our receptionist is rude to people

A reader asks:

The receptionist in my office is the first to answer the phone, and she is the first one clients see when they walk in the door. A big part of her job is customer service, but lately I’ve received complaints about her interactions with people — two from other employees and two from customers.

It has been very surprising to me because she is so friendly with me. She’s upbeat, bubbly, and friendly — part of why I hired her. But my office is in the back of our suite so I cannot overhear her interactions with people. The complaints I have received say that she is rude, difficult to work with, and unfriendly, but when I asked for the specific conversation no one has been able to say “I said X and she said Y.”

I’ve spoken with her once about this in the past because I had received other complaints. During the conversation, she got very quiet and just said she’d do better. She didn’t rebut the complaints or say they were wrong. It seemed like there was improvement based on some of my office creeping (literally standing around the corner while she was on the phone so I could overhear). But today I got two more complaints saying she was rude, and unfriendly. One of the complainers asked me if there was a way to work directly with me as he wanted to avoid any interaction with the front desk because he says it is so bad.

I obviously need to do something, but I’m not sure how to fix this since I already talked to her once. Other than this, she is a stellar employee. Her work is quick, perfect, and she’s very proactive. I’ve asked if she felt overwhelmed and she said no. I thought maybe that could have been causing her stress and that’s where the behavior came from. What do you think? How do I handle this the second time around? I really like her and see her moving up in our office. She’s rather young and this is one of her first jobs so then I wondered if maybe it could be inexperience. But maybe I like her so much that I’m just trying to make excuses for her.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 303 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Commenters below have pointed out that the letter-writer updated in the comments here when the letter was first printed in 2018, noting the receptionist was Black and the LW and her manager were white (it was about 10 days after the post published, so that update didn’t get discussed then ) — which a lot of people contemplated might be the situation, and which I was remiss in not flagging as a question myself, given how often race issues play out like this at work.

    She also updated today — here.

  2. Stressed*

    A receptionist who is repeatedly rude to people is not a receptionist you can keep at your company.

  3. Not Today Josephine*

    I switched from Dr. A to Dr. B because Dr. A’s receptionist was so rude, both in person and on the phone. I wonder how many other patients Dr. A lost because of them.

    One good phone trick is to put a small mirror by the phone and before you answer the phone, look in the mirror and SMILE. People can hear the smile in your voice.

    1. Nea*

      I once dropped an entire practice because the front desk person was rude to me. I’m very certain she thought I wouldn’t dare walk out and never come back.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Same. The doctor was fine but I hated dealing with her reception so much I couldn’t bring myself to ever go back.

      1. Not a cat*

        My skin cancer surgeon is a delight. Her office manager, however, picks fights with clients, asks for two credit cards upfront “in case one doesn’t work and even if you pay cash.” and tries to charge for extras like stitch removal and the wound kit (they are all included in the cost of the Mohs surgery). I only see her a few times a year and I really, really like the doctor. The last time I went, I had already removed my stitches, so the doctor literally looked at them and told me we were done. Ms. Receptionist tried to charge me for the looksee (also included in surgery) and my doctor had to pull her aside.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Yeah, I’m about to leave one of my medical providers because, while he is fine, his office’s staff / answering service is so frustrating to use that I’m over it.

      1. Alexa*

        I’m also in the process of switching doctors even though I love mine, because both receptionists are incredibly rude and always act like they’re doing you a favor to make an appointment or check in. Medicine is hard, and I know reception pay is low, but I’m so tired of dealing with that when I feel sick already.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I left a practice because of poor front office support. My provider was aware and frankly she was on her way out, too. I don’t think someone has to be saccharine but friendly is important.

      3. Justme, The OG*

        I did that with an eye doctor. The doctor was great (albeit chatty) but the office staff were awful.

      4. Dahlia*

        My spine doctor was literally one of the best in his field.

        His receptionist was absolutely AWFUL. It was a relief to not have to deal with her anymore.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      The smiling thing also works for tricky conversations with coworkers and managers, especially if you feel like you’re getting angry or upset.

      I found when dealing with a really inept manager (entirely WFH so phone-based conversations), that if I could make myself smile, even if it was closer to a feral grin, I could respond more professionally rather than sullenly or tersely. If I couldn’t make myself smile, I knew I was too agitated and it was time to get off the phone before things degraded further.

    5. Shhh*

      It was an optician rather than a receptionist, but I won’t ever go back to the first eye doctor I saw when I moved to my current city. She rather cruelly made fun of me when I had an anxiety attack trying to put in contacts for the first time and then brought it up again when I went back in a few weeks later to pick up the glasses I’d ordered. I just heard from a coworker that an optician meanly laughed at her when she was trying on a specific, bold pair of glasses at that practice and I would bet money on it being the same optician. I don’t know if it would be worse to have it be the same person or for the practice to have had multiple rude opticians but neither is good.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        WTAF. That’s *awful.* I had a doctor make fun of me once for reading an abridged version of a classic novel, even after I mentioned that I hadn’t intended to read the abridged, I just accidentally got that version. At the end of my appt she said, “Come back when you read the unabridged version of [book].” Luckily she was just a specialist I needed to see for a specific condition that turned out to be not a problem, so refusing to go back and see her wasn’t hard for me but UGH, medical professionals should NOT make fun of patients. Unless they are there for a wellness checkup, the reason that patients are at the office is for something concerning and they will already have anxieties; the professional’s job is to try to help relieve the patients’ anxieties, not make fun of or heighten them (which in some cases is unavoidable anyway if the prognosis isn’t good). Did you tell the office why you left? I mean, you’re under no obligation to do so, of course, but that person should NOT be in a customer facing role at all.

      2. Squirrel Nutkin*

        I ditched a really lovely doctor whose billing manager was SOOOOOOOO inept that it kept throwing my financial life into chaos as I was living kind of close to the bone then and needed to have clear statements on how much was due when. I finally went and told the doc that I just couldn’t deal with the practice anymore because of the billing manager and suggested the doc get rid of her. The doc just sighed and said, “She’s a relative.”

        I’ve also ditched doctors whose answering machines take my message but then no one calls me back. Life is too short to deal with incompetent front desk staff.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        I left an optometrist’s practice because of a rude optician and office staff. Often they’d all be sniping at each other from the bullpen in front of customers.

        While he was a very good optometrist, he owned the practice which meant he was the person who hired and managed all those people and the buck stopped with him. If they were that unprofessional , rude and even mean to customers and each other, he was the one allowing it to continue (whether on purpose or by not paying any attention to it). If I noticed it during my once or twice a year visits, there’s no way he didn’t notice it being there every day. They may have been a nest of vipers on their own, but they were HIS nest of vipers and he allowed it … it left me with the impression that either he wasn’t a good man/nice person and/or that quality patient care wasn’t at the top of the practice’s “to do” list … sometimes billing or appointments got messed up apparently by one employee sticking it to another employee, failing to communicate, etc.

      4. Merry*

        Oooof that is rough. Learning how to put in contacts for the very first time is no joke. I once had an optometrist’s assistant tell me I was a horrible candidate for contacts because I always blinked so much during the glaucoma puff tests. Years later when I did give contacts a try at a new doctor, that doctor told me blinking is a normal reflex needed for your eyes to protect themselves and has nothing to do with whether or not you’re able to wear contact lenses. I would have tried them a lot sooner if that first lady hadn’t been snarky with me.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Oh man, I remember the first time I got contacts a few years ago and while I did not have an anxiety attack I struggled SO MUCH. I was literally sitting in there for over an hour because they didn’t want me to leave until I had put them in and taken them out successfully one time. I was being so hard on myself, telling myself that some children are able to do this without issue why was it so hard for me. If someone there had mocked me I probably would have fallen apart! I’m sorry they did that to you.

        (I also look back on that experience with a bit of retroactive annoyance because while honestly I’m still pretty bad at putting my contacts in, I feel like they are SO MUCH easier to take out after you’ve been wearing them for a while and I don’t know why they wouldn’t tell me that.)

    6. Elle Woods*

      Same. The receptionists at the eye clinic I used to visit openly mocked patients. As I found a couple of months later, when I concluded that contacts were not something that were going to work for me, the doctor wasn’t much better.

    7. Jennay*

      Ditto, I ditched a great dentist because his mother ran his front desk and was a nightmare.

    8. Hamster Manager*

      NOTHING will ever beat the doctor who I dropped because his entire nursing staff was THE RUDEST (they manned the front desk as well.) One always acted like it was the most huge inconvenience to take my height and weight and actively ignore me when I asked questions, but the worst was when I was very patiently waiting for a nurse to finish up on the phone so I could check in. She made eye contact with me, makes the “blah blah” hand gesture towards the caller and rolls her eyes, then after hanging up, proceeds to tell ME, a PATIENT and STRANGER to her, about what the person on the phone said and how she thinks he’s being dramatic. HIPAA violation much?

      1. LavaLamp(she/her)*

        I got a receptionist fired (not on purpose, but that’s the consequence) for announcing to the waiting room what medicine I take. I don’t know if she had other performance problems but I have never seen her at any of the offices of my rheumatologist since.

        1. Jay*

          I’m a doc and for years my PCP was a good friend of mine (not defending this and wouldn’t do it again). For most of that time I was significantly overweight – about 100-150 lbs over average – so they had to use the extra-large cuff to take my blood pressure. I knew this. I was not particularly disturbed by it. One day they had a medical assistant student in who first tried with the usual cuff despite my suggestion that it was too small, dramatically announced that it was too small, and then complained non-stop about how difficult it was to find and connect the larger cuff and how much more difficult it was to inflate and how tired her hand got pumping it up.

          When the doc came in, I said “You’re lucky it was me and not someone else” and proceeded to describe the interaction. He said “Hang on just a minute,” walked out into the hall, and told her to leave and not come back. Turns out it wasn’t the first time he’d had a complaint and he had just that morning given her feedback and clear direction.

    9. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      I just returned from a dental cleaning and the receptionist feels like a good friend (who reminds me about my appointments). I think I might stick with the dentist for the receptionist (I also like the dentist, and the dental assistant, and the current hygienist – but the previous one was a talk your ear off about her own personal life – I really do not need to know about the drama with your ex boyfriend and your cat.)

    10. Alan*

      I also left a doctor because their front office was so bad. Just very rude. Consistently.

    11. Turtlewings*

      My best friend used to work at a doctor’s office, sharing reception duties with a coworker. Everything she ever told me about the coworker made me see red. She was unbelievably rude and horrible to the patients (and her coworkers). They wouldn’t fire her because “she’s the only one who knows how to do the billing.” Which is sooo not a sufficient excuse and also a terrible way to operate. She could have quit or been hit by a bus at any time, after all. My friend is free of that place now, thank goodness, but it still grinds my gears thinking about it.

      What is it with doctor’s offices and tolerating horrific reception staff?

  4. anon5*

    I was kind of like this at my first job. I was the receptionist but I had also been loaded with tons of other work. In my mind, that was the work I needed to focus on, so I tried to get through walk-ins and phone calls as quick as possible. And co worker interactions, I guess. It would have been helpful if someone told me that customer service was the first part of my job. And like Alison said, that customer service includes the manner in which you treat people, not just giving them information, etc.

    1. Aikaterhn*

      I was the assistant for two professors. I learned quickly that people want attention, not merely solutions. For example, the best way to contact the profs was through email, not through my taking a message. If I said that at the beginning, the person would be annoyed. If I took a message and listened to their story, then suggested that it would be quicker to contact the prof through email, they were so pleased that I was letting them in on this secret. Guess which method I used?

      1. Morgan*

        This. As an admin, most of my job was just listening to people (who got paid way more and could afford proper therapy) whine and vent at me until they were satisfied. That stuff doesnt roll off my back, so I was a terrible admin.

    2. Green Goose*

      This letter made me think about Alison’s post from earlier this week about workers dealing with an increase of rude customers and it made me wonder how much of this is the receptionist being rude versus dealing with rude people. Or people being mad at her for things out of her control, like people not being available when they want to talk.
      I used to go to a large national dentist chain and I remember being shocked at how rude the front desk staff came across when I first went in. But I had to go in multiple times for a couple of procedures and what I saw sort of explained why they were the way they were.
      The system would double, triple book people so everyday they had people who were irate about wait times and the front desk staff was constantly getting yelled at for this terrible system that was out of their control. I had to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes past my scheduled time because this corporation would overbook so badly so I sat in the waiting room and watched a barrage of enraged people who were chastising these women because of the delays. It was constant. The booking problem was so bad that people would come and have to leave before they could go to their appointment (work, childcare etc.) so they were (rightfully) very angry but the only people they could take out this frustration on was the women who were sitting at the front desk.
      So the receptionist might be truly rude, but I also wonder what happened before she was rude. And sometimes customers just get mad when someone says “no”.

