When I was in radio, I used to call the Red Sox all the time to book folks to come onto the show. The elderly woman answering the main line used to pick up the phone and screech, “RED SOX.” Believe me, seeing it in print just doesn’t do it justice. I would then ask for the person I wanted to speak with, and was immediately put on hold (almost before I finished). Whoa! The first person you reached when you called the Sox organization, The Gate Keeper, was obviously not trained in Customer Service or Relationship Building.
When I took over marketing for the New England Patriots, I began lobbying for my department to run the reception function. The Pats’ reception wasn’t as bad as the Red Sox example, but I saw it as an opportunity to separate us from the rest of the pack. Initially, there was huge resistance because it was traditionally an operational function and, as in most companies, things can get territorial. I was of the mindset that everyone worked for marketing (and stated this quite often, making me less than popular with other department heads) because virtually all levels of the organization interacted with fans – aka consumers.
Reception was the real focus for me because I viewed it as the window to the organization. The person stationed at the reception desk creates the first impression of the inside of the organization, whether someone calls or shows up for a visit. Marketers get so caught up in the external perception of their brand, that they quite often lose sight of the importance when a potential consumer or partner gets a glimpse of the inner workings of an organization.
I was on my iPad and computer while watching a bit of TV last Tuesday night when I noticed @MarshaCollier tweeting about a bad customer service experience. She hashtagged her post #custserv. So, I hit the hashtag and the saw the topic was about customer service on the phone. It immediately made me think of my position when I was at the Pats, and how spot-on my thinking was. Thanks Marsha for triggering this memory.
If you know me even a little, you’ll agree that I am persistent and that when I put my mind to something, I typically push the issue until I have proved my position. After a few years of relentlessly and opportunistically pushing the idea that marketing should oversee reception, Jonathan Kraft (a brilliant, brilliant guy), agreed and told me reception was ours and would now hit our budget – which was a great motivator for operations to relinquish control.
I had a concept in mind, so paying for reception was not a deterrent. The problem with having a job that primarily consists of answering phones and connecting callers to others is that the employee often falls in to the trap of feeling their position is boring and mundane. To combat this perception, we broke the mold for our hiring model and explained the importance of the job to the candidate.
We didn’t hire full-time staff for the role. Now that reception was a marketing function, we integrated it with our internship program. We found a bright, motivated group of college interns and they were charged to staff reception for a few hours a week, and then work the rest of their hours on other marketing functions. We trained them to embrace the job as a marketer and to “own” the position. It was made clear that how they handled their function at reception and as The Gate Keeper of the organization would be a key factor in potentially getting an offer to become full-time employee.
As a result, we always had a very motivated, friendly, knowledgeable receptionist on duty who embraced the position with a positive and helpful attitude. These new Gate Keepers were charged with learning as much about the organization as possible. They became true custodians of the brand (as every employee should be… but we’ll get into that another time). So now, the first voice you heard as you entered the Patriots organization was welcoming and inviting. The absolute opposite of what you encountered when you called the “RED SOX.”