The importance of the gatekeeper


By Christina Ryan Claypool - Contributing Columnist



As high school and college graduation looms on the horizon, young folks everywhere are contemplating career choices. There is also the phenomena of changing careers, among not-so-young individuals who must continually seek more education or training to update their skills while learning to be flexible in this ever-changing job market.

Statistics report that between “2008 and 2009, the U.S. labor market lost 8.4 million jobs, or 6.1 percent of all payroll employment,” according www.stateofworkingamerica.org, which “…was the most dramatic employment contraction (by far) of any recession since the Great Depression.”

Even though the unemployment rates in Miami and Shelby counties are down to 4.8 and 4.6 percent respectively as of March 2016, many local workers remain grateful for their jobs after the frightening economic downturn less than a decade ago.

Yet in the midst of a fluctuating workforce, there is one position that can be overlooked, but it is instrumental to the success of a business, non-profit, government agency, or educational facility. This important role is that of the gatekeeper.

It’s necessary to define, “gatekeeper,” as this term literally describes an individual who guards a gate. Yet in the business world, the website, www.businessdictionary.com defines a gatekeeper as a “junior officer (such as a secretary) who has the authority or ability to control access to a decision maker or to certain information.”

The gatekeeper might be the receptionist, administrative assistant, or office manager who decides how to direct customer inquiries. “A gatekeeper is the person responsible for keeping a decision maker from being bothered by irrelevant callers,” reports www.about.com. “The gatekeeper screens calls and visitors, typically deflecting the ones he [or she] believes are unimportant.”

Still the gatekeeper has to handle people with wisdom and courtesy, because we are living in an economy based on capitalism, where competition heightens when we have a choice where to spend our consumer dollars. Many organizations have public relations, marketing, and advertising budgets that are restrictive or even non-existent, especially for intangible expenditures to attract new customers or keep existing ones.

According to classic business principles this is not necessarily the right thing to do, as often you have to spend money to make money, but you can’t spend revenue that you don’t have. Therefore, instead of attracting new customers by creating an appealing image through advertising, organizations endeavor to gain new customers through word-of-mouth referrals, and maintain existing accounts by first-rate customer service and by relying on long-term loyalty.

Problem here is that a gatekeeper can either make or break you when it comes to creating a positive atmosphere for a loyal clientele. Since gatekeepers are the initial person customers encounter, this first impression can result in an image of goodwill or hostility that can rarely be forgotten. And years of goodwill can be undone, by one unpleasant exchange, because people do business, go to school or church, and even seek medical assistance where they feel respected and appreciated.

Admittedly, the demanding position of gatekeeper is not easy to fill, and it usually doesn’t pay as much as it should. The demanding part originates in that most of us believe that our request is of paramount importance, and that we always need to talk to the person in charge. Still the gatekeeper has to stay calm, keep a smile in his or her voice, while referring every inquiry to the proper chain of command.

After formerly working in public relations in a career technical school, I witnessed firsthand the incredible value of the administrative assistants (secretaries) who streamline the operation of the school system. Often, they handle upset parents, sick or unruly students, staff communication, media requests, and monumental record-keeping tasks, while being the friendly face at the front desk.

In contrast, once I had a disturbing phone conversation with a church receptionist, while trying to track down a potential interview. My request obviously seemed unclear, as the woman impatiently muttered something about, “Not having all day… and for me to get to the point.” I was saddened that her inappropriate impoliteness could impede her church’s growth, or worse possibly hurt a person in need of compassion. To clarify, most church secretaries are top-notch gatekeepers with a true heart for helping people.

Whether we like it or not, the gatekeeper is the best PR, marketing or salesperson that an entity employs. Reciprocally, a courteous consumer has a better chance of getting satisfaction, because gatekeepers sometimes possess the implied power to get you what you want. This capitalist ideology is a two-way street, you know.

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By Christina Ryan Claypool

Contributing Columnist

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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