Voice of the company

I'm a one-man design operation now, and because my business is so personal, it's important that my clients hear my voice when they call. But even in my 21 years in a design/build firm, I never had a receptionist.

I've always been in the office so much, it's rare for a customer to get the answering machine. I try to be accessible, and people appreciate that. Of course, there are times when I can't be there to answer the phone. When that's the case, when someone can't reach me directly, I think it's important that they hear my voice on the machine. It's more personal than having someone else answer the phone, or having a mechanical-sounding recording. I will also often leave my mobile number.

All leads are equal

Some people have the person who answers the phone screen callers as possible leads. I'd rather qualify them myself. Even if they're asking for something that I don't or can't do, I'm willing to take the time to talk to them, to refer them to someone who can help. They deserve it. And a lot of times, these callers are picking my brain. Even if I can't help them immediately, I'll often work with them at some point down the road. You get a better read on people if you're talking to them yourself.

Prompt and polite

When you do use an answering machine, it's extremely important to return the calls promptly. I strive to return all of my calls in a timely manner, typically the same day.

Gary Marsh

Gary Marsh Design

Novato, Calif.

Big50 1988

Screening pays

Our "receptionist" is a lot more than that: She does data entry, mailings, bookkeeping, office maintenance, even some CAD work. But answering the phone is one of her most important roles.

A big part of it is having her protect my time by screening calls. We're a small operation, so I'm involved in a lot of aspects of the company, and I'm always busy. We get a lot of calls from people trying to sell us stuff, and she turns them away. She also screens potential clients. Once the phone rings, she immediately goes into our script, talking to them, determining whether or not it's worth setting up an appointment.

Doling out the calls

A lot of calls that come into the office don't need to go through me. She can direct them out to the field, or get the answer from me when I'm not busy and return the call.

I can't quantify the amount of my time it's saved, but it's a lot. If I'm interrupted, I lose the time it takes to tend to whatever required my attention, and it takes a while to get refocused on what I was doing. If there's something I need to get done, I'll tell her I'm not taking calls, and I can work without being bothered.

Personal touch

Years ago, we had an answering service. But we feel our clients prefer to talk to someone closer to the company. Our receptionist knows them and knows the project. It's reassuring to talk to someone who is familiar with you. Because I don't have the time to take all the calls myself, we need a separate person to do it.

Kathleen Ostrom

C.N. Ostrom & Son

Excelsior, Minn.

Big50 1995