Has the role of the receptionist evolved in the last two years, or has our awareness changed? ask Michelle Bowditch and Marika Garton

Michelle Bowditch and Marika Garton have recently produced a paper on the role of the receptionist in Australia, post-COVID. We are delighted to publish this paper in full.

Introduction

We all know that first impressions set the expectations for what lies ahead in the customer experience. It is within our nature to make an initial judgement about a person or a place, and we typically create an evaluation of physical and psychological characteristics within the first twenty seconds.

Whilst the overall aesthetics of space play a part, it is the first interaction with the receptionist that sets the scene for a customer’s positive or negative experience. However, times are changing, and we must consider how the role of the receptionist has evolved beyond being ‘just’ the face of the company and how the introduction of new methods of operation and ever-advancing technology has impacted how customers interact with the face of the business.

From Receptionist to Front of House Manager

Our research has shown that over the last two years, the role of receptionist has evolved not only in the duties required to fulfil the role but also in the way to which these roles are referred.

No longer are these roles confined to the front desk, where they are expected to smile sweetly, grab coffee, answer calls, and connect customers to the relevant team member. In 2022, these positions act as ambassadors for the business, offering tailored approaches and services that enhance the brand and improve the customer experience. Our survey noted various position titles: Receptionist; Administrative Assistant; First Impressions Director; Front of House Manager; Guest Experience; Workplace Ambassador; Administrator; Corporate Receptionist; Client Services; Executive Assistant; Guest Relations; Greetings and Meetings Team.

Hybrid workplaces and the implementation of integrated technology have also meant that these roles are more mobile than before; receptionists are now autonomous customer experience managers who can direct multiple customers and team members. They can remove themselves from the confines of the front desk and walk out to greet you or just as easily manage the customer experience on the fly from home, their car, or another site. 70% of our surveyed respondents said their role in 2022 is now more focused on the guest experience than before. The inclusion of technology takes the reception function from a clunky and somewhat disconnected role to a streamlined, high-end point of connection that has its finger on the pulse of the customer and the business.

Changing Perceptions of the Role

In 2020, from March to July, receptionists’ roles were among the first to be axed from businesses throughout Australia as we went into hard lockdown and were unsure of the future work environment.

Jump forward to May 2022, when over 500 receptionist roles were advertised through LinkedIn across Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in one week.

From 2020 to 2022, we have seen a shift in how the role of the receptionist is perceived both by the employee and the employer. Receptionist is now considered a career as opposed to being a fill-in job between school and university.

Employers are now seeing these roles as senior team members of the company who are required to possess leadership qualities and skillsets they haven’t needed in the past. Their image needs to be reflective of the brand’s culture as well. Large corporates expect polished and groomed individuals, while co-working spaces opt for the relaxed jeans and mussed-up hair vibe.

Previously, it was perceived that being a receptionist was easy, with no real skill involved. In 2022, the role of a receptionist involves more than customer service. They take on the overflow of administration from other teams, manage basic finance, arrange events, and prepare the technology for team meetings and corporate presentations. Individuals working in reception need to be detail-oriented, tech-savvy, possess high-level communication skills, and be able to pick up transactional tasks on day one, rather than learning on the job as was done in earlier years.

When roles are advertised, no longer are companies asking for typing WPM. Our research across recruitment platforms such as SEEK and LinkedIn has shown that businesses want to know a candidate’s experience in Microsoft Teams and financial software, practical knowledge of LinkedIn, and their background in guest experience.

The Global Skills Matrix would indicate that someone employed in this role before 2022 would be sitting at Level 1. Now, in 2022, if we look at the Global Skills Matrix, it is more common for a person in this position to have the skills and attributes of a Level 2 or Level 3 operator. This is also reflected in the remuneration provided for these roles.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in November 2019, the average receptionist employed in the private sector earnt $55,000 per annum. In April 2022, the ABS statistics showed that the average salary is now $75,000 per annum.

