Have you ever called an organization and been totally surprised by the professionalism of the person answering the phones? Or even worse, have you ever called your own office and been surprised by the phone etiquette that your staff is using? These phone situations cannot only be annoying, but could be causing your organization to lose business. The best way to handle this situation is to develop a good standard operating procedure for the front desk staff. Most standard operating procedures, SOPS, are used and needed in facility operations and are widely used in plants and manufacturing industries. However, SOPS are starting to be used in all types of jobs and industries including front desk jobs for the purpose of quality control.
SOPs are basic instructions that are easy to follow and provide key information regarding an ongoing task that is conducted on a regular basis. A good SOP will tell the who, what, when, where why and how a task is to be done. The first step is to ensure that the procedure is documented on paper that has the organizations' name, logo and address on top.
The next step is to write the name or title of the task or procedure that is being done. The procedures can be as simple as "Handling Incoming Calls at the Front Desk" or a managerial procedure, such as "Front Desk Quality Control Checks." After writing down the title, space down and write the purpose for doing the procedure. For example "Purpose: To establish guidelines for handling incoming calls at the front desk," "To act as a reference or training guide to be used by all personnel" or "To ensure that all calls are handled professionally, in an effective and efficient manner."
After writing the purpose, write down who is normally or routinely responsible for handling the task. "Staff Person Responsible: Receptionist, office assistants and clerical personnel." Space down again and write locations, if necessary. This is optional, but can be necessary if you have multiple locations that may need to do the task differently depending on where they are located. "Locations: All central office staff in the corporate office."
Once the "who" and "where" are written, space down and write what is being done and what products, equipment or materials are required. "Procedure: All phones operate under the Viacom telephone system. Telephone set up and usage manuals are located in the front desk file cabinets. Step 1: On a daily basis in the morning the front desk receptionist should ensure that the "night phone" voice mail system status is turned off. Step 2 and Step 3 follow after Step 1." In this example, at some point the procedure should address what the person should say when answering the phone. "Thank you for calling the XYZ organization. How may I direct your call." Another standard that can be set is based on how long a caller can or should be left on hold. Provide an outline of how to do certain phone functions, such as transferring a call and include the corresponding telephone manual reference page number.
The standard operating procedures can be broken down into sections. Such as: Section 1: Answering incoming calls; Section 2: Transferring calls; Section 3: Checking and transferring calls into voice mail; Section 4: Taking messages; Section 5: General phone etiquette. The general phone etiquette section should include basic dos and don'ts, such as: "Never hang up on or be rude to a caller; "Do not eat or chew gum while answering phones," "Make sure to ask a caller if they would mind being placed on hold and wait for the callers response prior to placing them on hold" and "Ask a caller if they would like to be placed into voice mail before automatically transferring them into someone's voice mail."
After writing the procedures, determine if they are easily understandable or user friendly by having someone who does not routinely do the front desk procedure to attempt doing the procedure utilizing your SOP without any other guidance. Be prepared to do revisions to the procedures based on their input. Have others read and review the procedure to ensure that anyone and everyone can use and understand the procedure.
Once the procedure has been finalized, obtain approval for usage from the division head, departmental director or manager and ultimately the CEO, executive director or president of the organization, if needed. Their signature should be placed at the bottom of the procedure along with the approval for usage statement. A sample statement can be: "This standard operating procedure is in accordance to the organization's mission statement and has been reviewed and approved by the following staff persons -- list staff person name and title." Put an effective date on the procedure.
The standard operating procedure should be distributed to all staff that will be responsible for doing the task. Some organizations utilize an "Adherence to Standard Operating Procedures" form upon distribution of the procedure for their front desk staff to sign off on. This form consists of a basic statement, such as "I have read and I understand the standard operating procedures for the front desk office. I agree to adhere to and use the procedures." The date of distribution of the procedure is placed on the adherence form.
You may want to have the front desk staff to assist with creating the standard operations. This way, he will feel like their input is valued and are more likely to adhere to the procedures that they help create. Provide a copy of the procedures to the HR department to keep on file and use during front desk training and orientation, if needed. Keep a file of the signed adherence form so that if deviations from the standards occur, employees can be reminded of their agreement to use the standard.
Be careful not to get too wordy or too technical; you want the procedures to be easy to follow. Don't get too detailed, you want it to be a standard procedure; however, some leeway or flexibility should be given for employees to be innovative and creative in certain types of front desk tasks.