Hello, How May I Discourage You Today?

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  To think of those words as something your front desk staff would use when answering the phone or greeting a visitor?  But that’s the essence of what they may be saying, unless you’ve spent time and energy coaching them, and awakening them to the reality that they are indeed on the sales team.

I was recently doing some work for an upscale senior living community in Colorado.  When I arrived, I was significantly underwhelmed with my welcome.  The lack of attention and personality from the receptionist was memorable (we’ll call her Rosie).  After chalking it up to Rosie having an “off” day, I moved about my business, but as the days went by I observed this lackluster greeting repeatedly.  Not necessarily rude, but far from exuding the warm, welcoming tone that we should expect from our staff – and certainly from our “Directors of First Impressions.”   

After several days of observing this, “Hello-what-do-you-want?” and “Why-are-you-bothering-me?” attitude manifesting itself in poise, tone and language, I reached my breaking point.  “We have to conduct training for our front desk, staff…really…like now.” 

I began by making “friends” with Rosie (I’m good at that).  You know, the old, “they won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” approach.  Always works like a box of lucky charms.  After a few hours, I discovered that I really liked Rosie; I also like all the Winnie the Pooh characters, I just wouldn’t put Eeyore at the front desk.

Despite Rosie being dependable, great at filing and keeping order amidst the orchestrated chaos of the position, the negativity she exuded was enough to make a Ken Blanchard weep openly – and loudly.  As you may have guessed, the residents loved this person.  I realized that this fondness was due to Rosie’s tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve – a sleeve that was not typically attired appropriately, but we’ll save that for another time.  Rosie loved to discuss her personal problems with residents.  These front desk rap sessions were cathartic for her and they were terrific fodder for the resident rumor mill – win-win!   “Did you hear about Rosie’s daughter?  She ran off again with that awful boyfriend of hers.  This time to Vegas.”  “Oh, my, how is Rosie handling it?”  And so on (don’t lie, you want to know too).

So after I was firmly seen by Rosie as “a good suit” (yeah, there are good ones and bad ones) I began coaching her, confident that she would soon care about what I know.  But Rosie wasn’t having it.  She wasn’t game, and flat out refused to engage in any form of role play whatsoever.  After several days of trying, I became convinced that Rosie was just not going to change the way she performed her job.  Period.  Just more of the same, "Good morning, Pooh Bear…If it is a good morning…although I doubt," (try saying it with your best Eeyore voice).

One afternoon, after several attempts to convince the Director that a change had to made, my point became all too clear.  We were in the Business Manager’s office within earshot of the front desk when a call came in.  I noticed Rosie opening and closing drawers and rifling through papers for several minutes, until she stepped into the office.  “How much do we charge for a one-bedroom?”  We stopped talking.  The Director responded with the price and Rosie, satisfied with the answer, turned and started off.  “Wait, Why?” I asked.  “Oh, someone’s just on the phone asking.”  Fortunately the ED shouted, “Transfer the call to me!”

Unfortunately, the next sound we heard was Eeyore lethargically responding, “Never mind, they hung up…oh well.”  No phone number, no name…just dial tone.

Shortly afterwards, the Director directed Rosie onto a new career path. 

It’s so difficult and expensive to get that phone to ring with a potential prospect, and it’s so easy to lose them.   Do you want Eeyore answering?

“What day is it?"

It's today," squeaked Piglet.

My favorite day," said Pooh.”

― A.A. Milne


Or Winnie the Pooh?