Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Girl at the Front

At the age of 63, I have been promoted to girlhood again. Or demoted--I'm not sure which. But I am now that girl at the front--the one who answers the phone, forwards calls, take messages, greets visitors and clients, offers the coffee....

I'm not putting down the job.  It's necessary and when we lost our receptionist I took over.  It's an architectural firm; I do marketing.  The work of the architects, project managers, and drafters can't be done at the front desk--at least not easily.  And clients pay for their services, not mine.

And it's been an education.  Just learning to answer the phone--okay that was a no brainer--but answering the phone with multiple calls coming in, needing to check with the callee to see if they could/would take the call, transferring calls; I've always been afraid of tasks like that.  There's a lot of jobs that I don't consider beneath me--I think they're beyond me. The thought of a headset, taking orders at a fast food window, AND filling the orders, or waiting tables, remembering orders, serving food, or check-out clerk, the list is very long. I raised four kids, so you would think that multitasking especially while serving food would be second nature, but not so much.

I'm excited that I can now fax, overnight plans and packages, run letters through the postage meter, scan things on the big confusing copier.  For me these are huge achievements, since I've usually been the type standing there staring helplessly at whatever I'm supposed to be operating, making whining noises, wringing my hands (whatever 'wringing' is) and looking around with pleading eyes and pathetic desperation, hoping for a rescuer..  Inept would have a kind description.

But that's not the education I've gotten sitting up here.  The education is--like most things--about people and, in particular, about the difference between being a function and a person. 

The Girl at the Front is, for many people, a pure function.  You can be rude, impatient, and dismissive to her and (apparently) think nothing of it.  I don't get the abuse of people who work in more lightning rod places--we're not repo folks, bill collectors, customer service for really bad products--and thank whatever gods may be that I'm not a telemarketer, but there's enough.  It's apparently my fault if a someone hasn't returned a call or isn't available right now. Plans haven't been approves, permits not granted, and the new puppy pooped on the carpet.

When people come into the lobby it becomes even more interesting.  Many people are quite nice, especially when they don't know where they're going, or need me to call the person they plan to meet.  Some are even shy. I like making people welcome, offering the coffee and water, chatting if they seem to need to talk. However, dismissive is the polite way of describing the behavior of some.  No eye contact.  No thank you.  No hello, no goodbye.I've interacted more personally ordering a hamburger over the intercom.

I'm guessing that for many reading this it's a big oh, well and so what.  Goes with the territory, if I don't like it quit, and deal with it--it's human nature.  And actually I do.  It isn't personal and it sometimes gives me an excellent gauge of clients.  I've always thought you could learn a lot about people by how they treat their "inferiors." And how often they don't realize the power of these supposed inferiors--how fast and untouched do you want your food, how quickly will you get that warm blanket at the hospital--and what might I say to the managers here?

And therein lies the real lesson here.  The firm is Lauterbach & Associates, Architects,  My last name is Lauterbach--ex-wife of the founder--who still works here--mother of the CFO.  I do what I do because it's needed and you pretty much need to put on the big girl panties and do what's needed these days.

But I find it very interesting if I introduce myself.  The Look crosses the person's face as I suddenly transform from function to person.  Possibly even a Person of Some Importance. Big smile then. Effusive pleased to meet you.

It's been, as I said, an education.

Oh, and by the way, when you come into that irritatingly empty  lobby--remind yourself that even The Girl at the Front has to pee occasionally.


  1. Thought that was great, I have been that person that they look at like "oh you are just the receptionist", but the interesting one was when I ran a company as office manager, yet still was at the front door and answered the phones 85% of the time...and the owner was the one that treated me and the person lower then her....yet she had no idea that I was more in charge of the company then she was, because the employees didn't believe she could make a decision properly.

  2. It is interesting, isn't it? I wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything. Oh, wait--I'd trade it in a heartbeat for a successfully published book, winning the lottery, losing the fluffy stomach....

    Sometimes I lie.

  3. LOL....well I would trade anything for two of those three items....not the published book....