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Toolbox >> Administration skills >> Office Public Relations
What is in this guide
- Why is public relations important for your office
- Important things to know about public relations
- How to make your office welcoming for visitors
- How to deal with telephone calls
Public relations is the ongoing effort to create and maintain a positive image of your organisation in the eyes of the public. It is important that the public thinks about you in a positive way because all organisations need to be trusted and supported by their target group, constituency and/or members.
People who use your services will expect you to be helpful, friendly, efficient and professional. Most people will contact you by visiting your office or by phoning you. This means that the phone and office are two of the most important areas where you should create a positive image.
If your interaction with the public is bad, it can have a devastating effect on your organisation’s reputation. It is much easier to build a good public relations culture in your organisation, than it is to reverse a bad image once it exists.
Every person in your organisation should understand the importance of good public relations and know what role they should play in promoting a positive image.
Public Relations targets the people you see as the clients of your organisation. Depending on the work you do this could be your members, people from a specific target group [for example pensioners] or the general public. You can only develop a public relations strategy once you know who your clients are and what image or profile you want to project to them.
Try to match the image you project with the goals and work of your organisation. The image projected by a business consultant’s office will be very different from that of a community advice office. You will have to answer the following questions:
- What does our organisation stand for and what do we want people to know about it?
- What are the main services we provide and how do we make it accessible to people?
- What do we want people to feel when they come into our office or use our services?
- Who are our main clients and what will make them comfortable/uncomfortable?
- What is the first thing we want people to notice when they come into our office?
- Who will receive visitors?
The front office is the reception area. This is the area that every person who visits you will come to first before being seen by the relevant person. It is the public face of your organisation and the place where people will form their first impression.
The front office serves the following functions:
Receiving visitors – in most organisations, visitors will spend some time in the reception area before being seen by another person. It is very important that you receive people properly, make them feel comfortable and deal with them professionally.
Giving out information – Not all visitors come for appointments with other staff. The reception staff often help people - give them information brochures or refer them somewhere else.
Dealing with telephones – All of us have experienced the frustration of rude and incompetent telephone receptionists. It is very important to deal with telephone calls properly [see Part Four How to Deal with Telephone Calls]
These functions are very important to the organisation and everyone should be aware of it. Here are some tips that will help improve the way you run your reception area.
When a visitor arrives
The reception area is the first contact that people have with any office of an organisation/institution. The work of the reception area differs from one organisation to the other depending on the type of service that is being offered by the organisation. This should not create a problem but a system/s to run the reception efficiently should be developed:
- Make sure every visitor feels welcome and is greeted at once on entering the reception area. Be friendly and welcoming.
- Find out who she has come to see or what the purpose of the visit is.
- Find out if they made an appointment to see the person. You may find that the issue the visitor has come about does not need the person they have mentioned. You can just give the assistance and advice there and then.
- If you cannot help and the culture of the organisation is that people are welcome to see visitors at any time, find out if the person they have come to see is available at that point in time. Make sure you do not just send visitors directly without notifying the person who you are sending them to.
- If the person who is being visited is not available, find out if there is anything you can do to help:
- You can ask the visitor to wait if it’s worth waiting, offer them something to drink and read.
- Take the visitor’s details and make sure you write them on a piece of paper, visible enough for the reader to see.
- Assure the visitor that the message will get to the right person.
- If you cannot give assistance, call a person who can. Never give false information or wrong advice. Always have next to you your organisational brochures, pamphlets and simple documents that will assist you in giving out the right information to the relevant people.
- Understand the work of the organisation and know the answers to common questions.
- Be thirsty for information, attend staff meetings and learn from others- you should know everything that goes on in the organisation.
- Always speak to people in a friendly, clear and pleasant manner.
- Always be polite, and never lose your temper.
- Make people feel special at all times.
- Be professional and if people will have to wait, tell them how long it will take before someone will see them.
- Greet anyone who arrives immediately and ask how you can help them
- If you are busy when someone arrives, do not just ignore them, smile and give them a sign, tell them someone will be with them soon.
- Do not talk to other staff members while someone is waiting to be greeted.
- Never get into arguments in front of people in the reception area or gossip about other staff members.
- Dress in the manner that is suitable for the people who visit you office
- Never disclose information that is private and confidential
- Never act offensively - offensive behaviour includes smoking in front of everyone, swearing, and making personal telephone calls, speaking very loudly, chewing, etc
- Always keep your work station/office tidy so that you have a professional and efficient image.
- Avoid using the telephone for personal calls.
- Put a sign outside your office so that it is easy to find
- Put a sign for reception or waiting rooms
- Put signs on all other office doors so that people can easily find the right place
- Make sure you have seats for people who have to wait
- Decorate the reception area so that it is comfortable and welcoming
- Put magazines, books or pamphlets in the waiting area for people to read.
- Offer people tea or coffee if you can afford it or put a jug with water and glasses in the area.
Deal with telephone calls in the same way as you deal with visitors – be polite, helpful and friendly. Put people through as quickly as possible – if someone is not available, get back to them and take a message. There is nothing worse than holding on for a long time – it wastes people’s time and money.
What to say when answering the phone
- The best way to answer the phone is – "Name of organisation, hello, how can I help you?"
- If you have to put someone through, say " Please hold, I am putting you through"
- If the line is engaged, say: "She/he is on a call, would you like to hold or can I take a message?"
Rules for answering the telephone
- Always be polite and welcoming.
- Keep your conversation as brief as possible without sounding rude or in a hurry
- Make sure that you know your telephone system are able to use all the facilities.
- Do not allow the phone to ring more than three times, this may give an impression that you are not there.
Tips for answering telephones
- Get organised. Have everything like your pens, desk pads, message books, etc, handy. Know they dynamics of your job - if queries are always the same, make sure you have the information at hand.
- Decide as an organisation whether you should ask "who may I say is calling?" This must be discussed in the organisation – is it acceptable to ask the callers who they are or should you just put the calls through. In some office this may be a problem.
- If you are expected to screen the calls this should not be a problem at all.
- Ask the caller how you can help or what their problem is. Listen attentively and let the caller know this. Avoid interruptions while you are listening to someone on the phone.
- When transferring calls never make the caller wait too long. If the recipient of the call is busy, go back to the caller and ask if you can take a message. Assure him/her that you will give the message to the person.
- When taking a message always read it back to the caller to make sure that you have taken the right message – especially phone numbers. Thank the caller for calling. Never slam the receiver in the ears of the caller.
- Develop a proper system for passing on messages. If a message was not passed on and the call seemed urgent phone the caller back, explain and ask if you can help in any way.
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