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In the 18th and 19th centuries, as businesses began to compete with each other for customers, merchants and other business people began to recognize the importance of giving customers the immediate impression that the business was friendly, efficient, and trustworthy. These businesses began to employ hosts and hostesses, workers who would greet customers, make them comfortable, and often serve them refreshments while they waited or did business with the owner. As businesses grew larger and more diverse, these hosts and hostesses (only recently renamed receptionists) took on the additional duties of answering phones, keeping track of workers, and directing visitors to the employee they needed to see. Receptionists also began to work as information dispensers, answering growing numbers of inquiries from the public. In the medical field, as services expanded, more receptionists were needed to direct patients to physicians and clinical services and to keep track of appointments and payment information.

Receptionists have become indispensable to business and service establishments. It is hard to imagine most medium-sized or large businesses functioning without them. Today, receptionists field inquiries through complex voicemail systems, as well as personal computers and other electronic devices. They also use the Internet for various search tasks. There are now also virtual receptionists, who perform most of the basic receptionist duties off site.

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