In Sydney and Melbourne, in June 2022, we also saw sign-on bonuses of $5,000 on average offered by companies that needed to secure the right fit for their advancing teams. On one occasion, in July 2022, a receptionist for a large corporate in Melbourne received a sign-on bonus of $17,000; such is the candidate shortage at this time.

However, according to top recruiters in Sydney and Melbourne, the sign-on bonus has an expiration date. They believe sign-on bonuses will only last another twelve months as the candidate shortage improves.

Why It Took a Global Pandemic for Businesses to Understand the Value of the Receptionist Roles

The way businesses perceive the functionality of this role has also changed. SMEs that would have previously had a receptionist, office manager, and team assistant are now combining functions and creating a more robust front of house manager role that links with a team assistant role higher up the chain.

From our research, we can see that there has been a 70% drop in office manager roles being advertised from April to June 2022 in comparison to that same period in 2018 and 2019.

In some instances, where businesses had let go of their receptionist roles during the initial onslaught of COVID, our research showed the role has since been amalgamated into other internal roles, and the position has not been reinstated.

“Our receptionist left, and we haven’t replaced [them]. The work they did has been farmed out to others. Our reception has very few walk-in visitors and external phone calls.”

Large corporates such as Optus and Suncorp outsource their front of house and guest experience to third parties such as Cushman & Wakefield and First Connect. These outsourced services use technology to give the appearance of an integrated team; the customer would never know they are an external resource due to the extensive training provided. They are an integrated part of the team, in full uniform, and their inclusion in the business unit allows the business to provide a more agile work environment.

Evolving insights into how the face of the business operates allow businesses to amplify their impact on the customer experience.

Leveraging Technology to Support Guest Experience

Amid COVID, businesses invested in and relied more heavily on technology to support their operations, especially with the compulsory government-regulated check-in systems. Companies have had to rethink processes, and individuals either had to jump on board and embrace technology or gracefully bow out.

Of our surveyed responses, 100% of employees had been in their role for under four years, which I believe is indicative of the changing face of the business. Businesses no longer need the stereotypical ‘gatekeeper’ to man the phones and either grant or deny access to the inner sanctum of the enterprise.

Technology enables the front of house team to triage incoming clients without needing a reception desk. Instead, businesses are turning to lounge experiences where they can siphon the various types of visitors into different areas fitting their interaction with the company.

70% of our surveyed respondents indicated that their business now has an iPad as the first point of contact. An initiative invested in during COVID out of necessity has now become an integral step in the guest experience. From the first instance, you are entered into the system; the technology captures who you are and can link to your LinkedIn profile.

This gives the company insight into you, the customer, which enables front of house managers to provide you with a personalised welcome when you arrive for your meetings.

An example of such a system can be found at Deloitte, where once you are in the system, you are connected across departments or offices around Australia, and the front of house has in-depth knowledge of who you are and whom you are to meet with. On entering Deloitte, you enter your phone number into the iPad or use a previously supplied QR code. A picture of you is taken, and shortly after, a team member emerges, greets you by name, and asks how your trip from Melbourne to Sydney has been. All of this is made possible because of the inclusion of technology at those first touchpoints with the company.

Systems such as this enable the internal team members to tick a box to say if they are running on time or late and help front of house to advise you on the wait time and offer refreshments without the old, “I’ll just see if they are ready for you” pregnant pause.

Front of house teams can now leverage these reception ‘self check-in’ systems to monitor and analyse foot traffic. They can pre-empt peak periods and have the extra support on standby, once again providing a broader function for the reception role.

Additionally, businesses now have the tools to understand when staff are needed and allow them to expand their reception hours.

Utilising the technology to understand the ebb and flow of foot traffic is advantageous for determining the front of house shift rostering times to meet the needs of customer traffic.

With hybrid workplaces operating for at least another 12-18 months in Australia, most businesses are not back at total capacity in terms of staff on-site or visitor traffic. Technology can assist with managing staffing levels and ensures the guest experience is not negatively affected.

