One of the most important aspects of a secretary’s work is the way in which she handles visitors. She is a reflection not only of the company’s public relations image—as is the receptionist—but of her executive’s personal image. She is a key figure in building good will both for him and for the company through her attitude of considerateness regardless of the relative importance of each caller.
Smoking at the Desk
In most modem offices smoking at the desks is allowed. But because smoking is an objectionable habit to many people, if you do smoke be discreet. When a visitor approaches your desk and you are smoking, either put out your cigarette or place it in an ash tray to one side of your desk while you are talking to the visitor. Do not smoke while you are conversing with him.
Never put lighted cigarettes any place but in an ash tray. If you rest them on the edges of desks and cabinets, unsightly bums can be the result.
Rising to Greet Guests
Unless your desk is hidden from view, there is no need for a secretary to rise to greet guests, unless she wishes to do so as a mark of friendship or honor.
When the Visitor Has an Appointment
If her executive is free, the secretary can call on the intercom to say Mr. Jones has arrived for his 10:30 appointment. However, if her executive is occupied with another visitor or is on the telephone, the secretary places a note before him explaining that Mr. Jones has arrived and is waiting. If the person already in the executive’s office is a co-worker, or a personal friend or relative, the secretary can announce the caller on the intercom and need not use a note.
If he can’t immediately wind up what he is doing, or has fallen behind schedule in his appointments, it is courteous for an executive to leave his office to greet the man who is waiting for his appointment and explain that he needs only a minute or two more to finish up what he is doing. If the executive does not or cannot perform this courtesy, the secretary can smilingly make the same explanation to the waiting visitor.
When the Executive Is Not in His Office
On occasion an executive will have been called out of his office just before a visitor arrives. When this happens the secretary should apologize for her executive and explain the circumstances.
You can say, “Good morning, Mr. Smythe. Mr. Rogers was called into the plant about ten minutes ago because of a production problem. He should be back any minute now. Do you mind waiting?”
If an unexpected emergency will keep the executive out of his office for more than a few moments, you might explain it this way:
“Good morning, Mr. Smythe. I’m so sorry, but Mr. Rogers was called to the office of the chairman of the board a little while ago. I’m not sure when he’ll be back. I tried to reach you, but your office said you had already left. Can you wait?” The visitor can then decide whether to wait, come back later or make another appointment, or even see someone else—the executive’s assistant, for instance, if he has one.
When the Visitor Has to Wait
If the visitor has to wait, the secretary invites him to be seated and gets on with her work. If the guest is particularly important, she may ask if there is anything she can do for him. She makes no effort to “entertain” waiting visitors, but responds pleasantly to their small talk, just as a receptionist does. If direct questions are put to her about the business, she avoids them adroitly, pretending complete ignorance of the topic, if need be, or changing the subject.
When the secretary tells a receptionist a caller will have to wait, it is courteous for her to come out to the reception room and explain to the visitor the reason for the delay. If this is not possible—if she is taking dictation, for example—the receptionist will have to ex plain the delay. When the executive is ready to see the visitor, the secretary can either call the receptionist and tell her to send the caller in, or she can go out to the reception room and escort him in herself.
Announcing a Caller
If the secretary is told to send the guest right in, she may do one of two things. If the caller is known to her employer, and has visited the office before, she may nod to him and say something to the effect that, “Mr. Michaels is free. Won’t you go right in?” However, if it is the caller’s first visit, or he is an infrequent caller, the secretary should accompany him to the door of her employer’s office, open it if it is kept closed, step to one side and say, “Mr. Michaels, here is Mr. Roper.”
When older people or dignitaries or women are announced in a business office, it is considered proper to mention the guest’s name first. For instance, should a church dignitary visit your executive, the polite announcement would be: “Bishop McLaughlin, Mr. Michaels.” (Refer to the chart in the back of this book for the proper titles by which to announce officials and dignitaries.)
Members of the executive’s family are allowed to enter his office unannounced, unless there is a guest in the office. In this case, the secretary announces their arrival on the intercom right away.
Cancelling an Appointment
Occasionally there is reason for cancelling an appointment, but this should not be done lightly. Only a matter of absolute necessity makes the cancellation of an appointment excusable.
If an executive is called away and knows he will not be back in time to keep a scheduled appointment, his secretary should telephone the individual who is due for the appointment, explain the circumstances, and offer to make another appointment.
Should you have to call and change the time of an appointment for any reason, be as gracious as possible. Perhaps you could say, after introducing yourself: “I am sorry to have to ask this favor. But would it be possible for Mr. Springer to come to Mr. Michaels’ office at three o’clock today instead of two o’clock? Mr. Michaels has been asked by the president of our company to attend a very important luncheon meeting which will probably last until well after two o’clock.”
When the Executive Is Behind Schedule in His Appointments
If he is badly off schedule, it might be best to try and cancel one appointment, so he can catch up. The next best thing is to point out to him that he will have to make up time and ask him to cut short the next one or two appointments. If he is agreeable to this, you can let him know when the allotted time is up for each one.
Interrupting When a Visitor Is Present
Should your executive have on his schedule a meeting at a specific time and a visitor is in his office as the hour approaches, the secretary may enter the office, apologize for the interruption and remind him that an appointment is coming up. The time of the appointment should not be mentioned. A vocal reminder is better than a note because then the visitor is alerted to the fact that he should depart.
Allow enough time for your employer to end his talk with his visitor unhurriedly and still reach his appointment promptly.
When Your Executive Does Not Want to See the Caller
When you are certain your executive is not interested in seeing a certain individual, be polite but definite in refusing him. You can say something like this:
“I wish I could be of help, Mr. Gray, but right now Mr. Michaels will see only those directly connected with a new project. He will be involved in this for some time, and I think the best way to reach him would be by letter.”
Some people have a flair for turning people down in such a way that they feel they’ve been honored rather than refused. Try to cultivate this manner by treating even the unwanted guest solicitously. Never try to raise your own sense of self-importance by acting in an unpleasant, rude manner.
When the Visitors are Office Personnel
Many executives today maintain an “open door” policy for members of their company. Naturally, executives on the same level are free to come and go as they please, unless the executive has a visitor from outside the company. When lower echelon personnel indicate that they’d like to see your executive, try to first find out why. You can sometimes prevent someone from going over his immediate superior’s head and thereby causing ill feeling, or you can point out that your executive is not the right one with whom to discuss this matter. If you feel the problem merits your executive’s attention, make an appointment for the employee and explain the problem to your executive so that he will have some idea of what to expect.
If the employee will not tell you his problem, do not refuse him an appointment as you might an outsider. Set up an appointment for him and inform your executive that Charles Cole, the new young salesman, or John White in the mailroom, has asked to see him but is reluctant to tell you why.
The secretary will interrupt her executive whenever a company employee comes in with an emergency work situation.
When the Caller Has No Appointment
In a majority of cases, it is left to the secretary to decide how the caller without an appointment will be handled, since she knows her executive’s business needs and his schedule. It is her job to protect him from unnecessary interruptions.
First she must find out what the visitor wants. If he doesn’t volunteer the information, she must politely ask for it (see page 107).
If she feels that her executive will want to see the caller, she asks the caller to wait and goes into her employer’s office (unless he has told her to handle such situations over the phone or intercom). She gives the executive the visitor’s card and states his reason for calling. When the executive is with someone, whether a company employee or another visitor, she does not interrupt him, but waits until he is free. The caller without an appointment must, of course, expect to wait.
The executive may be free at the moment and consent to see the caller but if he has an imminent appointment the secretary should remind him, saying, “You have ten minutes until Mr. Grant arrives for his three o’clock appointment.” She lets her employer know the minute Mr. Grant comes in.
At times visitors without appointments refuse to state their business. The secretary then politely asks them to write far an appointment. She can say, “Unless I know what you wish to discuss with Ms. Michaels, I cannot announce you. This is a rule laid down by Mr. Michaels. I would suggest that you write him, telling him what you want to see him about and asking for an appointment.” If the caller is persistent, she should be firm but treat him courteously.
When her employer has an assistant, the secretary usually turns unknown and uninvited callers over to him; or she may refer the caller to another person in the firm.
She might say, “I think Mr. Gray in our Accounting Department would be more familiar with your problem than Mr. Michaels. Do you mind if I telephone Mr. Gray’s secretary and find out if he can see you now?”
If she can arrange the meeting immediately, she should give explicit directions for reaching Mr. Gray’s office, or she can accompany the visitor there. Should Mr. Gray be unable to see the caller until another time, she passes that information on, telling him the date and time if a future appointment is arranged.