Receptionists who don’t receive 7

Has it happened to you? 

You walk into an organization, agency or business and there’s a reception desk with someone sitting at it who does not greet or in any way acknowledge you.  (Sometimes the opposite happens, you get “received” within milliseconds of crossing the threshold but that’s not what this post is about.)

At one organization that I go to frequently, the reception desk is staffed by college students who do not make eye contact, say hello or acknowledge in any way that you’ve entered.  Many of them allow you to breeze pass them into the offices.  The offices are in a busy city neighborhood and, while I look harmless enough, they don’t know who I am or why I’m there. I could be gunning for someone in the office and they wouldn’t know.

After noticing this for some time, I mentioned this to the Human Resource Assistant who looked annoyed that I made this observation and explained to me that they were college interns not employed by the organization.

“But,” I countered, “They are the first people seen upon entering the organization.  Shouldn’t they say hello or something?”

He explained back to me that he didn’t think it was a problem.  I assume there’s also no problem that  they’re playing games on their laptops, notebooks or smart phones.  They are supposed to be learning and contributing as interns.Perhaps they do in other ways when they’re not at the front desk.

At another organization, there was a new person sitting at the reception desk not making eye-contact or greeting me.  The former receptionist was different.  She always greeted me (and others) with a bright “Good Morning.”

I waited, after counting to 20, and told her who I was there to see.  She looked up and got up from the desk and got him. He introduced us.  After our meeting, I reintroduced myself and told her that I was a consultant for the organization and she’d be seeing me on a regular basis.  She gave me her card and went back to her laptop.  She wasn’t exactly friendly.

The next day, I sent her an email asking if she could prepare the name-tags for a meeting I was having at the organization.  She sent me an email saying that this was not her job, that she was not the receptionist or an administrative assistant.  She was a Communications Associate and just sitting at the reception desk until her permanent space was ready.  (During my visits during the past month, she’s still in the same spot.) She then suggested I ask the person with whom I was working (who is a few steps above her in the pecking order) to prepare the name tags, which he did.

I would have prepared them myself except that I didn’t have the stock at home and the previous receptionist/administrative assistant had taken care of this.

Having been an Executive Director, facilitator, trainer, consultant, coordinator, etc., I always do what is necessary to get the job done, including making my own copies and setting up the room.  I wanted to tell the cute, young, professionally immature woman this.  Don’t have an ego about your job title especially in such a small organization that is staffing up.  Instead, I apologized to her via email that I’d mistaken her role, copying my contact and suggesting that when at the reception desk one does represent the organization and saying hello should be automatic.  (I wrote this politely but I’m not sure how it was received.)

I might have been a funder or some other important, hallowed person and I might have been more than annoyed at the lack of reception.  I might have been offended.  (Although a professional greeting should be given to everyone who enters an establishment not just the so-called VIPs.)

I have also noticed a big lack of communication skills in places that have lines – like the post office and bank where customers are ignored instead of someone looking up and saying, “I’m sorry for the delay” or “I have to push this cart to another section but will be right back” or taking an action to call someone else to come serivice the line (like they do at the drugstore), rather than ignoring a super-long line and leaving one person, who is also not acknowledging the line, to handle the crowd.

I don’t think this is “old-school” thinking.  I don’t think that people should have to be trained to do this – it should be common courtesy but perhaps, some people have never been in an environment that has good customer service and have never experienced common courtesy so they don’t know how to offer it.

What say you?


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About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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7 thoughts on “Receptionists who don’t receive

  • Pattie

    Having spent this past week in Houston, TX I have seen such a dramatic difference in customer service than I experience here in Boston. The pleasantries were constant, direct and personalized. I was truly amazed by normalcy of practicing good manners and providing quality customer care – with the exception of their driving (LOL). I even received politeness in a walmart while doing a return despite that Yelp reviews had rated it poorly for their customer service returns.
    The bottom line for me is, if I don’t receive quality customer care I don’t spend my money. If it is in an organization then I find a reason to limit my interaction with that establishment.
    Being pleasant should be effortless…

    • Candelaria Silva Post author

      The South has a reputation for having more pleasantries in terms of human interaction. Being pleasant should be effortless but it’s not always. I also think it makes good business sense as you suggested, otherwise we can vote with our feet and not purchase. Unfortunately for me, in the instances I mentioned in this post, I have to interact with these places. Thanks for taking time to comment.

  • Denise Dabney

    Sadly, civility and compassion have been lost on people, but especially young people. Eye contact and a smile or recognition of the encounter of another human being (I thinks dogs get a better response) is so important. We have become a society Alone Together.