Our awareness of how we can leverage technology to support a more streamlined guest experience has altered how the role of reception functions.

The New Face of the Business

The reception role is still integral as we move through 2022 and beyond. How the function of the position is integrated into the business will differ not only due to the size and available resources of each company, but also depending on each company’s appetite for modernisation. Companies that invested large amounts of money into iPad check-in systems are now looking at how they can take these technological advances to the next level and utilise them in the future.

New opportunities exist for employees to carve a career within the industry as businesses embrace change and look for ways to improve guest experience. With customers comparing experience-to-experience now, instead of person-to-person, the role of reception, guest experience, workplace ambassador, or whatever the role is named is crucial to the sustainability of the business and its brand.

A significant positive to come from the changing face of the business, shown in our research, is that 30% of the roles within a corporate level in the reception space are now men. Their return to the industry and embracing the role as a career is inspiring. Individuals from hospitality or front-of-house backgrounds have the skillset for providing concierge-like services as part of the guest experience; however, one challenge they need to overcome is utilising the technology to ensure they can set up Microsoft Team meetings, turn on cameras, and operate the AV equipment.

Individuals who are engaged through third parties, as mentioned above, are employed under the Hospitality Award or through a facilities management team. We see these employees remunerated with $60,000 to $70,000 per annum (excluding superannuation) in recognition of the skills required to meet critical deliverables within these roles. In previous years, these roles would have been engaged under the Clerks Award.

According to First Contact, at the end of a two-year tenure as an external resource, the employee looks at the team assistant or administrative positions available with the employer and will take up full-time employment or will retain their work with the third-party provider but move on to a different company.

However, with facilities management tasks creeping into the skills needed in the front of house role, research shows a considerable transition of employees into facilities management roles once they have completed their tenure as front of house manager.

In Conclusion

As businesses continue to evolve the way they perceive the role, leverage technology, and utilise external resources, we wonder whether we will lose the valuable skills and attributes these individuals bring to the function of reception and the administrative professional industry overall to other departments. Beyond 2022, how do we retain our Guest Experience Team and provide career pathways that encourage growth within the industry?

Our research was conducted from April 1st to June 30th, 2022 and involved a broad range of businesses from small start-up entrepreneurs to large corporates with over 1,000 employees. Thank you to all the individuals who contributed to the research and to the many organisations across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Canberra who allowed us to visit their businesses to understand more of their organisation’s needs in the future.

Resources

Australian Admin Awards’ The Role of The Receptionist 2022 Survey: www.australianadminawards.com.au

Cushman and Wakefield: www.cushmanwakefield.com

First Contact: www.firstcontact.com

The Helper Collective: www.thehelpercollective.com.au

World Administrators Alliance. (n.d.). Global Skills Matrix. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://globalskillsmatrix.com

Fairwork Ombudsman. (2022, July 1). Clerks Private Sector Award 2020. https://Awardviewer.Fwo.Gov.Au/Award/Show/MA000009. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://www.fairwork.gov.au

Fairwork Ombudsman. (2010, January 20). Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2020. https://Www.Fairwork.Gov.Au/Employment-Conditions/Awards/Awards-Summary/Ma000002-Summary. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://awardviewer.fwo.gov.au/award/show/MA000002#P407_29506

Labour Market Insights. (2022, July 21). Labour Market Insights – National Skills Commission. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from https://labourmarketinsights.gov.au

LinkedIn. (n.d.). Receptionists in Australia. Linkedin.com. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://linkedin.com

Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia. (2022, May 19). Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from https://abs.gov.au

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MICHELLE BOWDITCH is the CEO of The Australian Admin Awards and the multi-award-winning tech consultancy, Door 20A. As a former C-Suite Executive Assistant, Michelle helps professionals understand how improper technology use can negatively impact a brand' ... (Read More)

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