Greeting Tips from the Main Gate


It’s been a busy summer!

I’ve made connections with hundreds of thousands of people. And not by the internet. Face-to-face.

I’m not on the campaign trail. I’m a greeter—a volunteer greeter at the majestic music venue in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, known as Tanglewood—summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

This weekend, Tanglewood concludes its 75th season. And I wrap up my third year as a volunteer.

The experience has allowed me to meet hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, and at the same time, it has provided valuable lessons about communication.

At Tanglewood, I am the first point of contact for the vacationing couple from Australia on their first trip to the States, the multi-generational family from New Hampshire reuniting for an elder’s birthday and the seasoned patrons returning for their 20th concert of the season. That’s a pretty big deal because I create first impressions, and first impressions go a long way to carving customer enthusiasm and loyalty.

What’s the greeting process at your company? Is it five stars or none? Here are some tips from my greeter post at Tanglewood that will attract rave reviews for your company’s greeting practices.

No. 1: Don’t undermine the role of the greeter. Often, the person in these shoes ranks low on the organizational totem pole, which can undermine the importance of the person and his/her role. Talk directly with your front desk associate or receptionist about the criticality of their role and the influence they can have on turning a customer on or off—in seconds. Change their paradigm from feeling insignificant and subordinate, to being a vital and significant member of the team. In my firm’s research, we see that most front-line “greeters”—those with the first face or voice to the public—don’t understand or realize how crucial their role is for connecting existing and potential customers.

No. 2: Do a neutral assessment. Enlist a few folks that you regard as thoughtful, direct and candid. Ask them to contact your company—by phone and, if appropriate, in person. Then, debrief with them about the experience. Questions to ask: Was it easy for them to reach someone? How long did it take for them to be recognized? Was the initial greeting courteous? Was the overall experience pleasant? What change would they recommend to make the experience even better? This will give you a good idea about how those outside of your company are being treated by company insiders.

No. 3: Create a memorable experience. Greeting vitality shouldn’t dissipate. Longstanding customers should feel the freshness of a first-time connection. One of my rewards this summer came from a longtime patron, who complimented me for extending “the best greeting ever” in his 45 years of attendance. My secret? I go beyond the task of simply handing out a concert pamphlet and create a personal experience. I smile, make direct eye contact and truly take note. Help your staff go beyond answering the phone to creating a memorable experience, over and over.  

No. 4: Pay attention to the details. Use my firm’s 3V Communication Model as a guide to customize greetings. Visuals: This pertains to body language. If someone looks uncertain or nervous, a casual, warm greeting can go a long way to make them feel welcome. If they look rushed, acknowledge that you see they are time challenged and act promptly on addressing their request. Vocals: If the greeting is strictly by phone, listen closely to how they sound—factors like tone, pace and dialect. Verbals: Pay attention to the words and expressions of others. If a valued customer enjoys telling jokes, ask to hear one.

No. 5: Be impeccable. Tanglewood takes great care—and pride—in its facilities, and it shows. When you walk through the main gate, the landscape and lawn that greet you is flawless. Is the same true for your office? Take a look around. Is it cluttered with piles of paperwork? Is there an unpleasant odor? Does the staff appear attentive or disengaged? Do the pictures on the wall tell a meaningful story? If you’ve got a virtual company, is there annoying background noise during phone calls? Take inventory of what people see and hear. Ensure professional consistency.

No. 6: Keep evaluating. Tanglewood regularly asks its volunteers for feedback that can open the door to improvements. I was polled recently about the top two questions that I’m asked by guests. That information can lead to new signs and other changes that help guests acclimate. Tune in to your team—as well as customers—for ideas that make those initial seconds on the phone or at the front desk something to tell a friend or colleague about.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.   in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.