At Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, we answer the phone. When I say “we”, I mean when you call in, unless we are totally slammed with phone calls, you will get a live human being answering the phone. That human being, that receptionist will be both personable and professional. S/he will know how to handle your phone call, answer your questions, and get you in touch with the person you want to speak to. In other words, my receptionists are pros whose job it is to make you glad you called.
This ability has some prerequisites. I make these clear even before I interview any candidate for receptionist. What are these prerequisites? Because I depend on the receptionists to make a positive first impression to those calling and emailing, this is not an entry position. I demand my receptionists have two to three years of customer-service related experience. Surely, I could train them. But why? I want a great first impression NOW, not six weeks and 20 lost customers from now.
Then, I demand they understand the vision and ethos of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Services. It is my job to instill those into all of my employees. But then, it is their job to communicate that vision and ethos to those who call in or email in. How do I do that? We save every email that comes in or goes out. We record every phone call that comes in or goes out. Why? We take these steps primarily for security purposes, so that we have a trail of evidence if that ever becomes necessary.
But a more important reason is for auditing and training purposes. Every so often, I pull up a phone call coming into the office to listen to it. I’m not monitoring an on-going call; I’m listening to one that has already come in. That is what we call an audit. I probably already know how the phone call was handled, so that is not my concern. My concern in the audit to determine how the receptionist represented Appraisal Precision. I listen for so many points. Is the tone of his voice patient and understanding? Does she thank the caller for calling? Did he make it clear the caller was speaking with Appraisal Precision and Consulting?
Did the receptionist offer to help the caller (as in, “Thank you for calling Appraisal Precision and Consulting. How may I help you?”), or did the receptionist merely state the caller had reached Appraisal Precision? Did the receptionist offer to connect the caller with a specific appraiser, manager, or administrator? We are, after all, a service company – in the business of providing appraisal services. So, did the receptionist make that clear? That those are the company vision and ethos are what we want to make clear from the get-go.
So what happens if a random audit such as this one reveals the receptionist not communicating this vision and ethos. First, I talk with my managers. I train them and they train the employees. If an employee is not performing up to speed, then that is a function of improper training, so I direct the managers to retrain the under-performing employee. Then I look at myself. Did I train my managers properly? Did I communicate my vision and ethos properly to them? If I failed in that, then everything else down the line fails, too.
Now let’s look at education and training. It is likely I or a manager will pull more phone calls with this receptionist to determine if this improper phone protocol was a one-off matter, or if it is becoming a pattern. If it is a one-off matter, we bring it to the receptionist’s attention, explain how and why the phone call did not meet company standards, and then thank the receptionist for making the necessary changes. If we see it’s a pattern, we re-educate the employee and then counsel him/her with the clear expectation that behavior will stop, otherwise s/he will be free to seek gainful employment elsewhere.
While we demand the receptionist be professional at all times and in all situations, we also demand the receptionist be empathic and personable. This can be as simple as, “I see from your area code you’re calling from the Houston area. I surely hope the weather there is warmer than it is here!”. While Precision Appraisal is active as a real estate appraisal firm mostly in southwest Wyoming. southeastern Idaho, and northeastern Utah, I consult with appraisers all over the United States. So it’s important to me as the entrepreneur, the business owner, the guy who’s ultimately responsible for everything, that our callers, no matter where they call from, receive the same kind of treatment I would want. That’s just good business.
And one last note. While we do not play any “offending” phone calls in staff meetings, we will point out situations in which a specific receptionist properly and diplomatically handled an especially rough phone call, or an especially nasty email. This is to recognize outstanding performance with that recognition is due. It also sets the stage for quarterly and year-end bonuses. It just stands to reason that someone who provides outstanding service merits outstanding recognition and compensation.
So, here’s the point of this: (1) carefully hire the best people for the job; (2) carefully train them so they understand, this can communicate, your business’s vision and ethos; (3) set the performance bar high, then empower and expect them to clear it on a regular basis; and (4) reward them amply and often when they meet the expectations you put on them.
For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode: