Agency New Business Killer or Promoter: Your Director of First Impressions

A recent survey reveals that only one in three agency receptionists meet the characteristics of a Director of First Impressions. Staffed well and you’ll have another new business weapon in your arsenal.

Prospects start evaluating your agency on their first interaction, which is often the person who answers your phone.

Done well, in the eyes of your prospect or client, your agency may gain a competitive advantage over anyone else they’re talking to. Done poorly, and well…they may dread the idea of calling, and won’t.

Personally, I’ve been struck by the rudeness of receptionists at certain agencies. To get a better feel for how widespread the problem is, I asked eleven of our sales and new business people to give an overall grade to the receptionists they speak with at agencies all over North America. Now, these eleven speak with about 35 agencies a day, so that’s about 385 per day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. That’s a lot of agencies, so while not scientifically based, it’s a decent sample.

In answer to the question:

What percent of agency receptionists fulfill the role of a good Director of First Impressions? Only 34%.

There were some highs and lows (e.g. New York agencies: 5%), but even accounting for them the average was the same. This is not good news for ad agency new business.

What to do to fix the problem?

Below are some suggestions. I’d like to thank Jann Driscoll from Catapult New Business who significantly contributed to the list. She used to work at Cox Communications and for a time was in charge of training people in this critical role.

  1. Evaluate how you’re doing. Call in from a phone your receptionist won’t recognize, or ask a friend to do it for you. Evaluate how they handle the call.
  2. Think about the skills you want in the role. A director of first impressions needs to have a passion for the agency and also be able to do a tough job – be the gatekeeper, research director, operator, friend, and of course the first impression anyone has with your brand.
  3. Teach them your brand. No one off the street can possibly step in on day one and understand the history of your agency, its culture, positioning, etc.
  4. Set expectations. They need to know that their job is making a superior first impression with every human interaction….never just passing someone off, always exuding empathy, courtesy, and confidence, and always demonstrating that they are a true resource for the person on the other end of the phone.
  5. Train them in customer service. This means both internal and external customer service. How you want them to treat employees is as important as how they’re to treat prospects and clients.
  6. Broadcast their title. Put it on their business card, on their employee file, on your website. Let them know that their role is critical to your future business success.

The challenge for most agencies is that the “front desk” job is often taken for granted, and perhaps even considered a necessary evil. If senior management makes sure that your Director of First Impressions is welcomed into the business, treated well, and provided ongoing coaching and encouragement, you’ll have created another member of your new business team.

So, you must be asking yourself, “Who does it well?” Well, here’s one agency that does: Brains on Fire. if you want to hear what a great Director of First Impressions sounds like, give them a call. If you want to see what one looks like, click here!


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