      1. ToTiredToThink*

        I also wonder if its some of this. People are being rude to her. I also immediately thought about when I used to be a receptionist and I had a boss claim that she’d received multiple complaints about me being rude to people. I was in shock (but didn’t deny it or anything because that wasn’t in my nature at the time). Later on I realized that it was likely employees and/or their spouses who were (supposedly) complaining because I wasn’t dropping everything to track down their spouse when they couldn’t get them on the phone. Everyone had cell phones and they employees could be in one of 7 locations within a tri-city area. So yeah, I’ll get right on not doing my job because your annoyed that your husband isn’t answering his cellphone. Not like he’s not, like, earning his paycheck or something….

      2. Ellie*

        I wondered about this as well – the OP really needs to find a way to listen in on their receptionist so they can observe one of these complaints for themselves. It might not be the receptionists fault, she might have to deal with a lot of rude people. Or it might be that she often has her nose in her work so much that people feel they are interrupting her, and the interaction is going downhill from there. Or there might be something else going on – I get called rude quite often because I’m quiet and I don’t smile much, and I work with many men who are uncomfortable interacting with women. Some of it is on their side, but I know I am much warmer with people one-on-one, who I know and like. Or she could be rude to everyone except you, her boss, because she feels she can get away with it. It is hard to tell from here.

        I think OP needs to gather more evidence, and if observing them from behind a corner doesn’t yield results, then it might be time to ask a friend or co-worker if they can ask her for help and then report back to you on how it goes. Also, is there security footage you can review? It might not help with low-key interactions but it would at least tell you what the percentage of complaints to customers is, and it might tell you something about the demographic that’s complaining.

      3. Luna*

        I work retail right now, and even without reading horror stories of retail employees getting snapped or yelled at over something that isn’t their fault, I knew that any angry customer’s ways of talking to me (if not because of a mistake that IS genuinely my fault) should be like wearing a raincoat.
        Just let it all drip off and not stick.

        That’s not always the case you can do, I’m sure even if you let it fall off of you like nothing, it can fester and still bug you hours later. But you do have to then work on getting rid of that frustration in ways that don’t become an issue to you or other people later on. Get rid of the frustration by writing a nasty note in Notepad or a diary, watch a silly-stupid or violent movie, scream into a pillow at home, etc. Let it out, and then keep going.

        Though I also think that if the system is so bugged that it causes such issues, receptionists should be allowed to flat-out say the problem is with the system, do not yell at *them* for badly-programmed things, and if they don’t like it, then they should call in for an appointment instead of just using the automated system that is known for overbooking.

  5. mcfizzle*

    I dropped my (wonderful!) orthopedic surgeon because his MA (basically couldn’t get to him without her, she apparently calls in prescription refills, etc) was neglectful, rude, and worse, incompetent.

    Aka, this is a BIG DEAL, OP.

    1. CarolynM*

      I am changing dentists because the front desk has messed up my insurance so badly and cost me extra money because of it. I left a doctor because of their front desk staff and went years using only the minute clinic when I got sick until I found a doctor I liked WITH a good staff. We loved my boyfriend’s doctor for his cancer care (he is all good – no worries now!) but we actually wound up getting his personal cell number to communicate with him directly because the office staff was so bad, and one time when they were being rude and obstructionist when I called about an emergency after a surgical procedure, he wound up needing to be hospitalized … if they had actually let the surgeon know what was happening when we called in the morning, we could have avoided the ER that night. The surgeon was horrified but apparently his hands were tied and the best he could do for us was be our sole contact point. But … I mean … CANCER!!!!! I am not calling about a skinned knee – I guess it was wrong of me to expect them to care, but … I was scared, he was REALLY sick, there was a pandemic raging and I just needed to know what to do!

      I don’t want a new BFF. I don’t want staff to run around patting my head and spoiling me rotten. I just want to be able to make appointments and get information and communicate with doctors without feeling like I have to suit up for battle. I am still wiggy from the whole mess – when my new PCP’s receptionist recognized me and knew what I was talking about when I called a few months ago I started crying and had to explain it was RELIEF that I was being treated like I mattered! LOL

      1. mcfizzle*

        Yeesh that is so serious! Glad your BF is doing better, and I fully agree that I don’t need to be pampered; just treated with professionalism.

        My favorite MA emailed my ENTIRE MEDICAL FILE to the workman’s comp person at my office. Not what I needed for time off – literally the entire file.

        I finally got an enormous response when I invoked the rather massive HIPAA violation, but by then, any and all trust was long gone.

        1. CV*

          oh no. oh no no no. I work for workers comp and *we* don’t even want your entire file. that’s awful.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I guess it was wrong of me to expect them to care

        Absolutely NOT wrong of you. They should be fired. Cancer care is life or death and anyone who works in that field should be competent and know that it’s best to err on the side of caution. I’m appalled that they didn’t notify the surgeon right away and furious that his hands appeared to be tied – that is a fireable offense and I can’t believe he didn’t have the ability to fire them.

        Ugh, I don’t expect medical office staff to know All the Things about their field, but they should at the very least be sympathetic and know when to ask the doctors if patients have questions or issues that the staff doesn’t know the answer to.

  6. Aggresuko*

    As someone who gets complained about ALL THE TIME, I’m kind of baffled as to how there are so many complaints but nobody can specifically pinpoint what they don’t like, what is rude, what is wrong. In my case, everyone hates my voice so I certainly know what it is…might be for her, too, I don’t know.

    I think OP needs to hang around and observe what is going on here. I know that sounds like creepy spying, but it sounds necessary.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My mother gets this all the time–it’s not usually her words but her whole demeanor is irritated and impatient.

      1. Avril Ludgateau*

        It might specifically be her phone voice, too. The receptionist at one medical practice I use has such a perpetually bothered quality to her voice when I would call, like every call is interrupting her workflow (which could well be the case, but it’s also very much in the job description of a receptionist to answer phones?) but in person you would not describe her as anything but professional and cordial, if not outright friendly. Yes, it is the same person!

    2. JSRN*

      I too have a voice that people hate and I was always getting reported when I worked with customers. It’s so frustrating and offensive (to me) that just the sound of my voice makes people think I’m being rude, even when I’m smiling. This is just how my voice sounds!

      For OP and anyone else out there in that situation, just consider that it could be just the tone of her voice that puts some people off. In my case, I’ve tried everything to sound “nicer” and “friendlier” but my vocal cords just won’t allow that. I second Aggresuko’s suggestion of hanging around, out of sight, and listening to what’s actually going on. Maybe she’s really rude with some people, or maybe it’s just the tone/pitch or whatever of her voice that some people find rude.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        Maybe, but I don’t think that would change advice to the OP. Even if it is “just her voice” OP can’t afford to lose clients and alienate her whole office. A receptionist who makes people feel unwelcome is not a receptionist you can afford to keep.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        But did you try changing the words you were using? Or the speed at which you spoke? They’re part of the equation as well.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I’d treat it like any case where the manager is getting complaints about an employee but no specifics – find out what the specifics are yourself before you try to address it. As the employee I would be pretty upset (and possibly go quiet and just agree to do better, which is a common defensive behavior) if my manager sat me down and said “I’ve gotten complaints about you” but offered no clear examples or specific suggestions on how to improve. If the employee has to ask for examples, the manager hasn’t handled it well. If the manager doesn’t have those examples, the manager hasn’t done due diligence.

      It’s also something the manager can do proactively in one-on-one conversations with everyone – advise your reports that if they’re going to make a complaint about someone, they need to be clear about the specific problematic behavior and the resulting work or business impact. That way it’s both actionable for the manager as well as clear that it’s not just a personality conflict or a one-off disagreement.

      1. DireRaven*

        “I would be pretty upset (and possibly go quiet and just agree to do better, which is a common defensive behavior) if my manager sat me down and said “I’ve gotten complaints about you” but offered no clear examples or specific suggestions on how to improve. If the employee has to ask for examples, the manager hasn’t handled it well. If the manager doesn’t have those examples, the manager hasn’t done due diligence.”

        Or, my conclusion would be that the *manager* is the one with a “problem” with me.

        “Problem” being they just don’t like me, which I am used to — something about me is often off-putting to people and, while I’m not formally diagnosed autistic, all of my children are. I have not (yet) sought for myself – getting the ADHD diagnosis was hard enough because I always “did so well” in school and such – yep, because my parents provided the structure and failure was not tolerated, I had strong people-pleasing tendencies, and I was smart enough to figure out ways that worked (for a time, at least) for me, yet am hampered by poor auditory processing and poor working memory. I’m probably just ‘autistic enough’ to trigger the “uncanny valley” effect in people.

    4. corporate counsel*

      I’m really interested in this angle as well, and would be interested in a follow-up. I actually had a paralegal people repeatedly complained about, but if you read back a transcript of what he said then you would assume nothing was wrong. The issue was his demeanor, specifically that he would get nervous, and would then get argumentative at the slightest whiff of feedback or further probing about whether or not he had an answer or document available. And 99% of the time, what he was asked would be fairly innocuous-like “Are you sure this is the right document?” or “Did all the pages print okay?” His problem was that he turned every conversation into a confrontation.

    5. Sylvan*

      I received complaints about rudeness or vague negativity when I wasn’t able to do what customers wanted me to do.

      I was polite and I went above and beyond to help people whenever I had the time. Unfortunately, sometimes callers wanted things that nobody could bend time and space for, and I was the person they were speaking to so I was responsible.

      1. Siege*

        Quite honestly, that’s my concern here. I mean, I think it’s worthwhile to press the people complaining for more specific details and to do some more monitoring of the receptionist, but I find it hard to believe that so many people can complain without specifics and the problem is the receptionist. I think a lot of people can work out how to say “she just seemed really unfriendly” or “she sounded like my request was a problem” even if they can’t say “she said F you when I asked for a new pen”.

      2. missy*

        Yes. When I was a secretary I was always very up front with what was and wasn’t possible. I believe that managing expectations is important. Which means if someone says “can I get that by tomorrow” and the shipping company already came for the day, the answer would be “No, I’m sorry, they already came today. We can send it tomorrow.”

        1. Sylvan*

          Oh yeah, that’s pretty much exactly the kind of conversation that I was having.

          But now, it sounds like something else was happening in OP’s workplace. Someone who checked out the original letter and comments mentioned further down in this post’s comments that the receptionist is the only black person there. It sounds like the complaints were probably racist.

          1. Certaintroublemaker*

            Bingo. My two guesses were race, or a high proportion of men who like to flirt and call receptionists “little darlin’” in the area.

      3. nnn*

        Yeah, I did find myself wondering if the complaints correlated with cases where the receptionist was unable to fulfill the client’s request.

      4. corporate counsel*

        I had thought of that as well. I used to work in a very secure business facility and we never gave out any information that we had to, but our receptionist got repeated angry calls because she wasn’t allowed to give out any information at all.

      5. Lacey*

        Yes, I had thought of that too. I had a job where I was responsible for handling customer scheduling.
        But I was on the lowest rung of the ladder. I had no authority to really help people.

        Then the owner of the business would swoop in and say, “Oh don’t be silly, of course we can do this!”
        But there’s a big difference between what the owner can ok and what the newest hire can.
        Plus, he often promised them things that actually caused big problems for my coworkers. They couldn’t yell at him because he was the boss, but they wouldn’t have hesitated to tell me off if I’d done the same.

        1. Banana*

          I do stuff like this! I’m not the owner, it’s a publicly traded company, but I understand the impacts and needs well enough to make those decisions. I improved things for people in your role by structuring some decisions (for warranty replacements, we can break Rule 1 and Rule 2, but not Rule 3, etc) and telling them what kind of problems I wanted them to bring to me for custom problem solving (customer had a fire and needs a delivery early to replace destroyed product). Then I did a better job of managing expectations from customers and limiting my interventions to when it made business sense and not randomly when someone was really mad or I really needed to feel like a superhero.

      6. KandCo.*

        Agreed! I work mainly filling a reception role. I’ve had at least 4 complaints this year, but they all came from individuals demanding I break policy/protocol for them or do something I literally had no capability to do. I politely declined to do things that would not only have been against policy but we’re also clear safety concerns. These individuals never can communicate to my higher-ups what I said or did that was rude/unacceptable, because they know I was following policy. Conversely, this year I have been randomly gifted plants, gift cards, cards, and candy from people who say they appreciate how great I am to deal with.

        I find it incredibly odd that people find her problematic enough to complain about yet they can’t specify the problem. I definitely think this warrants being looked into first before taking action.

      7. Kali*

        Yes, this is a possibility, for sure. It’s hard because you’ve got the complaint-makers not being able to point to something, but the OP has already talked to the receptionist and there was no denial along with an apparent, but temporary, improvement.

