The 7 Most Essential Customer Service Skills for Receptionists
Receptionists rely on their soft skills much more than many other professionals. These aren’t skills that apply to any specific career, but skills that could benefit people in most positions, and even just in their daily lives. Soft skills can be more challenging to learn than other skills because there aren’t exactly courses on them. Still, receptionists must master communicating, being positive, taking responsibility, and many more soft skills.
Whether you are trying to hire a receptionist or trying to better your job performance as a receptionist, here is what you need to know about the seven most essential customer service skills for receptionists.
1. Clarity in Communication
Day in and day out, a receptionist is communicating things. They tell each caller and customer what time their appointment is and explain the nature of the customer’s concerns to other members of the team. The receptionist is often responsible for most of the written and oral communication the business performs. And the most important part of communicating is being understood.
In emails and written communication, you should focus on short, clear sentences. Be sure they are free of grammatical mistakes. When speaking to a customer over the phone or in person, you should focus on the topic at hand instead of going down tangents. Use full sentences and work on pronouncing things clearly. You never know when a customer may have a hearing impediment that requires you to be extra clear. Plugins like Grammarly can help, especially for receptionists who have a hard time keeping it simple.
Another tip that can help is providing NATO phonetic reference sheets to your receptionists. The NATO phonetic alphabet can make it significantly easier to spell names over poor connections, since each word in the alphabet is chosen to sound unique. Some customers may also be familiar with it, which is a great way to impress a caller.
Depending on the makeup of your customers, other communication skills can become more vital for receptionists. Dealing with emergency calls means they need to be able to stay grounded during a crisis, and also employ empathy quickly and effectively. Fielding calls from customers who don’t speak English can bring its own challenges, and handling those calls effectively when you don’t share a common language is an art.
If you deal with technical issues for a living, such as is the case for plumbers, HVAC, and other home service companies, it’s likely that there will be a communication disconnect between your technicians and your customers. Customers typically don’t know the technical terminology for the problems they’re facing, so being able to effectively communicate those needs to your technicians, without falling victim to “the telephone game,” is an extremely valuable skill for receptionists. Letting your receptionist staff interface directly with your field technicians can help build rapport and smooth out some of those rougher patches in miscommunication.
2. Listening Skills
The other half of communicating is receiving information, and this is especially important as a receptionist. In particular, it may take some strong listening skills to understand customer’s concerns well enough to relay them back to the other people on your team.
Let’s say that you’re a receptionist for an HVAC company. You get a customer calling about their broken humidifier, but you don’t understand that they are calling about a single-room humidifier, not a whole-house humidifier. Your company only repairs whole-house humidifiers, so when the team arrives at the customer’s house to discover the problem and has to leave without charging the customer. Some better listening skills could have saved the company some time and money. At the same time, learning to realize when you might not have the full story, and learning how to push for it in a productive and tactful way, is equally as important.
Active listening is just another component of effective communication, and it’s hard to train a good receptionist without it. From the first greeting to the final sign off, every incoming caller deserves a good listener.
3. Emotional Stability
Receptionists may end up seeing people at their worst. If you work for a contractor, customers will call for emergency roof repair or plumbing repair, and they will not be in a good mood. If you work for a doctor, sick people will call who are stressed or worried. Keeping a positive attitude even when the customers are stressed or even angry, can leave them with a much more positive perception of your company.
Also, keeping emotionally stable can help you feel better and perform better at your job. If you get stressed during a customer’s complaint and take it personally, that can ruin your whole day or even your week. On the opposite side of things, if you are too empathetic to the worries of your customers, you may find that you’re sad and worried. A balanced, emotionally stable attitude will serve you best.
Soft skills don’t always have to be submissive.
For a receptionist, being assertive is just as crucial as being calm and empathetic. Many challenging situations that you will face as a receptionist can be best solved with a gentle but confident tone. You do not want to be the receptionist who is on the phone with a distraught customer for 30 minutes when you have other things to do. You also don’t want customers to get the impression that you, and therefore the business you represent, are easy to push around and take advantage of. You may need to call customers to remind them to pay the bill, and for that, you will need to be insistent.
It can be challenging to balance assertiveness with other skills, especially listening and emotional stability. As you become more experienced in the front office world, you will get a better sense of when some well-timed forcefulness can help a customer or your business. This is especially true if your receptionists have the freedom to make outbound calls to your customers and team members to cover shifts, handle appointment scheduling, and field after hours issues.
Receptionists and those hiring them too often overlook discretion as a skill. While you want a people-person to fill this role, you don’t want someone who gossips or makes customers feel like their private information isn’t safe.
Receptionists should avoid talking about customers to the people in their life, and especially not to other customers. This is especially important if industries that may spark embarrassment for people, including pest control, plumbing, health care, and hotels. Your customers need to feel that their requests are entirely confidential to keep working with you.
While overall professionalism is a big plus, discretion might be the most important element of it.
Communicating clearly is the bare minimum. Doing it with some style can help you stand out.
In many industries, people want to connect with the receptionists they interact with. That means you might want to dip into a bit of personality to help the interaction go smoothly. What personality depends on the kind of environment you’re in and the kind of person you are. For example, someone working hospitality might benefit from being excited or engaged all of the time. Those working in health care may find that people connect best with them when they have a bit more empathy and attention to detail. In the trades, humor is a great tool to help make boring calls about repairs go smoother. These kinds of interpersonal skills are difficult to quantify, but they’re essential to good communication.
Cutting against the grain can also have its benefits. Customers love to hear “I’m not supposed to do this, but let me help you out.” A little disarming humor can also go a long way, especially if you’re having a hard time connecting to a customer. Developing the tact to know when to go off script can be a powerful tool for any receptionist, as long as they have the freedom to use that discretion.
This last skill is an essential customer service skill that can really make a receptionist stand out. What happens if you see a problem with the schedule? What do you do if you know a customer needs to be checked on, but see that no one is assigned to do it? How you respond to these situations can make the difference between being part of a successful company and being part of one with a lot of problems. Initiative is very important as the more fires you can prevent, the less time the rest of the team has to spend putting them out. This is a skill that separates in-office receptionists and legitimate call center services from cheap call centers.
As the receptionist, you are uniquely positioned to catch errors like this. And your overall skills can make or break the company, so build them wisely!
Other Key Skills for Receptionists
Many employers have different ideas about what makes a good receptionist. Others will have technical needs, such as being able to use specific kinds of software, that go far beyond scheduling and communication. But while those are harder to account for, you can still focus on the essential soft skills of being a great receptionist. The technical skills are easier to teach, anyways.