It is amazing to me that some of the smartest people in the world, senior pastors, can hire and keep absolutely incompetent people as receptionists. I understand the vast majority of front door people are outstanding people and extremely competent. However, I find it way too frequent that the first representation of the local church is a poor representation, generally by a person often untrained or under-trained. When that is not the case, then you simply have a bad apple on the team and it’s killing you.
You will laugh at some of these things that happen but hey, enjoy the ride along each of the seven to the corresponding solutions. These have really happened to me and if you’re honest, probably to you as well. I encourage you to read this and apply as is or with any necessary twist for your office culture.
1. I called the church and asked for the senior pastor. When the receptionist asked me if the pastor knew me and I said “no,” there was a long pause as if to say, “Our pastor certainly does not talk to people he doesn’t know.” Good thing I wasn’t asking how to accept Jesus.
SOLUTION: If you want the receptionist to find out if you know the person calling or standing at the front desk, make sure they do so in a way that is open and friendly. Ask your receptionist to smile while questioning the caller or guest. If the caller or guest is evasive or unsure how to respond to the receptionist’s questioning, the receptionist should not communicate that the caller or guest should not have made contact with the church. Don’t make the caller or guest feel like a piranha. Help the receptionist work to meet the request of the caller all the while acknowledging and protecting your time.
Certainly not everyone that calls can gain access to you. And certainly, we all know there are callers or guests to the front desk with deceptive intent in trying to reach you, the senior pastor. The receptionist should at all times make the caller or guest believe that the receptionist will try to help them with their request. Even if the receptionist knows they will not be able to meet the caller’s or guest’s request, it is important for the receptionist to communicate a willingness to try. It may not be right away, but the caller or guest deserves an answer, yes even the caller or guest with deceptive motives. Along the way there will be people in legitimate need to talk to either you or another pastor. The last thing you need is your front desk person chasing them out the door.
2. When I called the church the receptionist did not know me and she wondered why I would be calling. Never mind the pastor knew me and was happy to take my call.
SOLUTION: Tell the receptionist it is not their job to know everyone that calls. Learning names is one thing. Pre-qualifying callers by who the “receptionist” knows or not is unacceptable. In fact, tell the receptionist the more people who call that the receptionist does not know, the better the church is doing in meeting its mission to reach out to others.
3. The receptionist was a Gestapo-like figure that communicated, “Unless you play by my rules, you will NOT talk to the person you are trying to reach.”
SOLUTION: There is no place for Gestapo-like control at the receptionist desk. You may feel good that no one is bothering you but don’t kid yourself. If the person up front is demonstrating such control that they repulse those making contact with the church, you have people walking out the backdoor and people not walking in the front door simply because of the receptionist. And you don’t even know it! Explain to the receptionist that you want them to do their job in handling the phones and walk in traffic. You want them to screen properly. However, they need to make the caller and the visitor at the front desk believe the receptionist is acting to help them. This is a learned skill and when your receptionist learns it you will find people coming your way, not being chased away.
4. I called the church and got the answering machine and ended up in voice mail purgatory with seemingly no way out.
SOLUTION: Get rid of the answering machine for goodness sakes. We are in the people business. Act like it. Put your very best public relations professional/perky person up front on the phone and at the front desk. Don’t use the 21st century line that everybody uses an answering machine. Call major ministries and large, growing churches and guess what? You know the answer.
5. I was sent to the wrong voice mail repeatedly as if the receptionist was trying to say to me, “Let’s see if I can send this caller to the wrong voice mail as frequently as I can.”
SOLUTION: Train your receptionist on the specifics of your phone system. Will occasional mistakes happen? Of course, but this fundamental responsibility of a receptionist needs to be done well. Until the receptionist learns the system, keep them away from the phones.
6. Upon calling the church I found the most verbally challenged person on the planet. The person stumbled over every attempt to put a sentence together.
SOLUTION: If the receptionist cannot put properly constructed sentences together then by all means, get them off the phone. If that means letting them go, then do it yesterday. You cannot afford to have the church you serve sound like a buffoon lacking in understanding of the English language. I understand this is a very delicate subject but hear me again. The voice of the receptionist is the first heard by callers in your community. You need it to be a very, very good one with a clear grasp of the English language.
7. The person was just flat out grouchy, not even close to fun to talk to.
SOLUTION: Tell the receptionist that they must always have a smile in their voice and on their face. Even if they are on the phone, they must smile. Whether in person or on the phone, the words of the receptionist are softer and easier to accept if they are given with a genuine smile. If smiling is not their nature, then they need to fake it well until it becomes their nature. If they don’t seem to get it, then they need to be moved to another role or released from their responsibility. The church is losing otherwise.
These things don’t have to happen, and it is your job or your designate’s to make sure they are stopped immediately if they are happening.
Look at it this way. God has given you a vision for the church and your city. You have invested countless hours in the study of the Word and your preparation to deliver communications on the weekends. You diligently lead and inspire. Your commitment level to reach lost people is off-the-charts. So at the end of the day, you cannot afford to have all of that dissed by someone at the front desk who demonstrates one or more of these seven traits.
Start by hiring right. If you have the luxury of filling the slot now, do not just plug a hole. Be intentional about finding the person who is the antithesis of the seven traits.
As an added bonus from me to you, here is what not to say to yourself.
– I cannot do anything because it will hurt the receptionist’s feelings. Note: That’s right, their feelings trump all your hard work and spiritual vision casting. NOT!
– I won’t do anything because anybody else I hire will be just as bad or worse. Note: If that is the case, fix your own hiring competencies.
– I can’t afford to do anything because the receptionist’s family is deeply entrenched in the church, and I will lose people if I address the issue. Note: Take your loss and prevent bigger losses from one of more of the receptionist’s actions.
The work of the church is the most important on the planet. The proclamation of the Gospel should never be undermined by a person at the front desk or on the phone who intentionally or otherwise undermines your efforts of moving the church forward.
It all works together. All players on the team must pull in the same direction. That includes your receptionist. Make sure your receptionist does all they can to avoid the seven things church receptionists do to turn people away, unintentionally or not. When the receptionist gets it, you and the church win!