        But I work with the public and have found two people tend to complain on me – people who are upset that I cannot do what they ask (usually because what they want is literally illegal), and people who are upset that I am not as upset as them about their issue (I am calm and professional, but I’ve been accused of ‘not caring’ because I ‘don’t sound upset enough’). There are some people who lash out at the first person they can contact. Because I work in a highly emotional/stressful career, this is expected (and the reason my calls are recorded). While the receptionist being rude – unintentionally or not – is more likely, OP should consider the kind of work they do and the situations where they’re receiving the complaints.

      8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        That’s a great point. I was thinking about how OP “lurked” one time but didn’t see what others saw/heard/felt.
        I can’t think of a way for OP to observe without either the Hawthorne Effect situation or really risking receptionist’s trust by having friends call/drop in.

      9. Bad Receptionist*

        I was a receptionist for a historical society for brief period of time. If you weren’t a member, you had to pay admission. It was made VERY CLEAR to me that I had to hold firm on all rules.
        And then folks would come in, insisting they were active members, but I couldn’t find them on the list. They would get quite upset when I said they weren’t on my list and needed to pay an entrance fee. Then my supervisor would come out and grandly usher them in. Not in a, “I know you, but please understand our receptionist is doing her job” way, but in a, “oh yes, of course please come in” way, which implied I was in the wrong.
        I was also told I wasn’t friendly enough, but no one could actually tell me what I should be doing differently. I guess just let anyone who looked important di whatever they want? But hold firm for the normies?
        I was asked to leave after 6 months.

      10. Green Goose*

        This is what I was wondering. As someone who has a small component of customer service in my role, people get most mad when you can’t do what they asked and then all of a sudden the label “rude” is thrown out.

    6. anonymous73*

      I had a similar thought. If it was her general attitude or demeanor, or the tone of her voice, they should be able to provide SOMETHING specific about why they think she’s rude.

    7. Blue Glass*

      My guess is the receptionist has an attitude that she hides when the OP is around.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Even if this is the case, surely the complaining customers would be able to provide a specific example, right?

    8. dawbs*

      Yeah. It gets hard.

      My kid is autistic. She’s articulate, funny, smart and if I’m not thee, there are complaints from adults about her manners. And there is nothing wrong with her manners. (OK, mostly nothing. SOmetimes she acts 11, because she’s 11)

      If I am there, I can pursue it–“what did she say that’s a problem” and there’s (eventually) the realization that it’s usually the ‘tone’ they’re objecting to. And they can’t even say why it’s wrong, just that it *IS* wrong and offensive because it’s not what they’re expecting from an 11 yo girl (I stand firm on the point that 11YO boys say things in that tone all the time w/o garnering objections)

      Her speech therapist and I are working with her on tone (not because she’s ‘wrong’ but because she has to make her way in an ableist, sexist world that expects her to sound friendly and eager to please all the damn time), but, honestly, at some point it feels a lot like the people who object to vocal fry or upspeak–that they’re just trying to punish young women for finding their voice in the world.
      (and, unfortunately, when we were discussing what she can do with her life, and she was talking about the ‘summer jobs’ teenagers often get, I sit there and accept that she’ll never be allowed to be a receptionist or a waitress–not because she does anything wrong but because of how she’ll be heard. /rant)

      1. Luna*

        As someone on the Autism spectrum herself, I am so glad to read that your daughter’s Autism is known at such a young age and is being discussed, as well as showing her how to talk to other people without making her feel stupid or wrong, etc, etc.

        I kinda wish someone would have noticed with me when I was younger, as I now have had to ‘fake’ myself so much that I cannot tell who I am anymore. And this includes faking a ‘customer service’ voice that is higher pitched and more energetic (think bubbly character type of person) than my regular voice. And it has lead to my working decently enough in reception.

        1. dawbs*

          the loosing of your voice seems a legitimate worry. The voice in the head and the voice outside the head…knowing that balance is hard.
          And heaven knows I do it poorly often enough (she’s told her I’m to hard on her. She’s sometimes right. And we came to a balance where if I get on her about it, she’s allowed to ask if she’s wrong or not meeting societal expectations–since they’re different).
          Maybe she’ll manage a customer service voice–I had one. Now that I”m in my 40’s, I have mostly lost it and I’m still kinda proud of me for loosing it.
          Knowing herI don’t see her making a good receptionist–but I also think if she decided she WANTED to do it, she could (and I’d have her back in trying.)

    9. Annie Mouse*

      This part jumped out at me too. It makes me wonder if it’s something she can’t control, like bias from the complainers. The obvious example is people who interpret any action by a black woman as aggressive and angry, but there are other possibilities. It sounds like LW really needs to do some observing and push the complainers to provide some real info before going back to the receptionist.

    10. Meow*

      Yeah, back when I worked in customer facing positions, my managers would occasionally receive non-descript complaints about me. Other times, people would tell me I was the best employee to work with there. It was clear that no matter how big a customer service smile I put on my face, there was something about me that just rubbed some people the wrong way. (and in fact, some people do get upset over fake smiles, so you can’t win)

      The fact that OP’s employee is getting that many complains though is troubling. But if she really seems that nice to OP, I can’t help but think it must be something she’s doing unintentionally. People that are intentionally two-faced tend to let their other side slip out eventually.

    11. JSPA*

      Voice coaching is a thing; it’s not just for actors, singers and presenters.

      Some aspects are not changeable, but many are; potentially irritating issues can become far less grating in the context of different pitch, aspiration, inflection, speed of delivery etc.

      Some coaches specialize in de-regionalizing accents or doing the My Fair Lady / Pygmalion class shifting (which I don’t love that it matters, but can’t argue that it often still does). Some specialize in gender-concordance, mostly for people who are transitioning, but it’s not forbidden to cis-gender people, of course!

      Others indeed specialize in finding a good fit in one’s speaking voice. And the change can be pretty subtle–dropping the pitch slightly, not aspirating a consonant as forcefully, balancing one’s throat vs nasal tones on vowels, whatever.

    12. A Simple Narwhal*

      I agree, I think OP needs to spend some time actually observing the receptionist’s interactions to really understand what’s going on. I also found it weird that no one could pinpoint anything specific (anything I can think of as rude behavior tends to have some sort of descriptor – rolled her eyes, seemed annoyed, curt responses, etc), and some part of me wondered if there were any biases at play here. I really hope not, but I know that certain groups are unfairly judged as more rude, aggressive, or other negative qualities than others.

      So first step needs to be that OP needs to witness these interactions herself. Maybe there is something the receptionist is doing that needs improvement and can be addressed, but if not then OP has the ability to push back on people who find this nice person rude for some reason.

    13. Velawciraptor*

      Part of my concern here is exactly that: if nobody can pinpoint what’s rude, is there something else going on? That’s what LW needs to get to the bottom of.

      As others have been mentioned, it’s not uncommon for people to complain that reception is rude when they can’t do what the caller wants (in my office, that most commonly looks like not putting people through to attorneys without appointments because the attorney is in court or with another client). Someone not liking that they haven’t gotten their way doesn’t mean that your receptionist has done anything wrong.

      But the idea that it might be tone rather than actions/words has me concerned about another issue. What are the respective races of the complainers vs the receptionist? Because it’s not uncommon for women of color to be tone policed in ways that white women aren’t (what might have simply been firm suddenly becomes aggressive, etc). LW should keep that possibility in mind if it’s relevant to the situation.

    14. Momma Bear*

      I think this, too. I had a role in the past where I later found out that the team didn’t like me, but my own team had no complaints. Without observing the interactions, OP doesn’t know what the deal really is. I hope that OP did take the time to observe and maybe gave the receptionist tips about those particular people/interactions. Most of us, if we are honest, have a coworker that rubs us the wrong way but working with them anyway is part of the job.

    15. AcademiaCat*

      Oh gods this! If I don’t think about it I have a lower than usual median speaking range for a women, and can be really monotone. It’s not intentional, it is just what my “naked” voice sounds like. Think of it like “resting bitch voice.” I’ve learned on my own over the years to modulate my tone by lilting upwards, forcing rhythms and variance, and other tricks to sound “friendlier” but it’s very much forced on my part. I think of it as my “retail” voice because I worked in retail for a long time. I also have a “friendly customer” voice, a “kind family member” voice, and now an “office work” voice, all of which are variations on the amount of work I put into sounding like a “normal” woman.

      But when I’m at home or with close friends, I like being able to turn all of that off and just use my normal “naked” voice. Because it’s work to maintain any of those, and I should be able to relax in my own house! My friends should like me for being myself!

      Guess who had “you sound angry even when you’re not, and I can’t handle it anymore” as part of the reason she and her latest partner broke up. If you guessed me, you get a cookie.

    16. Isobel DeBrujah*

      I was specifically going to say this. Also, as someone who was called “rude,” in a job where one of my functions was to give people difficult information, I suggest the OP look at the potential social pressure going on as well.

      I was the only Black person at my job. I quoted my boss and specific scripts directly. But I was “rude,” in a largely white office and the nonspecific complaints alway came from white people. Sadly, my bosses just took their word and would not acknowledge that race was a factor.

    17. nobadcats*

      I would be curious to know if the OP provided further context in the comments on the original letter. Specifically, I’m curious to know if the receptionist is a woman of color.

    18. Aximili444*

      Agreed. Sometimes the answer is just that there are men who take offense to hearing a woman’s voice. Just look at the iTunes review for any female-led podcast.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Ugh, any time a woman narrates an audiobook, you guarantee a good sprinkling of terrible reviews on Audible ranting about how terrible and grating they are. Spoiler: They just don’t sound like dudes.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I forgot which podcast had a story about this a while back. (Radiolab, maybe?) Basically, sound recording and broadcast equipment was optimized for the male vocal range back in the 20th century, as the engineers didn’t think women would be radio presenters. As a result, typical female voices sound grating in recordings. (I think this might have been around the time Hillary lost the election.)

    19. Zak*

      Call centre manager here – I used to see this all the time – certain operators would receive complaints all the time that they were being rude and when you checked the voice tapes it was just them talking in their regular voice.

      I think alot of people are so fragile they can’t handle anything other than customer service baby voice.

    20. Luna*

      That’s what I’m wondering.
      Nobody can pinpoint an exact moment of rudeness, so the chance of it being a case of her speech or body posture or even her facial expression being the ‘problem’. I have had people, customers and employees, come up to me and ask me what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, but I ‘looked so sad’. No, really, everything’s fine. My face is relaxed and my mouth naturally turns down a bit. I’m not sad, I am actually doing okay.

  7. ecnaseener*

    I see from the original, unabridged letter (march 2018) that LW wasn’t the receptionist’s manager – I feel like that makes a big difference to the advice!

    1. Lost academic*

      Can you link to it? It doesn’t look like it’s one of the suggestions on this post.

  8. Charlotte Lucas*

    Tone of voice & facial expression make a huge difference. When I was a CSR, my coworkers teased me about how happy I sounded to get calls. But I rarely had to get a supervisor involved – usually only when I 100% could not resolve the issue on my own or the caller just wanted a supervisor no matter what.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I am damned near perky on the phone or when patrons come in. I am not perky in everyday life. I 100% consider this a job skill.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. I have RBF and my default is not unfriendly but polite, direct, and to the point. When interacting with others, I make a point to focus on tone, smiling, and body language to get to what I assume is base-level for everyone else. I also use a lot of please, thank you, and exclamation points in my email to err on the side of perky-toned over drill-sergeant-tone.

        1. Irish girl*

          you sound like me, i have to be super cheery and hyper aware about what people expect in an interaction with me.

      2. Kacihall*

        I am very aware of my customer service voice. After several years of not being customer facing, I think I’ve lost the customer service smile, but my CS voice is very different than my normal voice. I don’t even notice it myself any more, because it’s just habitual at this point.

        My kiddo had to stay home from school a few days last week (neurologist appointments) and heard me take me more customer phone calls than I normally do when I work from home. He asked why I talked so weird and wanted everyone to have a great day.

      3. Lady Luck*

        I got in trouble for my phone skills at work not too long ago. I was polite and did everything correctly, but that didn’t matter. I got reprimanded for not sounding “cheery.”

      4. Dona Florinda*

        My very first job was phone operator and I swear my voice had some sort of automatic on/off switch. As soon as I picked up the phone, I was cheerful to the point of sounding childish. Definitely not my usual tone, and until I heard myself recorded I had no idea I sounded so different.

      5. Ash*

        Customer Service Voice is definitely a thing. My voice goes up like an octave higher than normal. My brother called my work phone once and commented on it, like, “Is that you? You sound weird.”

