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VI.A Receptionist Overview


The receptionist fills one of the most important jobs in SPD. In larger offices, reception work is often a full time job. In smaller offices, the receptionist may also provide support to the staff. Whatever the size of the local office and the scope of the responsibilities, the receptionist is important to the efficient operation of the office and carries considerable public relations responsibility.

In addition to necessary technical skills, the receptionist should have a general knowledge of the following:

1. Responsibilities of the Receptionist

The receptionist has a responsibility to the local office and to the consumer. Successful performance by the receptionist requires a thorough knowledge of the office, technical skills appropriate to the job, and a genuine desire to help people.

The receptionist is usually the first person in the office with whom the consumer, board members, public officials, representatives of other health and welfare agencies, and interested citizens have contact. Because they are that first contact with the office, the visitors first impression is affected by the receptionist's manner.

2. Duties of the Receptionist

The duties of the receptionist will vary according to the size and needs of the local office. Usually, reception duties include the following tasks:

While all the above duties are important, the first five are especially significant and are fully described below.

Greet consumers in person
The receptionist greets consumers in a friendly, professional manner and gives them complete and undivided attention.

The receptionist efforts to secures information is done in a manner to avoid drawing unnecessary personal information from the consumer and respect whatever confidential information is revealed.

The receptionist expresses concern for the consumer by:

The receptionist generally assists persons in the order in which they come to the office. However, a judgment should be made about when an exception is necessary.

When the consumer has to wait to be seen, the receptionist gives the consumer an explanation and suggest that they return to the office later.

Find the proper person or other resource for the consumer
When requests are received for assistance or service, the receptionist secures pertinent information and assembles it for the worker.

To insure that persons are appropriately directed to other agencies or resources, the receptionist might find a resource file of current information regarding other assistance agencies and the availability of related community services. The resource file is helpful. It would include such information as name or title, address, telephone number, and general nature of services provided.

Use the telephone skillfully
The telephone is a fundamental public relations tool. Sometimes, a telephone call is the individual’s only contact with the local office. The receptionist answers promptly, listens carefully, speaks clearly, uses correct grammar, and provides information.

When a receptionist answers the telephone, the consumer should receive an impression of alertness, efficiency, caring and knowledge. If the person sought is not available, the receptionist either offers to take a message, offers to have the call returned, or suggests other appropriate help. Staff should keep the receptionist informed of their availability, i.e., whether they are taking calls, unable to take incoming calls, or are absent from the office. If the consumer wants to leave a message, the receptionist obtains specific information such as correct name, telephone number and extension, time of call, and other relevant information.

Confirm and make appointments
To do this function, the receptionist should know office and personnel schedules and the office plan for making appointments. The consumer should be given clear information about time, place, and date of the appointment.

Overcome language and communication differences
Some consumers may be non-English speaking and/or difficult to understand. Whether these individuals present themselves in person or over the telephone, the receptionist should be courteous and make every attempt to provide the requested information. Individual local offices should have a policy for dealing with language issues commonly encountered.

3. Dealing with Hostile Consumers

Local offices will have contact with consumers who are in the midst of a crisis. We are all aware of the wide range of emotions a crisis can produce: hostility, anger, fear and the manifestations of these emotions, e.g., the words, the looks, and the questions.

Since the receptionist/telephone screener is often a consumer’s first contact with our agency, it is important to we recognize the need for sensitivity to these situations.

The five recommended elements to dealing with angry consumers are as follows:

  1. Usually, the consumer is angry with a situation, not at you. Speak in a calm voice. Do not acknowledge the verbal attack. Do not argue or debate with them.
  2. Gain control of the contact with a good fact finding question. A good fact finding question is one that contains who, what, why, where or when. This gives the consumer the opportunity to tell you about the problem while at the same time conveys the impression that you are listening and willing to help.
  3. Admit the consumer has a problem. An angry consumer needs assurance that you understand the problem. By using a sympathetic word, you can assure them that you understand their problem and that you know what they are going through. Paraphrase what they have told you.
  4. Promise personal attention. By assuming this responsibility, your consumer will feel they are dealing with a person rather than an impersonal government agency. Do not promise what you cannot deliver as this will anger the person more.
  5. If still unsuccessful, or if the consumer requests, turn contact over to a supervisor or manager. There will be times when the above steps will not calm the consumer. Remain calm and use sensitivity to decide whether to attempt a second effort with your consumer. If you feel a second effort would only increase the consumer’s anger, consider referring the consumer. Recognize that your responsibility is to help satisfy the consumer and turn them over to your supervisor or manager.

4. Initial Contact Process

The initial contact process will vary by local office. The screening section in Oregon ACCESS may be completed over the telephone or in the office by the receptionist or “screener.” To decide if the requestor is applying for programs in SPD and is in the right office, the following questions could be asked or expanded:

What happens next will depend on how the office does screening and how intakes are set up.

5. Consumer Comments or Complaints

Applicants, clients, or visitors who have a problem or a positive experience to relate to SPD, or just want to make a comment, may complete Consumer Comments or Complaints form (SDS 475). For individuals who have a complaint, the form is not intended to replace a hearing request.

Consumer Comment or Complaint forms should be posted in a conspicuous place in the lobby. If an individual with a visual impairment needs the form, direct the person to where the form is located or hand him or her a form. If necessary, the complainant should be helped in the completion of the forms.

If a meeting is requested, it will be arranged between the complainant and the branch manager either in person or by telephone.

Copies of Consumer Comment or Complaint forms for resolved complaints are sent monthly to SPD Administration:

SPD Administration
500 Summer St. NE E02
Salem, OR 97301-1073

6. Front Desk Receipt Book

Each local office should have a commercial three part money receipt book at the front desk to receipt monies (one receipt for the payee, one for the financial clerk, and one to remain in the receipt book). The receipt should contain at least the following:

Each local office should develop a procedure for placement of the monies in a locked drawer/cabinet immediately after collection; and for the daily delivery of the receipt book receipts and monies to the financial clerk.

Periodic reconciliations of the deposits to the receipt book should be made by a designee of the local office manager.

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Oregon Department of Human Services
500 Summer St. NE E02, Salem, OR 97301-1073
Phone: (503) 945-5811
Toll-free: (800) 282-8096 (V/TTY)