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Traditional secretary work may be on the decline, since changes in technology and the belt-tightening days of the recession forced many businesses to cut them from their ranks.
But Ruby Receptionists, a Portland-based virtual receptionist service, has built a thriving business around rethinking the way we work.
The company provides virtual administration services to 2,600 small businesses, mostly small law firms and IT companies, in North America. With Ruby’s software platform, its 150 receptionists in Portland have access to all of the clients’ information. When customers call, the receptionist is able to answer their questions or direct their calls to the appropriate contact — much like an in-house receptionist would but at a fraction of the cost.
Ruby is growing by about 50% a year, its founder and CEO Jill Nelson tells Business Insider.
Last year, it brought in $US7.8 million in revenue. Nelson says it’s on target to hit $US11.4 million this year, and she plans to double employee headcount by the end of 2015.
What is Nelson’s secret to success? She tells us it all comes down to creating a “culture of WOWism” — one that cultivates happy employees who, in turn, offer exceptional reception service. So far, it’s working. Ruby has been recognised as one of the best small businesses to work for by research, consulting, and training firm Great Place to Work and Fortune magazine twice in the past two years.
“Our mission is to keep that human connection alive,” says Nelson. “Today, people work from home and in different geographic locations, and people lose real human touch. We understand that’s the value we provide.”
Ruby Receptionist is so dedicated to making meaningful connections — internally and externally — that its employees are measured based on how well they cultivate relationships with callers, clients, and other colleagues, says Nelson.
Employees are required to attend a formal training program at Ruby University, which offers tutorials in telephone etiquette, proper grammar, and Ruby’s signature cheerful diction. For example, employees are instructed to say, “I’ll be happy to find out!” instead of “I’m not sure,” and “my pleasure!” instead of “sure” or “ok.”
And to encourage employees spend adequate time on the phone with each call, Ruby has metrics to make sure its receptionists aren’t taking too many calls in a day.
“We’re about making people happy here at Ruby, and to achieve this, it starts internally with our staff,” says Nelson. “We invest heavily in employee leadership programs, create community-building opportunities, and develop initiatives that cultivate happiness inside and out.”
Ruby encourages its employees to practice random acts of kindness by using its pre-paid Amazon account and a “WOW station” stocked with gifts and cards to surprise coworkers and clients at any time.
But Nelson knows it takes more than gifts to keep employees happy. A few years ago, she says the company was growing so fast that her employees were overworked and taking more calls than they should. So Nelson, a former receptionist herself, asked her workers to take the “happiness challenge,” which included keeping a journal detailing why they were stressed and what made them happy. All participants were given getaway trips to Hawaii.
Every five years with the company, employees receive an additional five weeks of consecutive paid time off, $US1,000 from the company to go toward their vacation, and a session with a happiness psychologist to make sure they’re doing everything they plan to during their time off.
Ruby employees have regular dress-up days — when they might come to work in 1950s Mad Men-inspired attire, for example — and sometimes receive $US100 bonuses just for showing up to work on Mondays. Nelson also pays employees $US5 hourly for volunteer work and matches charitable contributions made by workers.
When Nelson started the company in 2003, she says her original vision of providing a multitude of services for small business owners was “not what it turned out to be,” since she quickly decided to focus the company solely on reception services. Because plans often change, she says it’s important to find employees who can change with your company. Continuously fostering happiness is her strategy for keeping them excited about the direction the company is headed.
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