    2. pancakes*

      I hope some of you who’ve worked CSR jobs have seen Sorry to Bother You. It’s a weird movie but clever, funny, and well done. It’s about a black CSR who finds that he has huge success code-switching to a peppy white voice for his calls, and things take off from there.

  9. The Tin Man*

    I do feel for the manager here, it sounds like it is both not at all acceptable but also it is hard to coach someone on behavior that you haven’t directly observed. Not out of doubt, but just for specificity’s sake

    1. anonymous73*

      I think it’s less about not having observed the behavior first hand, and more about the fact that nobody can provide specifics on why they find her rude.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      In those situations, I end up having to focus on what I expect to see consistently see from them in terms of customer service. When multiple, unrelated people are complaining, it’s unlikely nothing but harder to coach around for sure. (I often prefer to provide some feedback like this in broad specifics rather than specific incidents because specific incidents sometimes lead to a sidebar about why that specific incident occurred – to me, customers are reporting that you are taking a week to confirm their appointments is easier feedback than Bob said you didn’t confirm his appointment for 10 days.)

  10. Dust Bunny*

    I had to call our alarm company for assistance yesterday and the first customer service rep I talked to was so useless and difficult that I said, “Never mind, we’ll figure it out,” and hung up. They wanted the name on our account even after I’d given them our account number and both passwords, didn’t seem to understand the name when I gave it to them, and then only grudgingly agreed to proceed after I’d supplied all the other information on our profile. Then they “helped” by referring me to the instructions on the website, which wasn’t working at the time. The alarm panel was shrilling in my ear off and on the whole time, Forget that.

    When I called back an hour later I got someone else who was great.

    This matters, OP. Maybe you need to set up some fake customers or something to figure out what’s going on.

      1. Library Stowaway*

        I was once a front desk worker and we indeed got shopped regularly by professionals.

      2. pancakes*

        That is a business. I was a secret diner for a local restaurant group for a little while years ago. It seemed like a fun way to get free three-course dinners for me and a friend, but the reports were tedious to write up. I had to write up things like, did the server tell us all the specials without prompting, etc.

        1. it's me*

          I used to work for a mystery shopping company and processed the reports—while it may be tedious, the companies paying for the shopping to take place do need something to work with to make it worth paying for your food.

          1. pancakes*

            I know, and I think the rubric this group used was pretty fair. There wasn’t anything on it that seemed out of place, and I didn’t have problems with any other aspect of it. The restaurant group is a local one I respect, not a mega-corp reheating microwave dinners. It just wasn’t worthwhile for me to be doing more work on top of my regular work.

      3. Splendid Colors*

        I had a job for a while doing telephone secret shopping. We had a big contract with a car rental place, plus various car dealerships and some other types of businesses. My ex had a second job at a chain photo lab and his company did a lot of secret shopping on their employees.

  11. Just Another Starving Artist*

    This may be a differing expectations thing — customers want conversation and to feel like they’re the number one priority, and to her they’re just one of many priorities and she wants them dealt with and out of the way. In that case, it’s a reminder that while they’re in her presence or on the phone, she can’t actually let them know she’d rather be anywhere else doing anything else.

    If she’s a good worker in other ways, she may be a better fit for elsewhere in the office.

    (There’s also the possibility that people are expecting a higher level of deference/interaction than is normal, but OP would know better than we would. I just tend to be wary of accusations of rudeness without concrete examples, given how often I’ve seen “they were rude” mean some variety of “they told me no.”)

    1. Lizziana*

      This is a really good point. Since COVID, our front desk staff has taken on a number of collateral duties to fill their time given that we have been closed to in person visitors for almost 2 years. I had one employee complain to me that he was frustrated that he kept getting “interrupted” by walk ins and couldn’t get anything done.

      It’s taken some explicit conversations since we reopened that their primary duty is customer service, and as a management team, we’re okay if some of those other duties get delayed. If they spend the day helping customers, they got a lot done. We’re also in the process of adjusting their performance plans to better track the number of people they’re helping to make sure they get credit for that come annual review/bonus season, especially if that help comes at the expense of other, more trackable metrics (in hindsight, we should have done that years ago, but it never was an issue).

    2. You're Soaking In It*

      ” “they were rude” mean some variety of “they told me no.””
      Especially with any woman with whom they must interact because we are still expected to be deferential people-pleasers at all times, no matter the context.

  12. Coin_Operated*

    The LW doesn’t specify this, but one thing that could be at play here is racial if this receptionist is a person of color, but most of the customers are white. I’m only highlighting it since no one can give specifics, and that’s a common thread with white people complaining about “rudness” fromCSR’s of color. Most of my CRS co–workers of color experienced this regularly.

      1. CatLady*

        Along similar lines, my immediate thought was – “the receptionist is young/cute and the complainers are guys aren’t they?”. If a young woman doesn’t respond or pushed back on “flirting” then she’s rude or difficult.

    1. Limotruck87*

      I instantly thought that as well. The fact that the manager couldn’t observe anything out of the ordinary even when she “hid” herself, the fact that despite multiple complaints not a single one could say in what way, exactly, the receptionist had been rude. This is so, so common, particularly Black feminine-presenting people who are automatically categorized as “angry” for behavior that doesn’t bat an eye when coming from a white person, particularly a masculine-presenting person.

      1. Margaery Tyrell*

        I’m really glad someone else brought this up. This was something that occurred to me — people of color, and especially Black women so often get their tone policed, and with no specifics, it reads far more likely to me that it could be discrimination rather than any fault of the receptionist’s.

        If she is a woman of color, the manager needs to be especially astute to these optics, and to please protect the receptionist from this kind of feedback.

        (I know this is an old letter, but hopefully enough of us in the commentariat point this out as a necessary perspective in the conversation.)

    2. cynara c*

      I wondered this, too.

      Or, if the receptitionist is a woman, and is perfectly pleasant but not over the top polite and smiley the way many people expect women to be….could play in to this.

      A few local businesses have a lot of reviews about surly staff — businesses I patronize and have never seen staff being jerks to others, or rude, and where I’ve never experienced that myself, either, despites years of weekly or more frequent visits. These are high-volume places (think coffee shops and so on) so I’m sure folks have had the occasional subpar exchange with staff. But not at the level reflected by this subsection of reviews. What those places have in common is that the staff largely dress outside the mainstream, have more piercings/tatoos, and other visible characteristics of “alternative” lifestyles.

      So, I think it’s worth considering whether some variation of this is contributing here.

    3. Pamming*

      Ding Ding Ding!

      I am actively wondering if this person is a WOC that just immediately drop a phone call when someone came in. Or if she said “thank you” with only a small smile. Or if she took a drink of water *gasp* in front of a customer. Or if she said “no problem.” Or if she smiled too much and it seems fake. Or whatever other crazy thing *some* people say when a WOC kindly treats them as a regular human being.

      These are all complaints I’ve gotten.

      1. pancakes*

        It would also explain why she went silent when the letter writer talked to her about it. There’s no reasoning with someone who is hyper-vigilant with POC about things like this.

      2. tangerineRose*

        That would explain why no one seems to be able to clearly explain what’s going on.

        1. pancakes*

          That too. And one of the more interesting details in the comment on the original letter is, “People request to speak to me ALL THE TIME and it’s about the most trivial things.”

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes, I thought this too! Typically rudeness can be described to some degree, so if the only complaints have been “well SOMETHING about her was rude but I can’t say what”, then my brain sadly jumps to that something being racism.

    5. kiki*

      This was my first thought too. Especially if the receptionist is in a position where she has to say no to people, even if it’s a phrased politely and is a reasonable thing to be told no to, a lot of white people *hate* being told no by people of color and lose their shit.

      1. Me but better*

        I never comment but had to here. I like Allison but feel like she can have a bit of a blind spot here. On letters where people are frustrated at being passed over in favor those who have less experience and fewer qualifications, there’s usually not even an acknowledgement of the possibility that these folks that get hired for being more “leader-y” or having that “je ne sais quoi” are viewed that way because of race (or gender or class or whatever).

        Me and colleagues who are also POC have noticed that as we aquire more education and experience, the old arguments re: education/experience/meritocracy that used to block us are replaced by more nebulous justifications about not having “leadership qualities”.

    6. Former Young Lady*

      This is sooooo important.

      “Rude” with specific examples might mean the receptionist is being rude.

      “Rude” without specific examples often means “I expect this person to be impossibly submissive and deferential to me because of her race, gender, and job title; instead, she has set boundaries, and I am LIVID.”

    7. starfox*

      Yes, in the update, it was revealed that the receptionist was black. However, LW updated today (Allison provided a link above) and the receptionist actually was shockingly rude and eventually had to be let go.

      However, I still think this is an important point. But going further, even when everyone is the same race, people who are super nice to the “professional” are often incredibly rude to the receptionist. I have been a receptionist and “the professional” at the same office, and people will be like night and day. I’ll have the receptionist warn me that someone is rude, but nope… they were only rude to HER because people see the receptionist as “beneath them.”

      I’ve been called rude because a caller was screaming and cursing at me over the phone because the “professional” had not finished the thing the caller needed yet. I said, “I’m sorry, I cannot help you, good-bye” and hung up. She left a review about how rude the staff is for hanging up on her. I’m white (although… to be fair, this particular caller was black, but I think she would’ve still screamed at me if I were black as well, so I don’t think this particular issue was a race thing).

  13. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    Industry makes a difference sometimes. I once worked the front desk at a construction supplier. The customers…tended to not regard women well as a default so I was stuck between acquiescing to misogynistic expectations or standing up for myself in ways that male customers and coworkers would perceive as rude.

    1. WorkNowPaintLater*


      Worked 20+ years in various construction offices, a good two-thirds of it at the front desk (seems to be where they like to put the office admin…). I do not miss the surliness of that job at all.

  14. Prefer my pets*

    To absolutely no surprise, when I went back to the comments on original letter, the receptionist is black and everyone else is white. Which explains why no one can give exact examples of her being rude and why she didn’t defend herself when accused of being rude. She knew exactly why people were complaining about her and there was nothing she could do about it. Also, the LW had specifically asked her to screen frivolous calls, so she was being reprimanded for doing what she was told on top of all the racial discrimination she faced off the bat. Poor woman!

    1. Nameless in Customer Service*

      Thank you for going back to find this out. I was a bit afraid to.

    2. Coin_Operated*

      If that’s true, Alison, I think this would be a major difference in your answer on Slate, and something worth correcting, but understandable since it’s not a detail in the original letter.

      1. D*

        There’s a note in this post that this is a repost of an older letter, which is in the archives with the original answer on this site.

    3. D*

      Yeeeep, which is why I don’t exactly like Alison’s answer of, “Well, you can’t keep a receptionist everyone thinks is rude.”

      I mean. Your employees and customers are racist. They’re being racist. And the advice is…well, you have to give in to the racism?

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Agreed. The answer to this question isn’t appropriate in this case and should be reflected.

        1. starfox*

          The LW updated here… the receptionist actually was being rude, and there’s email proof.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Yes. If people think she’s rude but can’t explain why they think she’s rude or give a single example of her doing or saying anything rude, surely that’s an indication that there could be something else going on, so much so that I’m surprised it wasn’t pointed out in the answer.

      3. Velawciraptor*

        I’m disappointed that in going back, Alison didn’t learn the lesson from the comments section and on review, approach the letter from that perspective, looking out for the subtext. Plenty of people here picked up on the potential for the underlying problem being racism. Especially with the second bite at the apple, Alison should have too.

        1. kate the great*

          Do you expect her to read through all the comments every time she reprints a letter? I don’t expect her to read them the first time around, I definitely wouldn’t expect it on the second. That’s putting an outsized importance on the comment section. These are just reprints of what was printed the first time.

        2. BigHairNoHeart*

          The comment in question was only added to the post several days after the post went up and no one responded to it in that post, so it didn’t get much attention. I’m guessing Alison just didn’t see it and that’s why she didn’t update the answer now to reflect that.

    4. Fluffy Fish*

      This is an important enough detail that I wish Alison would post at the top.

      This happens so often to black women – it needs to be called out for what it is so that when the complaints come in, managers recognize the issue and address it with the complainers not the black employee.

    5. CommsMan*

      Yeah, I was so worried this was going to be the case as well. Allison, I think it was a bit neglectful to not include this possibility in your answer – it is an incredibly common experience for POC and most especially Black women.

      1. D*

        Yeah, the detail wasn’t in the letter, but it was obvious enough that many commenters picked up on it as a possibility…and Alison didn’t even mention it in the answer, which doesn’t feel great.

        1. Writer*

          Agreed. It’s worth mentioning even if it’s not in the original letter because it is so, so common.

        2. Juniper breeze Bath and Body works*

          Yes I’m actually really surprised Alison completely ignored that huge red flag.

