Dealing with people, making a difference to someone’s day and exceeding expectations are all part of the role of a receptionist. Here, Peter Henderson discusses the role of the Front of House Manager.
“My journey in customer service began as a teenager working in my friend’s saddlery shop. Not knowing a thing about horses, I put most of my energies into talking to customers about anything and everything non equine-related. I soon discovered, not only was I good at ducking horse-jargon, I was also good at talking to people and enjoyed my interactions with customers. From then on, I decided a career in hospitality was for me.
I studied Hospitality Management before spending a few years working in hotels, which was a fantastic training ground to learn the ropes of customer service. During my time in front of house, I found I preferred the corporate guests, many of whom were regulars, as I had the opportunity to forge meaningful bonds and stronger relationships with them. I now lead a 12 strong team of sparkling customer service professionals in a corporate office in the city.
With regard to my daily role, my work can sometimes begin before I’ve even woken up. Being ready to troubleshoot issues surrounding sickness, transport or any other eventualities are all part and parcel of the job of a Front of House Manager. So you quickly find that having a plan B and C becomes vital in how you operate. Cliché it may be but you really are expecting the unexpected.
This goes for customer service as a whole. It’s a highly reactive job that, while structured with various daily tasks, is surrounded by the nuances of each interaction and can often provide scenarios that fall completely outside of your role to a business. Working in London, it’s safe to assume that at least once a week a tourist will enter your building asking for local knowledge, from pet grooming to ‘why is the Shard smoking?’ (It was part of an effects display and not on fire!) and ‘I want to buy a replica Liverpool shirt, where can I find one?’.
It’s how we react to these situations that set us apart, and how fully we prepare that often determines our success. Preparing for what will happen, may happen, and unlikely to happen allows us to approach situations with greater confidence and certainty and gives us the opportunity to make that positive impact on someone’s day.
Digression aside, on the days where there isn’t a need for me to respond to the early challenges, I think of my working day as starting as I exit the tube, a 10 minute walk from the office. Anybody on the street is a potential client to the business and I quite often find myself bumping into my regular visitors or members of the business as I stroll to work. From a professional standpoint it’s good to interact. After all, I represent the face of the business and that really is the meaning of Front of House. You are the image of the company, the person responsible for that initial impact, making that positive first impression and maintaining it. Some people may consider it a chore and nuisance to encounter clients before you enter the office but, in all honesty, if that’s how you feel then maybe customer service is not for you. For me personally I love it!
It’s true to say that it does take a certain type of person to work in customer service. It’s not enough to simply like people, you have to love them. I’m aware that’s easier said than done as some people make it easier than others, but none of us are perfect and we all have our bad days! Someone with a true passion for customer service will rise to the challenge of turning that person’s bad day around, be it through listening and having empathy, the telling of an anecdote, or joke or through a simple act of kindness. We all have our differing methods but the end goal is the same – we want to create a truly memorable experience. Why? Because we have all been that person on that day. Wouldn’t it have been great for someone to lift us and flip our mood? Well that comes as part of customer service, it’s in the job description and it’s what we do. Besides, it’s satisfying to know you made a difference to someone’s day.
A typical day in my position has a tendency to be untypical. The reactive nature of customer service means Front of House is ever changing according to business needs and to be fair, that is how it needs to be. I might achieve this through training workshops or one-to-one coaching, by adding a process here, tweaking one there. It may mean approaching the business and encouraging a change in their working practices. Ultimately though I work toward several goals which rarely change:
- To deliver an exceptional five star customer experience to all Be they visitors, the business or colleagues.
- To empower my team and enable them to succeed.
- To encourage a culture of fun where people love their job and thrive on engagement.
They are simple goals but surprisingly demanding and fully involving. Striving for perfection often is!
Peter Henderson is Front of House Manager at Mitie Client Services in London.