Curing Front Desk Syndrome

Curing Front Desk Syndrome

Dec 01, 2005

Front Desk Syndrome is a phenomenon experienced by receptionists everywhere, whether they work in a veterinary practice, financial services company, or real-estate office. The symptoms: isolation and a general feeling that you're out of the loop.

Sometimes working "in the front" can feel like banishment to a far away and forgotten land. It's easy to feel out of touch with the everyday business of the practice—not to mention the social relationships that build among co-workers. In short, greeting clients and answering phones can be a lonely job.

And an isolated reception staff isn't good for anyone—the receptionist or the rest of the practice team. There's often no one more important to the practice's image and clients' satisfaction than the front-desk staff members. A receptionist is typically the first person a client talks to, and the last person a client sees as he or she leaves the practice.

If a receptionist is feeling cranky, depressed, lonely, or sullen, her attitude impacts clients' view of the whole practice. On the other hand, a happy, well-informed, able-to-answer-questions-and-help-clients-with-anything-they-need receptionist makes everyone look good.

Think your practice suffers from Front Desk Syndrome? Try these six proven prescriptions to help find a cure.

Prescription #1: One dose of attitude evaluation

One way to tell whether your practice has a case of Front Desk Syndrome is to notice the language your team uses. Do terms such as "in the back" and "in the front" pop up in your common daily jargon? When your technician tells a client to make an appointment does she say, "Talk to Lucy at the front," or "Talk to Lucy at the reception desk?"

Yes, the differences are subtle. But this terminology can indicate a barrier between the reception team and the rest of the staff.

A one-day dose: Try not referring to things or people as being "in the front" or "in the back" for one full day. Is it tough for your team?

Prescription #2: One dose interior design

The way the practice is arranged can also promote a "we work up here; they work back there" mentality. Does your practice have physical barriers between the receptionist desk and other areas? How does this configuration affect communication? If a firecracker were to go off in the back, would your front-desk staff members even notice? If not, how are they supposed to know when things start to fall behind?

"Often there are walls or doors, even entire hallways, between the treatment areas and the waiting room," says Pamela Stevenson, a consultant with Veterinary Results Management Inc. in Durham, N.C., "In fact, newer hospital designs tend to address this issue by developing more circular traffic flow patterns, with more open spaces."

Odds are, you can't rebuild your entire building to cure Front Desk Syndrome. But you can still look for simple ways to break down those architectural and design barriers. For example, consider re-arranging furniture or leaving hallway doors open to keep your service and technical teams in closer touch.