      2. Margaery Tyrell*

        +1 to Allison please attaching a note or correction addressing this issue!

    6. Siege*

      Gross, but not surprising. I have to admit that thought was a little late into the station, but it still turned up – I think it’s a problem whenever anyone can’t give specifics about what’s wrong and the chances are REALLY good, as in this case, that the “problem” is that the clients are acting on racist impulses.

    7. Aggresuko*

      I wish I could hug that poor receptionist after reading this. “She knew exactly why people were complaining about her and there was nothing she could do about it,” indeed :(

    8. Karil*

      She has said many times that she doesn’t read all the comments, she may never have even seen it.

    9. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      Oh, that’s just so upsetting and disappointing. That poor woman.

    10. LMB*

      I KNEW it. I couldn’t get past the first sentence without thinking ok this is either just misogyny, racism, both, or at the very least some kind of language/cultural barrier. In any case the huge red flag is that no one can specify what she is doing that is rude or it seems even give a general sense of what she’s doing wrong. I wonder why Alison chose to edit all this out in her reposting?

      1. kate the great*

        Edited what out? The letter at Inc has the same info as was in the letter originally. I’ve never seen her include additional details from the comment section when she does reprints. As someone else pointed out she might not even have seen those.

      2. Cat Lover*

        She didn’t edit anything out- the original letter was exactly as printed here.

      3. Aka*

        I don’t think the letter was edited at all except for the first line (which says nothing about anyone’s race)…the original letter is at the second or third link if you search the site for this post’s title, but it’s part of a 5-question set that leads with “I’m supposed to hide that I was a stay-at-home mom” so it’s not obvious.

        Will try to add another comment after this with the full link, but even in the original letter there’s nothing about the receptionist being a WOC until you find a comment from “Question #2″…it was posted a week or two after the original letter and confirms people’s suspicions.

    11. Bernice Clifton*

      I really thought that it didn’t make sense that people couldn’t give examples of the rudeness. If you feel that someone has been rude or unhelpful enough to complain, I feel like you should be able to explain the gist of what was said or done that was rude.

    12. BigHairNoHeart*

      Ah, thank you for finding that! I also went to look and unless I’m missing something, it looks like the OP of that letter only left a few comments and did so several days after the letter was posted. I was wondering why Alison wouldn’t have updated her response this time around in light of the additional details, but I’m guessing she, like pretty much everyone else who read the original letter when it was posted, didn’t see them. Not sure the Inc. response can be edited at this point, but maybe Alison could add a note at the top of this comment section?

    13. MEH Squared*

      Yes. I vaguely remembered the racial aspect of this letter from the first time around and it completely changes the tenor of the question. Even without the racial aspect, though, the fact that the LW could not get anyone to be specific or find anything wrong when she did her own informal investigation suggested to me it was more a problem with the customers/coworkers than the receptionist.

    14. nobadcats*

      That’s what I was thinking! Thanks for looking it up. Sounded like some of the vague criticisms I have heard at different jobs about Black women I worked with. I always countered with a bemused, “Hm [head tilt], that’s odd, she’s always been lovely when we’ve worked together.” and walked away.

    15. lemon lime*

      Thanks for sharing this (unsurprising) information. I’ve experienced this sort of customer interaction as a Black women who’s had public-facing roles, and I’m so disappointed in Alison’s advice. It’s great that LW sensed something was amiss, but the AAM response reads to me as a missed opportunity to highlight a common workplace and management issue for many marginalized folks.

  15. Tirving*

    Your receptionist is the initial face of your company. If they are rude/ difficult to deal with, it reflects on your company as a whole and will lose you business. I’ve taken my personal and professional business elsewhere due to bad experiences with receptionists. I used to volunteer at a hospital where we’d offer patient referrals to doctors and would constantly get calls back from people who couldn’t get past the receptionist’s attitude. I told the doctors about her,( husband and wife team) and they answered yes, they knew she was difficult, but she was really good at her other duties. I just stopped referring patients to them.

  16. 2 Cents*

    I work for a huge healthcare system in marketing and something I’m trying to get the higher ups to listen to is people will leave practices, even if they love their doctors, because of the ancillary staff. I know I do. Plus, there’s a difference between someone who is talking to me efficiently and someone who is being brusque. I live in NYC. I’ve heard both.

    1. Alexa*

      Bless you for this. My doctor is amazing. Her front desk staff are painful to deal with, and have to be flattered and coaxed into doing basic job tasks (checking in patients, taking payment etc). I live in NYC so I don’t expect to be catered to but I do expect to be able to pay my bill and not wait just because the receptionist is doing their nails.

  17. I'm Done*

    I have switched physicians due to their rude receptionists. If two customers complained I bet there are 20 that didn’t. And if they are getting the feedback from her colleagues as well as their customers they better take their blinders off and deal with it. I’m not sure I would even bother to coach her. I think she does because she thinks she can get away with it.

  18. middle name danger*

    One of the only surgeons near me that does top surgery had a MA that was rude enough to make me uncomfortable, and a receptionist that repeatedly misgendered me. (I was there for trans affirming care! And you misgender me!) The surgeon himself was great. I started looking into other options who would require a longer drive and longer wait time because of it, but luckily the assistant left, so I decided it was worth staying.

    A rude or confrontational receptionist is absolutely affecting your business.

  19. Blue Glass*

    I have left more than one medical practice because the receptionist was rude. And I never said anything to the doctors. Maybe I should have.

    But if this many people gave complained to you in person, you’d probably be surprised to know how many also felt the way but just didn’t want to take the trouble to tell you, make a stink about it, etc. They just took their business elsewhere if they were customers.

  20. Karia*

    I’d be *really keen* to get those specific examples. Because complaints like rude / unprofessional/ unfriendly / cold, often get levelled at minorities.

    Mid Comment Edit: Thanks Prefer my Pets; what a surprise, the receptionist is black and the complainers were white.

    Mystery solved, OP.

    1. Blue Glass*

      Things are rarely black and white.

      You can be rude. You can be black. Both statements can be true at the same time.

      1. Karia*

        *Non specific* complaints of rudeness are often a result of prejudice.

        “Jane was rude to me. She snapped at me and sighed theatrically when I asked her to do something.”

        “Jane was rude to me.”



        See the difference?

        1. Lacey*

          Yes, exactly. It’s not that black people can never be rude, but if they were actually being rude the customers would be able to describe it, even it was just, “She seemed put out by my request”

        2. Blue Glass*

          What if the rudeness is in the person’s attitude?

          That can be honestly difficult to explain, although I suppose you can say things like “She’s short with me” or “She seems annoyed by my request” or “She rolled her eyes when I asked her when I could get X.”

          How would you receive feedback like that if you were the OP?

          I think it’s unfair to assume that everyone who has complained is just doing so because they’re racist.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            I think it’s unfair to complain about someone being rude and then not give specifics. How are they supposed to know how to improve?

            1. Blue Glass*

              But would “She’s short with me” or “She seems annoyed by my request” or “She rolled her eyes when I asked her when I could get X” help you improve?

              1. Limotruck87*

                “She rolled her eyes” in particular, but also “she was short/abrupt or seemed annoyed by my request” are 100% actionable and useful information.

                I think it’s really unusual to escalate to the point of making a complaint without being able to describe anything specific or actionable. Typically people want to give as many specifics as possible to strengthen their point. The fact that apparently not a single one of the complainers can make a comment even as specific as “She seemed annoyed by my request” is odd, and very suspicious that something else is going on.

                1. Blue Glass*

                  I agree that it does seem odd that nobody was specific.

                  But some people might feel uncomfortable complaining about anything related to attitude, especially if the other person is black. After reading some of these comments I know I won’t make that mistake.

                  So I’ll just continue to not complain about rude receptionists, regardless of color, and take my business elsewhere, which doesn’t help management at all.

                2. Jennifer Strange*

                  @BlueGlass again, you seem to be missing the point that folks are trying to make. No one is saying that a POC can never be rude, or should never be called out for being rude; what we’re saying is that when someone complains about an employee being rude (especially when the employee is a POC and ESPECIALLY if the employee is female) and cannot give specifics it calls into question whether there is actually an issue with the employee or whether the complainer has a bias (conscious or unconscious). Absolutely complain when you encounter rudeness, but make sure you can give examples.

                3. Nameless in Customer Service*

                  Blue Glass, I for one am quite relieved that you’ve decided not to complain about Black people, since based on your comments here I don’t think you really would judge us fairly.

                4. Limotruck87*

                  Blue Glass, you seem really invested in shutting down the possibility that race is a factor in this situation. You may want to just…sit with that for a bit. For us white people, it’s really common to try and distance ourselves from the idea that we can ever be racist, especially if it’s due to unconscious bias. It’s an uncomfortable thought! I completely get it.

                  But it is not okay to do it to the point where it’s verging on arguing in bad faith. Whether or not race plays a role in this specific instance, there are a lot of details that indicate it is a solid, plausible possibility. These types of microaggressions are real, they are very common, and to stubbornly insist that there’s NO WAY race could be a factor here and “I guess I’ll just never complain about anything at all so I don’t get accused of being racist,” is a bit disingenuous. Being accused of saying/doing something racist is not worse than being the recipient of racism.

                  The solution here is to self-reflect, and do our best to not contribute to a culture of harm toward non-white fellow citizens. We won’t always get it right, but we shouldn’t center ourselves in a discussion about race and declare “it’s all so confusing, I guess I just won’t ever say anything.” If it’s confusing, it’s okay to just…listen. We don’t have to comment on every scenario.

                5. EventPlannerGal*

                  @Blue Glass – The entire point that if you have actual specific examples of poor attitude, like the ones you literally just wrote out in your previous comment such as eye-rolling or obvious annoyance, you can certainly raise those. But if all you can come up with is some kind of ineffable indescribable aura of undefined “rudeness” and not even one specific example, then yeah, you should think about that.

                6. pancakes*

                  “But some people might feel uncomfortable complaining about anything related to attitude, especially if the other person is black. After reading some of these comments I know I won’t make that mistake.”

                  This seems fine. If people aren’t sure they can express their complaints clearly and in a way that isn’t racially charged, they can leave the complaining to someone else. A moment of discomfort about whether or not to complain about a customer service rep’s behavior isn’t an unbearable burden.

              2. Karia*

                Yes? I would be able to ensure I took more time with each customer, put extra effort into controlling my facial expressions, and would refrain from rolling my eyes. Those are specific, actionable pieces of feedback.

                I’d honestly be suspicious of any situation where an employee was getting a lot of very vague negative feedback. Especially if I saw no wrong-doing when observing unseen. It’s not just prejudice – bullying and mobbing are sadly commonplace, and more than once I’ve seen situations where “Jane is doing a bad job” actually just mean “We don’t like Jane”, especially in places where the workforce is particularly young or homogenous.

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            “ I suppose you can say things like “She’s short with me” or “She seems annoyed by my request” or “She rolled her eyes when I asked her when I could get X.””

            Well, yeah, all of those things are pretty simple specifics that you can easily point out and action. You just did it right there. But if multiple unrelated people cannot come up with a single specific example or descriptor of her alleged rudeness, that seems extremely suspect to me.

            1. River Otter*

              “Short with me” and “seems annoyed” are not specific. What did the person *do* that made them seem “short” or “annoyed”?

              1. metadata minion*

                They’re not line-by-line specific, but there are general things someone could try to seem less abrupt/annoyed. Taking more time to say “good morning” and other social fillers, smiling more, maybe waiting a beat before answering so you don’t accidentally cut someone off who wasn’t finished talking…and maybe none of that would help! But there are tons of general “how to appear friendly” tips out there.

          3. Nameless in Customer Service*

            I think it’s unfair to assume that everyone who has complained is just doing so because they’re racist.

            “Everyday” racism so often isn’t screaming slurs and burning crosses. So many people express unexamined attitudes that they’d (hopefully) be horrifed by if they let themselves realize what they’ve been doing.

            1. boo bot*

              100%. I think a lot of this kind of complaint comes down to white people perceiving the same behavior differently depending on who’s doing it, which is why the complainers in this letter are at a loss when asked for specifics.

              They *experience* the receptionist’s demeanor as rude because they consciously or unconsciously have different expectations for what “polite” looks like depending on the race of the person they’re interacting with. Or, they’re uncomfortable with her because she’s Black; therefore, they figure she must be *making* them uncomfortable; therefore, they conclude she must be rude.

          4. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            “She’s short with me”
            “She seems annoyed by my request”
            “She rolled her eyes when I asked her when I could get ”

            Uh, yeah. Those are all actual, real examples that are easy to give and are genuinely helpful to the people involved. They aren’t difficult to voice at all. If you can’t point to specifics like that, it’s not unreasonable to look at what might actually be going on, and when the non-specific complaints are entirely from white people about the only person of color working in the company, AND tone policing and discriminatory behaviors towards WOC in the workplace are a documented thing, it is absolutely something you should consider as a possibility.

