If you query how many visitors an organisation receives each month you are more than likely to be presented with a list of statistics detailing hits to their website.
Often organisations know more about who visits their website than who visits their bricks and mortar building. Of course, both are important but, in the rush to be “so very present” in the virtual world, organisations cannot afford to neglect their “physical presence”, and the obligations and opportunities of visitors to their offices.
The lack of accurate recording does make statistical assessment of physical visitors to an organisation difficult to ascertain but depending on the type of organisation this can be 100% of their workforce over a year for organisations without a “front-of-house” function.
For most organisations these visitors will likely comprise of suppliers, customers, prospects, candidates, contractors and placements. In general, these are the very constituents you want to make a good impression – and first impressions often make the most impact. Visitors are are likely to have visited your website prior to their attendance, if only for directions, and may have picked up on your key messages peppered across your website.
Do you portray your organisation as “High Tech”, “Innovative”, “Efficient”, “Friendly”, “Modern”? When a visitor walks into your reception does it reflect these messages or completely contradict them?
If you focus on “innovation” and “technology” yet you present a pen and visitor book to your visitor, you immediately have a credibility issue before you have even met them. If you are left standing and waiting whilst you try and track down their host, does this reflect your “efficient” message?
If they don’t receive a warm welcome and a beverage after potentially a long time travelling to visit you, what does that say about you as an organisation? Didn’t you invite them after all?
Many of us will have encountered these experiences as often we are both hosts and visitors, and often we can recall both the good and bad experiences we have had as visitors. That first contact and experience matters crucially not just to the visitor but also for the host.
If you are hosting a meeting with a prospect or customer, what frame of mind do you want them in when you kick off your meeting? What initial view do you want them to have of you as business partner or supplier?
All your visitors are potential critics or fans, whether you classify them as prospects or not. They may never become a customer but may influence other organisations to become one as they share their experiences with others.
Just as your website is a “window” to your company, so is your reception. It’s “first contact” and it matters. Most website designers now talk about “User Experience” – that’s great but what “user experience” do your first contact visitors receive at reception?
If you only care about the experience of remote/virtual visitors and ignore those physically in your building, then you are missing the point. You have an even greater chance of creating a positive experience when they are physically present.
Making a positive impact on first contact goes a long way to improve meetings with the host whilst also creating opportunities to promote your organisation and reinforce the key messages you promote on your website.
Whilst there is a good business case for treating your visitors well, there is also legal duty of care too. This duty of care is both expressed in criminal and civil law and extends to your visitors (in some cases even unwelcome ones). Just because they are not on your payroll does not remove your duty to care for them when they are on your premises.
It is not sufficient just to hand out a visitor book. If they are not on the muster list in the event of a fire, their presence (or lack of) will not be accounted for.
With the advent of workforce management systems with built in Visitor Registration and Access Control modules this is often a quick win and presents a professional and efficient image of the company to visitors. In many cases the system can document their car registration which makes car park management more efficient as well.
Auditing and Monitoring enable you to track visitors, who they are seeing and where they are located. This is also important in case there are any incidents within the building that need investigation (e.g. theft/access to unauthorised areas). With integrated Access Control you can ensure that visitors don’t stray into unauthorised or dangerous areas of your facility.
This helps balance the need to welcome and care for your visitors and the need to protect staff and your assets. In summary, we should care (both legally and professionally) about the user experience our visitors have when they first contact us at reception.
Some tips for creating the right user experience;
- There should be a warm welcome.
- Comfortable environment and seating.
- An opportunity for refreshments.
- Efficient and modern visitor registration.
- Plenty of literature reflecting the services and products of your organisation (awards and certifications on display often reinforce the professionalism)
- Prompt notification to the host (many visitor registration systems automatically email the host on arrival).
- A little time. It might seem very efficient for the host to turn up immediately but in many cases – particularly after a long drive – the visitor may welcome five minutes to collect their thoughts over a coffee before jumping straight into a meeting. If so, then the visitor should be notified of this on arrival.
“Reception, just like its virtual companion the website, should treat every visitor as an opportunity to promote the organisation, its values, its strengths, its products and services and leave a lasting impression.”