While every employee needs to know the specifics of their job description, it may be even more important to the success of your business that each staff person at your front desk follows your company's Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Standardizing routine tasks ensures consistency in how your customers are treated as well as creating an environment that aligns with corporate and industry standards. Once you have settled on tasks, protocols and expectations for your staff, you can easily write a reception procedures manual for both existing and new personnel to utilize.

Step 1: Select an SOP Writer and Method

Select a writer who is thoroughly knowledgeable about the duties of the front desk staff and comfortable with writing. This may be someone already in the position, the front desk staff supervisor or perhaps a member of the Human Resources team. You can create your own design or use a Front Desk Procedures Manual template as a guideline. Many resources are available free online or with a paid service that automates some of your SOPs for regular follow-up.

Step 2: Determine Which Tasks to Include

Before you begin to write your procedures, take time to think through each of the duties that the front desk staff performs on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Group them into task categories and then detail any of the larger tasks into sub-steps. Be sure that each task you assign aligns with overall corporate policies and goals. Some of the major task groups you might list include the following.

Greeting Visitors Your front desk staff is the first point of contact visitors, clients or patients have with your business. Therefore, it is extremely important that your staff make a good first impression, project a friendly attitude and communicate your company's message. Beyond simply writing "greet each customer", you may want to include specific phrases for the staff to use. Asking, "How may I help you today?" provides your staff with the opportunity to meet the expressed desires of each customer.

You may also include specific guidelines such as making eye contact with customers and using their names, offering them a beverage while they wait, maintaining a polite attitude, keeping the front desk neat and organized and never leaving the front desk unmanned.

Phone Answering Procedures Just as politely greeting customers in person sends a clear message to customers, a well-answered phone call will make a customer feel like they are calling a professional organization. Include directives such as the exact wording you wish the receptionist to use when answering the phone, call screening procedures and how messages are to be passed along to employees. You also may want to use a company tagline to insert a bit of marketing into each call.

Check-in Procedures SOP for the front office in a hospital or doctor's office may have additional check-in procedures that need to be followed. Medical practices need to follow confidentiality guidelines as well as be concerned with verifying insurance coverage. In routine situations, patient check-in can occur within scheduled appointment times, but instructions should be included for how to handle emergency situations or walk-in visitors.

Maintain Lobby/Waiting Room The seating or waiting area near the entrance of your office is the first place visitors see as they enter your company so it needs to be kept neat and inviting. The front desk staff is uniquely positioned to monitor its condition and keep it orderly. Your maintenance procedures should include straightening magazines, throwing away trash, restocking coffee or snack items if you offer them and straightening chairs.

Security and Emergency Procedures A variety of visitors will enter your building and the front office staff must be prepared to handle not only routine situations, but especially emergency cases if they arise. Staff should know how to check in visitors to align with company policy. This may mean verifying identification, creating a temporary badge, phoning an appropriate staff member to escort the individual through the building or scanning personal belongings for security purposes.

In the case of a sudden health or safety emergency, the front desk staff should have procedures in place that detail alerting emergency responders, how to keep bystanders at a safe distance, assisting with inquiries and maintaining confidentiality. Much of what will be included in this section will be official company policy as well as how it is carried out procedurally.

Mail Processing and Delivery The front desk is usually the central location for mail in any office. Procedures should include mail distribution, maintenance of the postage meter or online postage account and procedures for mailing and receipt of shipments and packages. Similarly, deliveries of office supplies and what to do with them should also be included.

Step 3: Select the Appropriate Format

The size of your business will determine how simple or complex you make your front office or reception manual. A small business that has limited physical space and staff may only need a simple checklist format, while a large office or healthcare facility may require a more complex step-by-step listing of procedures and regulations to follow.

Checklist A simple checklist would include only basic tasks that require little explanation, such as "greet visitors" or "distribute the mail". The listing would be a rundown of routine processes that are to be followed daily or at specific designated times. For example, you might create a checklist for the procedure of closing down the office, turning on the alarm system and locking the office every night. Listing each task ensures that no important steps are missed.

Process Flowchart A flowchart is a good option for explaining tasks that require decision-making as part of the process. A series of questions that yield yes or no answers will determine each next step for the staff to follow. The simple pictorial diagrams make the process clear and simple.

For example, if the fire alarm sounds, the front desk staff would first investigate the validity of an emergency situation, which would determine their next steps. Is there an actual emergency? If no, they would contact the maintenance department to get the alarm turned off, as in the case of a false alarm. However, if the answer is yes, then the staff would follow procedures to call emergency personnel and inform employees to evacuate the building.

Step-by-Step Procedure Manual When the front desk staff is required to complete a wide range of tasks, a more detailed, step-by-step standard operating procedure manual will be helpful. In cases where compliance with government regulations is essential, it is especially important that each required step is included in the guide. As part of this system, it may be helpful to include checklists as sub-components of the manual.

Step 4: Write the Procedures

As you begin to write the front desk or reception procedures manual, anticipate questions that the reader may have and then answer them. Use clear language that is in the active voice and instructive so that the meaning can not be misunderstood. For example, rather than say, "Check the neatness of the waiting room frequently," use specific wording such as "every morning before opening" or "at the end of every business day, tidy up the waiting area." Specific language presents a clear expectation of how frequently the task should be completed.

Table of Contents or Index Once everything is written, it will be helpful to put together a table of contents or a topical index so your employees can easily find instructions for a particular task. This will be especially helpful if there is a temporary or substitute employee filling in on the front desk who may not be familiar with all the procedures.

Format With Lists and Bullets Make your SOP easy to read by utilizing graphic components and formatting with lists and bullet points. Large paragraphs are more difficult to process, but bulleted statements are easy to digest. Additionally, clearly title the document and date it. In the future, if policy changes or corporate growth necessitate revisions, be sure to include a version number and revised date so everyone is referring to the correct and most recent set of procedures.

Include Relevant Documentation Some processes may require following instructions on how to maintain a piece of equipment or program a device. To ensure that your staff has the know-how to perform their tasks it is helpful to include the equipment documentation as a resource. For example, not everyone will intuitively know how to program or set the alarm system for the office door. However, if they have access to the system programming guide they can easily follow the steps and successfully maintain the system for the office.

Step 5: Test the Procedures

Test your front office reception manual with the staff who are working actively in the position. Allow them to read the manual and provide feedback on points that may need correction or clarification. This will help you to catch any important steps that may have been missed or delete any procedures that have fallen out of use or shifted to another area of responsibility.

You may also want to test the procedures on an employee who is unfamiliar with the position since they can provide the perspective of a new employee. Can they understand easily each step or task they should be completing in the front desk role? If they feel they need more information to perform the job, you may need to tweak the wording or add more explanation.

Step 6: Officially Adopt the Procedures

When you have written, tested and revised your SOP manual be sure to have it reviewed and accepted by the department head or human resources department. The supervisor should sign the document since they will serve as the authority on the guidelines and be responsible for being sure that all the procedures are followed.

Step 7: Print and Distribute Copies

When the front office SOP document is completed and approved, print several copies and distribute them to each employee on the front office staff. Supervisors should also have a copy and one should be filed in the Human Resource Department for inclusion in the company-wide Policy and Procedure Manual.

Step 8: Review Procedures Regularly

As your business grows it may be necessary to adapt and change some of your front office procedures, especially if your staff increases in size. Assign new roles, tweak specific routines and make sure you are in compliance with any government regulations by reviewing your SOP manual at least annually. Make the necessary changes and inform your staff about the new procedures.