            I think maybe you think that all racism is very deliberate? Or a conscious action? That’s not the case.

          5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            “She was short with me.” “She seemed annoyed.”
            These are tangible things that the complaining party can illustrate.
            How was she short with you?
            “I asked her where I can find X record and she said [it’s not my job/I’m not a file clerk/whatever.]”
            And OP can address language.
            How did she seem annoyed?
            “She [rolled her eyes/sighed/said, Seriously?/said, I wish people could learn their jobs.]”
            Same with this.
            Nobody wants to illustrate anything at all? Like, “it’s a vibe, OP. Trust me.”

      2. Nom*

        It can also be true that what white people perceive as “rudeness” is actually their own racism.

        1. Karia*

          As an incisive commenter called Boo Bot said on the original post:

          “It’s a commonplace for “rude” or “abrasive” or “loud” to be coded descriptors for “she was talking while black/trans/female-and-disagreeing-with-me.”

      3. Siege*

        Yeah, that’s true. And in that case, you’d be able to articulate what it was that was rude. If you can’t? It’s your own racism in the way.

    2. Researchalator Lady*

      See the OP’s update below, where they saw specific examples of rude emails and the OP was eventually let go.

  21. E*

    Allison just did an article about this – but it’s how rude customers and clients are being. So many customers will try to pin a bad interaction on the front desk to get a discount or whatever. If the employees at your company can’t be clear about what she is doing that is rude, this could also just be scapegoating about processes the front desk has no control over. Idk.

    1. Eleanor Shellstrop*

      Yeah, as a former receptionist, this was my first thought too. If my former managers had believed every ridiculous complaint about me, I wouldn’t have had a job! Luckily they were able to trust their observations of me doing good work and recognize when certain customers/coworkers were being unreasonable.

      Someone mentioned upthread that this could also be an issue of racism, which makes this even more of a possibility, especially if no one who is complaining can seem to pinpoint *what* exactly they are complaining about.

    2. Karia*

      Yep. I used to work at a place with a ‘flat’ hierarchy where we all used to answer the phone. I once had a complaint levelled against me for not putting through a call the boss had *specifically told me* not to connect.

    3. starfox*

      YES. So, I was wrong in this situation because LW updated here and the receptionist’s behavior continued to deteriorate until she was fired.

      But I have been both a receptionist and the “professional” on the other side of the door at the same practice. People who are perfectly kind to the “professional” will treat the receptionist like garbage because they think they’re just “the help.” People regularly call our office and scream at the receptionist for things totally outside of her control. When I worked in that role, I would say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you, good-bye” and hang up the phone rather than get screamed at. Well, of course, we got bad Google reviews because I didn’t sit there and let someone scream and curse at me when I had work to do.

      Also, office staff gets blamed for things that isn’t office staff’s fault. We had an instance where a professional was super late in writing a report… We got a Google review about how kind and wonderful the professional was, but how awful the office staff was for taking so long to get the report to them. Uhh… you’re waiting on the “kind and wonderful” professional! It has nothing to do with office staff.

      Again, I was wrong in this instance per the update, but I would caution anyone getting these kinds of comments about their receptionist to give the receptionist the benefit of the doubt. It isn’t rude to hang up the phone when someone is screaming and cursing at you!

  22. Marilyn Monroe dress*

    Apparently the receptionist is black, and everyone who is complaining about her is white. I was kind of wondering if she was white or not, based off the lack of specificity in the complaints about her. I think this is really really important, and that Alison should address the biases that may be at play.

  23. WellRed*

    Look at all the comments about rude staff at medical offices. Why is that, I wonder?

    1. Heidi*

      I just assumed it was where most people were likely to encounter a “receptionist.” The front person at a bank, hotel, store, or whatever other places we used to go (it’s been a long time so I can’t think of other places) isn’t always called a receptionist. I also think there might be a greater expectation of niceness at the medical office and so rudeness stands out more.

      1. Cat Lover*

        They aren’t called “receptionist” at doctor’s offices either. At least in my area they are either “patient care coordinators” or “office admin/coordinators”

    2. NotaDoctor*

      When I worked as a front desk receptionist for a family practice/walk in clinic I was often called a bitch, lazy, or a Nazi because we didn’t accept someone’s insurance, required payment upfront, a doctor had not filled a prescription/answered a question or a patient didn’t like our clinics policies, or a doctor who was scheduled the way we had been instructed to schedule them was running late and that was obviously my fault. I had at least 2 death threats because a doctor declined to fill a narcotic prescription for someone. Being yelled/screamed at was a daily occurrence and our practice owners and manager did not care, because that’s medicine. Plus, if a patient was rude/made/yelling they would typically calm down some for the MA and be nice to the doctor, but the front of house staff didn’t matter to patients at all.

      The turnover for receptionists who weren’t me was extremely high, every 6 months or so we had to replace someone. I stayed for years because I planned to go to nursing school and they were flexible with my classes. Instead I eventually left and will never, ever work health care again.

      1. NotaDoctor*

        I think there’s probably an element to burn out after being treated like that. I quit when I stopped caring , but I was able to find another job fairly easily. I imagine that’s not always the case. It’s also possible that had I stayed I would have gotten rude/dismissive and probably could have held on to the job for awhile because of the high turnover.

      2. Cat Lover*

        I have worked at a physical therapy office for almost 3 years now, and COVID has been ROUGH. People are just so awful. Thankfully 99% of my patients are great, but those 1% are a doozy.

    3. Sylvan*

      Staff at medical offices take a lot of abuse, especially over the last two years. Not to excuse rudeness, just to say that I’d understand if they could use a break from smiling into the phone.

    4. TechWorker*

      I imagine there’s a tonne of factors but one might be that the consequences seem higher sometimes in healthcare? People seeking care are sometimes (not always) in a vulnerable position and being asked questions that seem irrelevant or overly personal (even if that is literally the receptionists job) can be stressful. Similarly, you might remember a bad experience more clearly because it felt ‘important’ in a way you wouldn’t remember a bad experience with a receptionist elsewhere.

    5. brushandfloss*

      Well if they’re from the US a lot of people don’t fully understand their insurance and it’s worse when it comes to dental and vision benefits. I help out with the front desk when I can, I see the people argue about copays, deductibles and yearly allowances. I see patients upset with us for the doctor closing the office in late December meaning they won’t use all of the yearly allowance despite not going to the dentist all year. Worst are the people who use the “I don’t understand” tactic. They keep asking the same questions over and over again trying to get a different answer.

      1. pancakes*

        I’ve seen people do this with pharmacists as well.

        I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices over the past fifteen years or so, and I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior there. The last time I went for a mammogram, a woman in the waiting room was monologuing to herself the whole time about how long the wait was. When I was called, she jumped up to complain that she was there first. The nurse explained that I was seeing a different doctor (I was there for a sonogram as well), but this woman continued muttering and shooting me dirty looks in the other, more private waiting room even after we’d both changed into robes. I know it’s stressful to be there, it’s stressful for me as well, but wearing it on one’s sleeve that way is crude and selfish.

      2. Cat Lover*

        If you ask the average American what their insurance benefits are (just like basic deductible, etc), 9/10 won’t know. Patients argue with me alllll the time that their insurance should cover this and that when it… doesn’t? Like, please read your insurance/benefits booklet.

        I understand that insurance is a scam and a lot of the times doesn’t make sense, denied things for no reason, etc. But please, please educate yourselves on the basics.

  24. hmmmmmmm*

    It strikes me that no one is able to give direct evidence. Other commenters are right that rudeness in a receptionist is a huge issue, but not being able to pinpoint how they were rude is…weird. It gives me the impression that it’s not anything she’s doing, but rather her overall demeanor, which is much, much harder to quantify, fix, and frankly, leaves open the possibility that the complainants are working from a place of bias.

    Another commenter rightly pointed out that POC will get more complaints about “rudeness” than white coworkers in customer service roles, often because white customers perceive very minor cultural differences in POC as more “rude” than they might perceive the same in a white CSR. The same can be said of neurodivergent workers; especially because so many learning disabilities/sensory processing disorders affect the ability to execute “proper” social cues. I was once told I had a “miserable personality” because I wasn’t looking the individual in the eye–eye contact is uncomfortable for me, and for all my work at maintaining a professional demeanor, my eyes move away from a customer’s face without my conscious control, so there’s only so much I can do to mitigate that. More subtle cultural differences–like an age gap–can also influence a perception of “rudeness.”

    The lack of evidence as to what was actually done doesn’t mean the complainants weren’t offended; it means they were offended by something that lies in that unspoken realm between human beings, and we so often simply can’t control how our unspoken “signals” are interpreted by others, especially if they come from a different background.

    1. Nameless in Customer Service*

      This is a very astute comment. Sometimes I ask myself why I read the comments — beautiful bits of wisdom like this are the reason.

  25. Forkeater*

    You are absolutely losing business because of her. I almost dropped our pediatrician because I so dreaded calling to make appointments. But then she got a new receptionist so I didn’t have to.

  26. Library Lagomorph*

    If this situation runs along minority/majority lines or even different standards of appearance (clothing, nails, makeup, tatoos, etc) — I’d want to be sure the problem is not at the customer end. (Swear to goodness I’ve seen people insulted by the fact that the person they were interacting with had a fancy nail do.)

    However, there can be another problem that isn’t directly within the receptionist’s control. Are all the interactions related to a specific program/product/etc. where there might be a consistent problem in the organization itself? When the front line has to, for instance, refer people to a difficult employee, or tell people there’s something they can’t fix, the stress of doing so can easily show through.

    One other thing the manager or mentor might do is to ask the employee to do some role-playing with them, where the manager acts like a difficult customer and the receptionist practices strategies to respond.

    I’d also suggest the following book for anyone who has to deal with difficult customer service interactions as an employee: Working with Difficult People: Handling the Ten Types of Problem People Without Losing Your Mind
    by Amy Cooper Hakim, Muriel Solomon

    1. Nameless in Customer Service*

      That looks like a really useful book recommendation. Thank you for it.

    2. starfox*

      I agree that minorities have it even worse, but honestly, even if the customer and the receptionist is the same race, people treat receptionists like dirt.

      I’m now the “professional” on the other side of the door, and I’ll have the receptionist warn me that the person is really rude and snappy, and they’ll be just fine to me. I started out as a receptionist at the same office, and encountered the extreme rudeness. People legitimately complained that I was rude because I said, “I’m sorry, I cannot help you further, good-bye” on the phone while they were screaming and cursing at me. Apparently you are expected to just sit there and listen to abuse rather than actually getting work done…. And I’m white! (although, in that particular instance, the caller was black, so we weren’t the same race, but I think she would’ve screamed at me just as much if I were black, too).

  27. Spicy Tuna*

    The front desk staff at my vet’s office (which is a nationwide chain) was very rude. I updated my Yelp review to reflect that the medical staff was great but the front desk staff was rude. The office manager contacted me personally to ask for more details and for a second chance because they were coaching staff. The next time I called, the person answering the phone was friendlier and more receptive but then must never have passed my question on to the actual vet because there was zero follow up.

    Also, there is a place in my city to get bloodwork (also part of a nationwide chain). The receptionist was mindbogglingly rude to me, but I figured she was having an off day and maybe I was a little hangry from fasting before bloodwork. The very next week, someone posted on NextDoor about this woman’s aggressive rudeness and at least 50 other people reported that they had the same experience!

    1. LMB*

      Does anyone ever take to the Internet in droves to complain that a white man was rude to them? Seriously have they been to have their car serviced ever?

    2. pancakes*

      I’m not clear on what more follow-up you expected from the vet’s office. It does sound like they coached front desk staffers to be more polite. If you were still unhappy with how they treated you after that, that seems like a good reason to switch vets rather than keep being let down.

      Next Door does not seem like a reliable source of information on what is or isn’t rude. It seems to be a huge draw for curtain-twitchers and worse. It also doesn’t seem like an effective way to get feedback to the diagnostics chain.

  28. Optimistic Prime*

    We had something like that happen at my past job. The boss actually had a friend of theirs call and pose as a customer to get a better understanding of what was going on. It was a bit more on the sneaky side, but the friend did explain what the problem was. and it was more about the tone and the curt manner in which she answered the question. Then the boss had something to speak to the receptionist about.

