Seth Godin's Receptionists

Seth Godin's blog post on Receptionists is 100% correct.  When I was a managing partner, my firm required a receptionist for our largest office.  I personally reviewed 215 applications myself and created my "A list", about 42 applicants, whom I invited for interviews late one afternoon.   I asked 6 of my partners to help me and we interviewed 6 applicants each.  Any WOW applicant was interviewed separately by at least two partners.  Were we insane to take so much partner time on this?  You decide.

PUNCHLINE:  For many years thereafter, we had a legendary receptionist whom clients loved on the phone and in person.  I personally received an average of two positive remarks about her every week.   Many of my partners and associates reported similar experiences.  She created the "positive experiences" that Seth blogged about.

I remember a call from New York one day and the lawyer started by saying: "before we get to the business at hand, I just have to tell you...".  I did not have heart to tell him "yeah, I know, you are the 100th person this year to tell me". 

By the way, I told that receptionist about every single positive comment I heard, personally or second hand (and no, that did not lead to extortion - she appreciated the recognition and the credible praise). 

Cynics - who are tempted to guess that she was the winner of a beauty pageant – don't go there –  she got the job as the best applicant and got her praise on merit - her performance was awesome.
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Kim - August 1, 2006 2:17 PM

I want to become like the receptionists you are speaking about above, any suggestions? Thanks you for any help you can give me.

Sue Stapely - December 20, 2006 10:52 AM

When I was a partner in a law firm and had biz dev responsibility for the firm, I did an audit of where our new biz came from, to check that we were spending our marketing budget wisely and all maximising our potential.

More new clients came through Sally, the receptionist on our front desk in one of our three offices, than by any of our partners. It was mortifying. The reasons were in some ways even worse: our clients were habitually kept waiting for appointments with our lawyers in this office so Sally had time to make them coffee, listen to their problems and cross-sell our services. She thought we were the greatest law firm in the world - she was clearly delusional - but her conviction and enthusiasm was contagious and when, say, a corporate client was waiting to see a corporate partner, but looking a little down, she would establish his marriage was in difficulties and suggest he should consult our family law partners.

She also made great coffee and had great legs.

We locked her in with golden handcuffs and started incentivising all our support staff to bring in new clients. Our turnover and morale rocketed upwards and the fee earners all sharpened up their acts.


Barbara - September 16, 2007 6:47 AM

I started out as a secretary when I was 19, and if it wasn't for my turn to do "reception relief" (which of course I was good at :) wouldn't have led me to my next job opportunity and from there I just kept climbing the ladder. A good receptionist should also look upon her position as potentially beneficial to the growth of her own career. Unless, of course, she/he doesn't intend on, or want to move upward.
For those companies not going virtual, a good receptionist is essential as the first voice and face to a company.

Kurt Jensen, Psy.D. - March 19, 2008 12:38 AM

Nice that she worked out so well, but you probably could have saved a bundle - in time and $$$ - by using a "Job Match" assessment tool. Studies have shown that interviews offer very little in the way of predictive validity, providing anywhere from 3 to 14% depending on the study you read. Job Match, however, according to the Harvard Business Review, is by far the best predictor of worker performance. It provides employers with %75 of the data they need to predict how well a person will work out in a particular job in a particular company.

We work with several law firms locally that use us for receptionists, law clerks, legal aides, and get this - lawyers! To date each of our clients has been quite impressed with the top-quality workers selected, not to mention the lower turnover and higher productivity they've seen as a result.

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