendly tone throughout the call. Unfortunately, in some companies, this person is probably already the dumping ground for a myriad of tasks and the victim of countless interruptions. The desperate salesperson fighting to get through to the boss, the harried employee looking for a copy of a misplaced memo, a courier dropping off a package and wanting a signature, the irate customer, convinced he had ordered something different than he received. Your assistant sits precariously in the line of fire. Make him or her a part of the management team. You can do this by meeting with this assistant early in the day to discuss one another’s schedules and set priorities. Delegate challenging and meaningful tasks as well as those routine and relatively unimportant ones, and encourage him or her to suggest ways that current procedures, tasks and reports could be eliminated, abbreviated or improved. Provide the necessary time management tools and training; but be prepared to be a mentor as well. Don’t be a perfectionist when supervising your administrative assistant. While it’s important that incidental tasks you assign be top quality, remember that by spending unnecessary time on a trivial task, other high pay-off activities may be short-changed. Communicate. We discussed communication in the workplace at a recent Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce membership meeting. The more your assistant knows about your company, product and services, the more he or she will be able to help you. A knowledgeable assistant can save you hours each week by providing information to callers and visitors without having to disturb you. When you attend a conference or take a vacation, spend time briefing your assistant on matters that are likely to occur during your absence. Above all, set a good example and show respect for your assistant’s time. Plan your day. Accumulate the non-urgent requests instead of continually interrupting your assistant. Keep a folder to house assignments of lesser importance for later review. Place realistic deadlines on all tasks. Prospects or customers calling your office want to know that somebody is really listening to them. They are looking for empathy and understanding as well as assurance that they will receive quality service from your company. The most important person in your company, as far as new business and customer retention is concerned, is the receptionist or administrative assistant who answers the phone, responds to the email or greets the visitor in person. And yes, their pay should be commensurate with their responsibility. Harold L Taylor, owner of Taylorintime.com, is a member of the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce and a columnist with the Kings County Record, tj.news/kingscountyrecord.

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