  29. LMB*

    I want to reiterate comments above that this is an edited version of an original letter Alison answered in Slate that specifies the receptionist is Black and everyone else is white. That basically says all you need to know. Even without the racism element, there’s so much going on here related to what we expect from women in these types of roles. Especially if she is a young woman, she may be trying to put on “serious” tone when working with customers, but customers expect to see “bubbly” young woman so they take it as “rude” when she’s not. The major red flag here is that no one can specify what she is doing wrong. Like everyone in the comments, it seems, I have had really bad interactions with receptionists at doctors offices. BUT in such a case you have to ask yourself what exactly this person did that was wrong. If they were generally helpful and answered your questions and you got what you needed but you just didn’t like their tone or they sounded abrupt, that may be more a problem with you than with them. People, including women and also including Black women, are just trying to do their jobs. No one owes you “bubbles” in the process.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is absolutely incorrect and I don’t know where you’re getting that from! The original letter is linked below and did not include details about race. I see that details were added in the comments; they were not in the original letter. Whether I should have speculated that race could be in play is a different question and I think the answer to that is definitely yes!


      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Hey Alison, I’m glad you’re seeing these comments! Do you think there’s a chance of adding a note to the post about this? It’s such a big piece of information and really changes the context of the entire question.

  30. Yup*

    Maybe she’s tired of being described by her boss as “bubbly”. Unless she’s 10 year old.

  31. Jennay*

    Reception is one of those jobs that doesn’t get the credit it deserves, because being good at reception is a talent. It requires high EQ and a genuine desire to help people solve problems, and also, frankly, charm—the ability to make people feel important TO YOU—in addition to balancing the non-interpersonal tasks of the job, which can vary widely. I LOVED reception when I temped—I’d take it over a more highly paid admin role—because you develop relationships with people: frequent callers, delivery workers, frequent clients. (I’m not saying I necessarily have high EQ and tons of charm!) You have to enjoy being the bright spot in someone’s day and problem-solving as a service, and a euphonic voice helps (you can get training for this, and euphonic does not mean a neutral dialect—all dialects can be euphonic). It sounds to me like she is just not suited for the role. You can’t just stick anyone on reception.

    1. Jennay*

      Edit: now seeing comments that the receptionist is Black and complainers are white—this changes the situation completely, of course, as the complaints are far more likely to be due to racism or bias, whether conscious or unconscious.

    2. Nameless in Customer Service*

      You sound like an absolutely excellent receptionist. I wish I could take you for coffee and garner some good advice!

      1. Jennay*

        I haven’t been one in years, but in several of the places I worked, I really liked it. I think it’s a good job for people who are drawn to helping professions, and also for people who are either extroverted or, like me, more introverted but like to be extroverted when the norms and parameters are clear, and the interactions are generally brief. I will say I did this in corporate environments that weren’t incredibly fast-paced: working in a doctor’s office or a high traffic situation is a bigger challenge, for sure.

  32. Not your typical admin*

    Sometimes, when a lower level employee is not able to solve a clients problems, it can lead to frustration on both sides and the appearance of rudeness. I worked as a teller/receptionist in at back during the early 2000s when everyone was refinancing the home loans. Because of the intricate nature of loans, and how fast things were changing, I wasn’t allowed to answer any questions other than the most basic. For most customers I would take a message and have our loan officer call them back. Our loan officer went from having 5-6 calls to return a day to 20-30, and was extremely back logged. Customers because frustrated when they had to wait longer than expected, and I came off as unhelpful and sometimes rude when I could only repeat that I would have their call returned, but I had no idea when that would happen.

    Sometimes it’s not the people, it’s the systems they’re having to work with.

  33. Admin Amber*

    There are departments where I cringe when I have to work with their admin assistants. I am not sure where the nastiness comes from other than they have been in their position for far too long and haven’t been promoted or poached for a better position. Maybe due to their nasty personalities. Very fustrating.

  34. Isabel Archer*

    Well so far there are 108 comments and not one person has suggested the LW ask if the receptionist is okay UNRELATED TO WORK. She’s not overworked or stressed about work, but she could be, I dunno, depressed? Dealing with a family situation? Getting over a breakup? Pet died? Has relatives in Ukraine? Geez, people.

    I’m not saying any of this is LW’s business, necessarily, or that the receptionist is obligated to disclose her personal beeswax, but there are endless reasons why someone might not be capable of “bubbly” and “warm” all day every day. Her job is not her life.

    1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      This is important. What we also don’t know is how internal coworkers are treating her too. I’ve been the receptionist before, and at one job, one person seemed awfully comfortable handing me a toilet brush to start taking care of the inside unisex bathroom. I handed it back. Of course, Mrs. Hawiggins was then called into the director’s office because “Sansa indicated you seemed quite mean and nasty today.” Then I told her I wasn’t equipped for a job that required me to clean bathrooms. I mean nothing pejorative to anyone that does have to do this, but all of a sudden one day this manager decided I would.

      Sometimes in this role, sadly, you are seen as lower on the whatchacallit pole, and not a member of the team. I’m not trying to excuse this person’s behavior, maybe honestly it is bad, but I would at least ONE time ask if everything was ok and see if it wasn’t the team/coworkers/etc., who weren’t prompting the behavior too. You never know who’s said, “What makes you think YOU could ever go,” when I said how nice a gala a coworker went to sounded. Then I saw her at one.

      As for doctor office type behavior, yes, dealt with that too, and gave an honest answer when they asked why I wanted my records transferred to a new physician. Sometimes, the toxicity spills over. I tend to vote with my feet when it does.

  35. Lady Luck*

    Okay, story/confession time. A few months back, my bank screwed something up and I was very irritated about. I called and spoke to a customer service rep and, because I was so annoyed (even though it wasn’t her fault), I was very short and rude with her (and I am normally very patient). After a couple of minutes, she said something like, “I know you’re upset, but this isn’t my fault and I’m trying to help.”

    I appreciated her for calling me out. I apologized and spoke to her in a more polite tone. Now, I’m much more mindful of that when I’m on the phone and worked up about something, especially if the person I’m talking to has nothing to do with it. So, I do sort of wonder if the receptionist just gets busy/stressed with her other work during the day, and that causes her to speak very curtly when she otherwise wouldn’t.

    1. Cat Lover*

      I’ve been checking myself with reps on the phone as well. I usually start out with “I know this isn’t your fault but I’m frustrated because [blank]”.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Yep, same. I’ve been having issues with my insurance company and have had to speak with some folks who I know are just the messenger, so I always try to add in something like “I know this isn’t your fault, and I’m sorry that you’re the one who has to deal with my frustration.”

  36. Essess*

    Very bluntly… if the offended person can’t tell you what needs to be fixed, how in the world do you expect the receptionist to figure out how to fix it based on some vague “do better” comment? Is it the same people complaining? If so, make a point to be around the corner at times you know they will interact to tell if this is really a receptionist issue or a perception/bias issue?

  37. Not a telemarketer*

    Do you record your calls? I work with a call center. Playing back the calls can give insight into what’s going on.

    It might be the tone. We had staff who were not technically rude, but were not providing great customer service.

    As others have said, answering lots of call is an under-appreciated art. Some of the art is in seemingly minor things.

    Sometimes playing back different calls for the receptionist can be helpful. (e.g. I didn’t realize that I sounded negative when I said it that way. In the other call, when I said the same thing in a different way, it went over better.)

    If anyone knows of a good training program for people who answer lots of calls, I would be interested!

  38. Red*

    Idk, but is the receptionist a POC? Cause quite frankly the way the receptionist is described and the vague complaints of her has an entire air of racism at play. I can’t quite say why I get the sense that’s what it is but I would definitely consider this as part of the equation OP.

  39. SwampWitch85*

    Receptionists and executive assistants are people I will always side with having been one myself for most of my early working years and stand by the notion that receptionists and assistants are expected to know more than their bosses but also get paid the least. I’ve been physically and verbally abused by coworkers and the public I was helping. The sheer number of nonsensical complaints people made (I hung up the phone too hard, I dropped a stapler, I didn’t anticipate a staff member needed a certain color binder) gave me panic attacks after being called on the carpet by crappy bosses for nothing complaints. One customer walked into my work area and said “wow, if a shooter came in here you’d be a sitting duck.” and then proceeded to make finger guns at me before asking me for something I knew I’d have to say no to, now afraid he had a gun on him. So I’d offer also ask her if she feels safe and has enough support in dealing with people who may be pushing boundaries or not taking her first polite no for an answer.

    1. Cat Lover*

      Working patient-facing made me realize that a good number of people are just unhinged.

    2. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      I was complained about for typing a document and handing it back to the guy, “too fast.” He was “not ready to work on it yet, you shouldn’t have been so fast with it.” I told him that my work was perfect and that in all my years I’d never had a complaint of being too efficient and fast with projects. I told him if he’d rather I was too slow with his stuff I could easily make that happen.

  40. Chilipepper Attitude*

    One manager I had could put on a smile and say thing politely but you always knew she was mocking you and channeling her inner bit*h.

    If you looked it seemed fine, if you listened it might sound ok, but if you had the whole context you could see the shirtiness in her actions.

    OP, you might have to ask others for more context, as Alison said, and listen in if you can.

  41. OhBehave*

    I hope all of you who have left a service over rude office staff actually TOLD management why you left. They won’t know unless you tell them.

    OP – is there someone who fills in for this person? Of course if they are being named, it’s a no brainer. Keep in mind that some won’t say anything, they will just go elsewhere. Check their workload. Deadline heavy work + interruptions=frustration. Are the complainers the same people? Take a good look at them too.

  42. Original LW*

    It’s interesting to see everyone’s comments four years later, they definitely feel more aggressive right off the bat. This was the first time as a manager I had dealt with employee issues. I did ask the coordinator if she was ok and was told everything was fine. In regards to race, some of that may have contributed to it in regards to complaints but I don’t know. I did try to keep it in mind dealing with others that they may be complaining out of racial bias/racism. I did follow up with the internal employees as suggested to try to get specificity. I received email exchanges where she was rude that shocked me because she never spoke to me the way she did to these individuals. I attempted to work with her for several more months, I even tried to send her to some training classes offered by our institution. (we are not higher ed but similar) Nothing worked. Her behavior continued to get worse. I definitely think something was going on with her personally that she did not want to disclose. She was eventually fired after a long PIP process. The good news is that she is doing well now! She works in a similar position in our field (which is how I know her whereabouts) at a neighboring, smaller institution. She’s been there for years so everything seems to have worked out. It hurt and when we fired her, she told us she was going to kill herself. We tried to send her to the ER to no avail and the next morning when HR called she denied the entire incident. It made a tough situation a confusing one and I’ve never known what to think about that last meeting.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Thanks for this update. And think about how much we’ve gone through in the last 4 years. Collectively we’re definitely much more aware of race issues, whether or not that awareness is actually changing anything…. doesn’t feel like it.

      1. Jackie*

        Huh? I don’t get everyone’s response. Original LW is telling us yes, she was just, rude. As was clear in her email. What does racial awareness in the last 4 years have to do with it?

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          The difference is that many commenters here considered whether race might play a role in the perceptions of rudeness. It was an active discussion that most folks engaged with in good faith, acknowledging that oftentimes, implicit bias can and does affect how white folks interpret the actions of POC.

          While in this case, it sounds like the receptionist really was rude (sounds like it was due to overarching mental health issues), this is an important conversation to have. And it’s important for me to keep in mind, as an old white lady teacher of mostly POC high school kids.

      2. Flash Packet*

        It feels like people have gotten meaner both on social media and IRL, and not just when race is in play.

        I asked a support group (for people who work full-time but still have to care for their parents) for suggestions for a treadmill for my 75-year old mom, saying she spends all of her time sitting in front of her computer and TV, and that she said she doesn’t feel safe walking outside. I was either derided for “forcing” her to exercise against her will or shamed for not holding hands with her and going for long walks together.

        At no point did anyone in the group give me a recommendation for a treadmill.

        A co-worker was out to brunch over the weekend and a woman at the table next to his was given a plate of pancakes with a small cinnamon shaker on the side. The woman lost her shit and argued with the waitress because the menu description said “pancakes sprinkled with cinnamon” and, clearly, cinnamon on the side where you sprinkle whatever amount you want is *not* the same as “pancakes sprinkled with cinnamon”.

        My co-worker finally leaned over and said, “If you’d just pick up the shaker and sprinkle some cinnamon, this whole thing will be fixed.”

        1. Not Your Whipping Kid*

          You’re not wrong that people are getting worse. and even so, your story reminds me of a similar thing I went through in the early 00s! I’ve told this one on occasion (not here), and every time people have shaken their heads at how it turned out…but I feel like the days of people shaking their heads in near-disbelief are coming to an end after the past few years.

          I was on a large LiveJournal community for home tips–decorating, cleaning, maintenance, etc. My mother asked me to find a new dryer since she didn’t know much about the Internet. I didn’t know a thing about dryers, so I asked for recommendations on the community. People had always been reasonable there, so no big deal, right?

