The Death of the Receptionist as We Know It

Office Receptionist

What do you think of when you hear the term receptionist? Someone who sits around all day drinking coffee?

Yeah, right! While that stereotype may be enforced on some TV shows, it has never been true. As Jane Streat, the Head of Client Services at Lexington Reception Services points out, being a receptionist has always been much harder work than people give it credit for. But fortunately, the perception of receptionists seems to be changing (and it’s about darn time!), due in part to the many new technologies automating office spaces.

The “typical” tasks of a receptionist are answering phones and greeting people who walk through the door. Of course, receptionists have always done many other things to keep offices running smoothly, but these are the tasks that most people think of first. In many offices today, however, virtual receptionists have taken over the phone lines and visitor management systems handle signing in visitors.

So, what does this mean for receptionists? Well, by and large, companies are electing to pursue one of two paths:

  1. Eliminate the receptionist role entirely, or
  2. Expand the receptionist role significantly.

Let’s take a look at these two options.

The receptionless office

In some companies, virtual receptionists and visitor management systems have replaced front-desk staff altogether. This is particularly true among tech companies. Many startups don’t have the budget or the need for a full-time receptionist. For example, they may not receive many visitors except for delivery people or get many calls on their central line.

For various reasons, some larger tech companies are also opting not to use a receptionist and are designing their office spaces to accommodate this decision. For example, former Kayak CTO Paul English felt that a receptionist would “serve as a buffer” that “make the organization seem too formal.” So, Kayak hired architects to design their Concord office to be receptionless.

The expansion of the receptionist role

For many offices, though, the thought of not having a receptionist for even 10 minutes is enough to cause panic. Just think what a mess a doctor’s office might be without a live person to welcome patients! Many of these organizations are still benefiting from new technologies, like using visitor management systems to track visitors and enhance security. But rather than the receptionist role disappearing, it’s expanding, sometimes to the point that the job title itself no longer applies.

Just to be clear, we aren’t talking just new administrative assistant duties, such as filing, communications, scheduling, and customer service. These are things receptionists have been doing since the beginning. We’re talking brand ambassadorship-type responsibilities, the kind of activities that make your receptionist the single most important person in your office. Again, receptionists have long been filling this role — it’s just that now they’re starting to be recognized for it.

In her article linked above, Jane Streat identifies some common duties receptionists are tasked with today:

  • Enhancing organizational brand
  • Creating a positive and memorable customer experience
  • Welcoming guests as a host
  • Assisting guests with office technology
  • Providing first-line support for technical issues
  • Providing concierge services

What all of these point to is that receptionists shape the first impressions people have of your company. They are your most important brand ambassadors. That’s why many organizations are moving away from the title “Receptionist” and toward something more descriptive, like “Director of First Impressions” or “First Impressions Officer.”

So, is technology killing the receptionist?

The answer is “yes” — not necessarily the role itself, but certainly the stereotypical perception of it. And that’s a good thing. Now, with technology freeing receptionists from their desks, receptionists are finally being recognized for the true value they have always provided, as brand ambassadors and managers of first impressions.

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Andy AlsopThe Death of the Receptionist as We Know It