A moment of truth about your receptionist

A moment of truth about your receptionist

Your receptionist may influence clients more than any other member of your team. Do you give this critical player the respect and responsibility she deserves?
Dec 01, 2005

Which position in your practice is the lowest paid? Which job is staffed by the least-experienced, -trained, or -tenured staff member? And which role has the highest turnover? I suspect that those of you who answered candidly thought first of your receptionist.

But that's the person who determines whether you see the client who calls just before quitting time. And whether the client who calls trying to decide whether to bring his or her pet in actually visits. The receptionist is often given short shrift, but I believe this person fills the single most important position in any practice.

Consider the influence

Jan Carlzon, author of Moments of Truth (Collins, 1989), says a moment of truth happens any time your business touches a customer. Every moment of truth results in an impression—positive or otherwise. Carlzon argues that the three most powerful moments include:

1. The very first interaction. Typically, clients' first contact with your practice occurs by phone. How does your practice measure up? Call your phone company and ask how often callers get a busy signal. Find out how often clients are put on hold and how long they're forced to wait. See how many calls are dropped because people tire of waiting. And finally, watch your receptionist in action. Does he or she "smile" on the phone?

2. The first live interaction. If I opened the door to your practice, would I be immediately greeted by name? Would my pet? I believe it's more likely I wouldn't get a warm greeting, because the receptionist is busy with a client or phone call.

I see phones at the front desk as a genetic defect. When you walk into a business and the person behind the counter ignores you because he or she is on the phone, it takes only seconds to create a negative impression. So move the phones out of the reception area.

3. The last interaction. Is there anything more frustrating than waiting to hand over your money because the people at the counter are preoccupied with phone calls or needy customers? I recommend invoicing your clients in the exam room—clients don't have to wait, it's private, you avoid the reception bottleneck, and clients can proceed directly to the parking lot.

Is your receptionist effective?

Given the importance of these moments of truth, you need to discover what your receptionist conveys about your practice. On a scale of one (comatose or hostile) to 10 (exceptional or outstanding), candidly assign a rank to each receptionist. Or better yet, engage a mystery shopper to do this job for you regularly. Then quickly discharge or reassign anyone scoring below a seven. Don't make do with mediocre people.

Practice owners and managers are quick to hire and slow to fire. Instead, hire slowly and fire quickly. You can't afford mediocre (or worse) people consistently delivering mediocre (or worse) client experiences. There's nothing more harmful to the health of your practice. Over time, I can guarantee this formula will compromise your ability to deliver high-quality care.

Give front-desk teams credit

Here's the bottom line: If you consistently deliver good client experiences, you'll find that your clients are more loyal, more likely to refer you to others, and less fee-sensitive. This is especially important because loyal clients spend roughly twice as much money as new clients do. And a good receptionist does more than anyone to deliver great service.

Fritz Wood, CPA, CFP
In fact, given their crucial role, receptionists deserve a broader title that reflects their true influence. My vote: Director of First and Last Impressions.

Fritz Wood, CPA, CFP, is a financial consultant who owns H.F. Wood Consulting in Lake Quivira, Kan.