          And people WERE reasonable! Until ONE person showed up in the comments. I’d never even seen this guy post before, but he leaped on the “my mother wants” part of my post and started accusing me of not helping out around the house (I didn’t even live in the same state as my parents). Suddenly I was an abusive leech using my parents. I pointed out that I could not physically BE there to do my parents’ laundry every day because I was off living my own independent adult life, that I actually WAS helping my parents by finding their new appliance for them, and I was glad to do it.

          Didn’t matter what I said, this guy kept going off. The post had like thirty constructive advice comments before his, but suddenly, everyone did a complete 180 and began dogpiling on me as well. It was like everyone was determined to be the big hero who saved my parents from their terrible child. I was accused of keeping my parents locked up in a basement we never had, forcing them to do my chores, of physically abusing them, of stealing their money…these were LJ people I’d been interacting with peacefully for months, and now they all turned on me based on one rando guy’s wild accusations?

          The mods were worse than useless: instead of banning or even warning the guy who was the obvious troublemaker, they deleted my post and made a rule that advice posts were no longer allowed. Since advice posts were about 85% of the content there, it pretty much killed the community overnight. I’ll admit, I stayed a member just to watch the rapid decline and flounce posts and laugh. About a year later, someone tricked the now almost completely absent and pointless mods into making them a mod, and they immediately deleted the community (back then, all mods had the same level of power and control over a community).

          I always wanted to find out what that person’s issue was with the community since I hadn’t seen any real drama outside my post, but after deleting the community, the fake mod deleted their LJ account, so I couldn’t contact them. I DID laugh (and still laugh) at how the actual mods raged on their personal LJ’s that the community was “stolen” from them. By this point, that old community had “schismed” into about three other communities where advice posts were welcome, so it wasn’t even any real loss in the end; no one was using the place anyway. But it was, and is, still so baffling to me!

          1. Miette*

            Good Lord, LJ was a fricking scene. I’m sorry that happened to you–so many similar stories happened in fandom spaces there that I saw/heard about, too.

    2. MEH Squared*

      Thanks for the update, LW! It sounds like you did the best you could, but it was better for everyone that she moved on. There might have been racial issues as well as personal problems, and I’m glad everyone is in a better place (literally and figuratively) now.

    3. Commenting*

      Thank you for the update.
      This is a tough situation and I think you handled it well.
      I’m glad that she’s doing well in a new role.

    4. SloanGhost*

      Wow, so much more complex than the initial situation/letter alone would indicate!

    5. GythaOgden*

      Yeah, this sounds legit awful, and I respect you for doing the due diligence. As a receptionist I’m trying to move on — my job has atrophied during the pandemic and since I’m gonna be a gofer for my working life, I’d much rather have people to gofer things for than sitting around all day. I’ve been through all kinds of rubbish in the last few years — nothing compared to racism, but being widowed and then seriously injured is a whole different kind of pain, often literally. And I get totally that the bar is higher for minorities to overcome people who simply perceive them as rude for who they are.

      But I would NEVER EVER take it out on my colleagues or the people I serve, and it seems this is what happened here.

      And while you can excuse some issues or try to calibrate for bias, it seems like this was actually a win for her — either it was something she was struggling with and leaving reduced that stress, or she realised she had to face up to her issues and get them sorted. For me, it was landing at the bottom of the stairs with my foot suddenly at right angles to where it should have been that gave me that kick up the pants. Maybe this was hers.

      In any event, it seems you handled this well and understood how you were seeing it as well as anything ‘objective’.

  43. LawBee*

    I had an assistant where I had this issue. She was never intentionally rude, but she had a very flat affect on the phone, and while generally lovely, she was not bubbly or verbally upbeat.

    We had a couple of conversations, and her decision was to put a little mirror by her phone and smile into it when she picked up the line. Apparently it worked, I didn’t have any more complaints.

    1. calonkat*

      I’ve done phone work for so long, that I automatically smile when I answer the phone. It weirds my daughter out :)

      It really does make a huge difference to the way your voice sounds!

  44. QuinFirefrorefiddle*

    So this is mostly based on the receptionist’s response- but is it possible that the people complaining are being sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted to her, and they’re the ones that are complaining because she reacts reasonably instead of being a door mat? Because the LW specifies this isn’t an all the time thing, it seems like it’s maybe a couple times a week for the most part.

  45. PB Bunny Watson*

    Another issue might be age. Something Elder Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers take for granted–answering a phone–is new territory for Younger Millennials and Gen Z. “Well, how can that be when they all have their own phones?” That’s the point. Something like how to answer a business phone line was often learned in the home for previous generations (“Brown Residence… may I ask who is calling?”); meanwhile, newer generations have often never answered a phone that wasn’t their private cell number. A possible issue.

    1. Millennial*

      Millennial here – first cell phone at 16, and we didn’t even have caller ID until my late teens. I actually don’t think I was ever taught how to answer the phone. I just did what my parents did (which was to pick it up and say “Hello?”).

      It’s been quite a while, but I don’t remember anyone answering the phone and providing the family name / asking for the caller’s name. I do remember it on TV and thinking it was weird. You called *me*, so the burden is on you to tell me who you are/what you want.

      Answering a phone at work is, of course, very different.

    2. Panicked*

      1990’s me:
      “Panicked residence, [my name] speaking.”
      Can i talk to your mom please?
      “May I ask who’s calling?”
      [Whoever it was]
      “One moment please!”

      Current me:
      Avoids all phone calls. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Just deny the call and hope they have the good sense to text me.

      1. Meddery*

        Haha! That’s how I was taught to answer the phone by parents too. “Blank residence, Meddery speaking.” It was so ingrained in me that when I got my first job at 15 answering the phone for a local Italian restaurant, I accidentally answered that way and then, panicking, hung up on the customer. I was born in ‘85 and didn’t get my first cell phone til I was a sophomore in college— 2004– but now, I’m with you— I’d prefer to text, or at least to set up a time to have a phone conversation. Nothing worse than being surprised by an unexpected call!

        1. Ant*

          At my current job I picked up the phone once and reflexively said, “Good afternoon, welcome to [Old Job], you’re speaking with Ant.” The poor person on the other end was so confused, and my flustered backtracking definitely didn’t help matters! Not least because it wasn’t even the afternoon!

        2. Kim S*

          Hahaha same but for me, opposite – I got so used to working drive-thru that I would sometimes answer the phone “Welcome to Jack in the Box, my name is Kim, what can I get for you today?” which was honestly fine when I was answering the phone at work, weirder when I was answering my cell phone and realized what I was saying halfway thru the spiel XD

      2. Rebecca*

        yep. And I was coached HEAVILY on the use of the hold button while I went to go figure out where the person they were looking for was.

    3. Reality.Bites*

      An awful lot more of those Younger Mils and Zedders have worked in call centres than previous generations, and in customer service positions in general. Answering business phones in a polite, professional manner is not something they’re less familiar with than other generations.

  46. Delta Delta*

    I encountered a receptionist that wasn’t rude, but was definitely condescending when I became unhappy about a particular situation. She did these over-exaggerated facial expressions like she was in some sort of musical theater troupe. She went on an overly sympathetic face offense. Had she just said “sorry, we have to cancel your appointment because we’re running late,” I would have been annoyed but I’d be fine. It was the addition of these over the top faces she was making in some sort of cloying effort to pretend to be sympathetic that drove me nuts. Could be this receptionist was doing similar things, and while her words weren’t rude, the presentation wasn’t good.

    1. SloanGhost*

      I’m autistic and honestly my biggest fear was that I would do this as overcompensation because a lot of clients were unhappy that I didn’t like tear my hair and wear sackcloth over every minor inconvenience to them. She may have been an ass but she also could have been performing for the lowest common denominator and just…a bad actress.

    2. Gen Z Girlboss*

      The most fun part of customer-facing/admin work is leaning into my theater kid roots—I act like this when a client is being particularly rude to me and it’s like an improv bit for myself lol.

  47. Michelle Smith*

    Anyone know why you can’t read the articles anymore without an account?

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      There is a limited number of articles you can access each month, but the rest are behind a paywall so Inc can pay their contributors.

    2. calonkat*

      You can read all the letters, Alison’s replies, and the comments here for free. When Alison writes a column for money, it is sometimes behind a pay wall. This is fine, we don’t begrudge her not giving away all her time and effort for free.

  48. Scot Librarian*

    As an autistic parent of 2 autistic kids, be aware that this could change by the time she’s ready for work. At 11, my eldest would not speak to people they didn’t know, their body language was very negative, tone sounded rude or dismissive. Now they are 17, volunteer at a charity shop after school where they are praised for being great at work, and are applying for part time jobs.

  49. BradC*

    I’d have to think there are ways to confirm (or refute) the complaints in situations like this, even if you don’t routinely record calls like a call center or help desk might.

    For example, you could call (or have someone else call if your voice is too recognizable) the reception desk from an outside line, pretending to be a customer with a routine request (or a less routine request if that’s more likely to elicit the negative response).

  50. SloanGhost*

    I tend to agree that LW absolutely needs to creep and see what’s actually going on. As a receptionist, I’ve been target of a lot of spurious complaints from both clients and coworkers (unfortunately my job had a “bully the new kid culture”), but also a few legit ones (I’m FAR from perfect and my tolerance for client BS is frankly too low for the role)–and having LED the reception team I’ve also seen firsthand the damage a bad receptionist can do.

    But I’m also seeing in the comments that it was revealed at the time of original posting that the receptionist is black, and I do think you have to weight that, especially if your clientele and staff are majority white.

  51. Starfox*

    Back when I worked retail I had a lot of very strange encounters where customers were angry with me for reasons I could never understand. I did my best to be friendly, helpful, & informative. 10 years later I’m 99% sure that I’m autistic & what seemed like a perfectly nice tone & expression to me struck others as dismissive or rude, & the kind of expressions they were expecting would feel extremely over-the-top for me to actually do. So I got yelled at a lot for pretty much nothing.

    1. starfox*

      oh my gosh we have the same user name. I was really confused because I didn’t remember writing this comment.

      I had a similar experience when I worked at McDonald’s. I thought I was being perfectly friendly and happy, but apparently I looked miserable. To be fair, I was miserable, lol, and no one has said anything since then. I think maybe I was actually so miserable that my fake-friendly couldn’t override it like it usually does.

    2. Batgirl*

      It must be confusing trying to work that out, because retail is where people go to yell at a captive audience, no matter how great the employee is at projecting friendliness. I’ve seen terrific customer service people just screamed at, and even though our management had zero tolerance for it, it didn’t prevent it.

  52. Luna*

    I dunno, if you cannot put a finger on what she is rude about, “I said X and she told me to go Y”, I don’t know if I can keep such complaints in my believeable rack for very long. It could be a case of her speech ‘feeling’ rude, when it actually isn’t, but it’s more of a brisk or direct way of talking. Which in itself is not rude!

    If it really is ‘just’ a feeling, maybe you should ‘office creep’ and see if her way of talking, sitting, etc is something that can appear rude to people who are not expecting to get a direct approach. I personally would love a direct receptionist, but that’s because I am really not good at vague, social subtleties.

    And I’m not even going to touch the potential race issue because I think it should not matter. If she genuinely IS rude, she should not work as a receptionist. If she is merely considered rude due to her way of holding herself, that is more murky and not something you should fire someone over, unless you have already talked and requested if she can at least try to alter her way.

    And if it’s a matter of just ‘looking’ bad because perhaps she has the so-called RBF (which I have myself), that is a non-issue, I would say. People cannot help it when their relaxed/default facial expression looks a certain way. It does not mean they are bad tempered or unfriendly, etc. It’s just… their face.

  53. That One Person*

    I still wouldn’t be surprised if one of the customer complaints was just not being put through immediately to OP – whether for them not being available or having an issue that really didn’t require someone higher up on the totem pole. Does sound like unfortunately the woman was going through some things at the time, but I still wouldn’t be surprised given some of the phone calls I dealt with at my customer service job.

  54. Absurda*

    It could be that a public facing role just isn’t for her. I’m very introverted and worked as a receptionist for a summer. Dealing with so many people all day was really exhausting for me and I’d start to get a bit cranky toward the end of the day. Especially since the lobby got uncomfortably hot in the afternoons.

    You may want to ask if there are any resources she doesn’t have but needs. If she’s constantly being asked questions she doesn’t have an answer for, that could be putting a lot of stress on her. Or if she’s taking the brunt of customer displeasure because someone else in the office won’t answer their phone/deal with a problem (this happened to me once and it sucked). Some coaching or scripts for dealing with these situations might help.

Comments are closed.