I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege to explore different career paths throughout my life. I studied psychology in college, began the process to become a drug and alcohol counselor, quit the mental health field to work with animals, and ended up as a receptionist at an animal hospital with zero benefits. When I applied for the job, I didn’t know what my long-term plan would be. But for one whole year, my life was surrounded by dogs, fellow pet lovers, and amazing animal rescues. It was a wonderful and rewarding environment, but working at a busy animal hospital is not all belly rubs and slobbery kisses.
Working as a receptionist for a reputable animal hospital, I prided myself on keeping a smile in front of the customers at all times, no matter how stressed I was with the demands of the job. I wanted to make sure the doctors, the vet techs, the customers, and my fellow receptionists had nothing negative to say about my work performance.
This is harder than it sounds when everything that goes wrong ends up falling on the shoulders of the front desk staff.
When pet owners lose their patience or become angry over the increased prices, they take it out on us. When a client doesn’t have an appointment and then becomes angry because there is an hour wait, they take it out on us. When the doctor promises to call a client back and the client has been standing by the phone and 15 minutes have gone by and the doctor still hasn’t called, they take it out on us. Really, any problem out of my control as a receptionist, the customers took it out on us.
It is very hard work being a receptionist, a server, a customer service rep, a cashier, and every other client-facing job out there.
A warm and inviting receptionist, as opposed to a harsh and unfriendly receptionist, can make all the difference in deciding whether a customer will return to that business. That’s a lot of pressure for all first point of contact employees to keep a positive environment, but they do it and they do it well. It’s a damn shame these jobs have somehow been thrown to the bottom of the career totem pole. Working in customer service is not easy.
During my time at the hospital, I met Mrs. Elle, a particularly difficult client who was known to be a very feisty customer. She wasn’t friendly, made receptionists cry on more than one occasion, and even asked for the firing of one of my co-workers. Because she was a paying customer, all was swept under the rug.
One day, Mrs. Elle and her husband walked in to speak with their dog’s doctor. She approached my computer and told me (not asked) that she needed to speak to Dr. K. I looked at our schedule and saw the doctor in question was already gone for the day. I informed Mrs. Elle, and without a word, she gave me a stare that said, “That’s not the answer I want so I’ll wait until you can give me the one I’m looking for.”
So I did my job, which meant handling the situation before it escalated.
I shuffled around the hospital trying to find out if anyone knew more about this case. As I walked into the treatment area, I ran into the doctor Mrs. Elle was looking for. “Oh, thank God you’re here. Mrs. Elle is here for you but I told her you were gone for the day. The schedule says you were off hours ago.”
The doctor looked displeased. I had only done what was within my reach. I had no way of knowing the doctor didn’t want the owner to know she had left for the day. But again, a receptionist’s duties are taking the fall for many things like this.
“You shouldn’t have told her I left.”
“I’m sorry. I only told her because that’s what the schedule says…”
“It’s okay, just put her in a room.”
I got an exam room ready and motioned for the client and her husband to come in to wait for the doctor.
As they followed me into the room, the woman hissed, “I knew Dr. K was here. You’re new right?” I had been working there for some time now, but in her defense, I was one of the newest hires at the hospital. Still, it was irrelevant.
“So,” I said to her, biting my tongue from losing my cool. “The doctor’s schedule said otherwise, but no worries. She’ll be in soon.” I turned to walk out and the woman said, “The next time we come in here, and you speak to me, you better know what you’re talking about.”
I could feel my ears getting red and I tried to keep myself professional as I asked, “Excuse me?” The woman looked at me, smirked, and then talked down to me, slowly, like I was an inadequate child in big trouble. “I said… the next time you speak to me… you better know what you’re talking about.”
I just about lost it at that point, but I cared about my job too much to say anything back.
Like a dog hiding my tail between my hind legs, I walked out of the room, feeling like complete shit. I told the doctor everything the woman said, and nothing came of it, other than it turned into a hot topic around the hospital the next day. “Did you hear what Mrs. Elle said to Jessica yesterday?!” (I later found out dear Mrs. Elle is a school teacher, and it terrified me that someone who speaks to people like this is an educator.)
I will never forget the insensitive way this woman spoke to me.
And customer service employees everywhere encounter people like Mrs. Elle (and worse) all the time. Because I’ve been there before, I appreciate even more so the hard work that receptionists/servers/cashiers do. They get the shittiest attitudes from all sides and the worst part is, they have to smile back while someone talks down to them and belittles their job.
It is not an easy thing to do, keeping a smile on your face while someone belittles your existence and undermines your job.
But there are people who do it every single day. These people all deserve (at the very least) health insurance and livable wages. Unfortunately, many won’t see any of those things while working in a customer facing role.
So, the next time you walk into any place of business, be extra kind to the person greeting you. Smile at the person taking your order. Be patient with the person handling your customer service questions over the phone. A little kindness can go a long way in these cases. Unless the receptionist is the problem, don’t take it out on them. Don’t be the person who makes someone feel so low, your words stay with them for years to come. We’re all out here trying to survive, and we could all use a little more kindness in our lives.
© Jessica Lovejoy 2019. All Rights Reserved.