More tales from the front line

My poor receptionist. She suffers; I listen encouragingly; and then I go write a blog entry about it.

Yesterday boasted a couple of particularly winning encounters. The first one she told me about was a call that came in at 4:59 from a potential future applicant—and while my receptionist is definitely not the type to feel aggrieved about that, it smarted a bit when the caller then put her on hold for several minutes in order to take “an important call.” When the caller returned to the unimportant call she had placed to the Admissions Office, she made clear that she simply wanted to get my direct line from the receptionist. Well… I don’t actually give out my direct line. Not because I’m a jerk who doesn’t like the applicants, but because there are 6,000 applicants, give or take, in a typical year, each of whom has one or two parents and/or significant others (well, probably only one of those, at most) and/or fond friends, and there’s only one of me. Not that I think they all want to talk to me, but really, those odds do present formidable opportunities for derailing the planned workday, which tends to include activities that lots of people really want me to be doing, such as reading applications.

Now, who among you has worked as a receptionist? I have. What’s one of the operating principles of being a successful receptionist? Be nice and helpful to the people who call and—oh yeah—follow your boss’s rules for, say, giving out her direct line. So, when you ask for a direct line and you’re told that’s not available, chances are that berating the receptionist is not going to be productive. One wonders, though, if the people who behave this way actually play out the possible scenario in their minds if they were to get the direct line after browbeating the receptionist. What are the odds that it would be productive to talk to me at that point? Seems unlikely. Seems like, at a minimum, I’d be distracted by the weeping receptionist. On the other hand, points to this caller for having had the wit to block her phone number; see supra, blog post dated July 6, 2010.

Apart from the occasional mean caller, there’s the kind of odd phone call that just goes hand in glove with being on the front line of the front-door office of a big school at a big university. Those calls usually don’t result in any emotional harm to the receptionist, but they can present a challenge. What to tell the man, for example, who asked yesterday if we provide a service for studying and removing beehives? MSU does that, the caller helpfully explained. (Probably not their law school, though.) The receptionist had no idea what to tell him. I explained that because MSU is a land-grant institution, it provides all sorts of excellent agricultural extension services—apparently including beehive removal—that Michigan is not equipped to offer. But then my assistant director and I began discussing our own interest in the idea of bee colonies; wouldn’t producing your own honey be cool? (For one thing, I already make my own vinegar; with honeybees, I could really bring a useful aphorism to life.) My neighbors certainly would frown upon the egg-bearing chickens I’m interested in, but bees—they’re pretty quiet. So I’ve left word with the receptionist that if the beehive guy calls again, he can have my direct line.

-Dean Z.
Assistant Dean for Admissions
and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies