Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Front Desk

On Valentine’s Day I learned that a former colleague had passed. A woman who made everyone smile from the Senior Vice President to the Fed Ex delivery person.  She had an infectious laugh and a bright smile. She possessed the kind of dedication to her job and loyalty to the company that you wish you could bottle. It wasn’t because she was paid a lot of money. She wasn’t. She didn’t hold a senior position at the company. She was the receptionist. The person who sat at the front desk, greeted visitors  and answered the phones.

I was sad when I learned of the news. Anyone who had ever met Edie Strong would say the same thing. She made every one feel special, greeting you by name when you arrived in the morning and asking you when you would be back if you were going on an appointment and then writing the answer down in case she forgot.  She came in early even when she didn’t get paid anything extra and would personally deliver everyone’s newspapers to their office.

Her job may not have ranked high in an organizational chart, but she treated it as though she was the Chairwoman of the Board. Even when she did not agree with the way something was being communicated internally, she never let her feelings be known.

The clients knew her by name. They knew if they could not get a hold of whoever they were looking for all they had to do was press O for the Operator and she would help them however she could. Sometimes that meant getting up from her desk and tracking you down in the bathroom.  

She kept lists of all the answers to the possible questions she might get in the course of a day as well as the phone numbers to refer people to. She was pleasant to everyone but she kept close tabs on who was doing their job and who wasn’t. Her radar was impeccable.

She answered the phones in a distinct, pleasant and articulate voice. “Time Warner CityCable, NY1 News, may I help you?”  that somehow managed to stay calm and reassuring to our families on 9/11 when the phones went crazy. That voice became such a recognizable touchpoint for customers it was used as the voice over for the companies television and radio ads.

Edie Strong was one of a kind in so many respects. More than just a colleague, friend and good employee, she was a true Brand Ambassador. From where she sat she saw that part of her responsibility was to represent the company. While she might not have ever said it aloud she knew she had an impact on the impression someone formed.

Today organizations everywhere are on the search for people like her. They seek to cultivate the loyalists who will spread their message on the social networks and increase their exposure and hopefully form the opinions they would like created. Yet too few even think to look internally. Most have foregone a human to answer phones in lieu of an automated attendant. It seems such obvious customer service but the cost consideration in most organizations comes first. It’s so drilled in our heads that a website today is the first touchpoint for most customers, we forget about the other simpler, more human ones. Worse we forget to train our employees that how they act matters.

I can’t say that anyone trained Edie to be the way she was. She was that rare individual who got it without being told what to do. Most of the rest of us need help. 

She could take her job dedication a bit too far. Like the day she went to the doctor’s at lunch and they suspected her cancer had come back. They wanted her to go for tests immediately but Edie insisted on coming back to work.  I still remember her sitting in my office arguing the point while another colleague got her daughter on the phone to come get her.

One of Edie’s greatest gifts was that not only could she make you smile, no matter how bad your day was going, she could make you laugh. Out. Loud.  In fact, just thinking about that makes me giggle. Which was always her intention.

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