You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how you greet and process visitors to your workplace, and you’ve decided that an electronic visitor management system would be a good investment. Now it's time to put the plan in action. How do you go about selecting and downloading a visitor management system?
Determine What You Need
The first order of business when selecting a visitor management system is to determine your needs and wants are.
- Needs are the deal-breakers; if a visitor check-in app does not have a feature you have determined is a need, then you can confidently cross it off your list.
- Wants are the nice-to-have features that would make your process run more smoothly, or help make a great first impression, but aren’t requirements.
Your organization may have many needs. You may need a system that scans ID and prints visitor badges. You may need something that runs on a particular platform, or that interfaces with your Contact Relationship Management (CRM) software.
On the other hand, your organization may have only a list of wants. In this case, it is important to give the different features and benefits of a system more or less weight based on how important they are to you. To make it especially easy, you might use a decision tree or assign them a point value, as in this decision matrix.
What to Look For
There are many possible factors to consider when choosing a visitor management system.
- Commonly available, low-cost hardware: What kind of hardware does the visitor management system platform require? If you have to buy specialized equipment that costs a pretty penny, then it is probably not a good buy. Too much specialization translates into both high upfront costs, and difficulty in replacing parts and getting service down the road. It is also likely any components you wish to swap or upgrade will be expensive, too. Instead, you want hardware you can purchase easily and that won’t break the bank.
- Low Administrative Effort: You’ve probably been a part of a new software implementation, or a large programmatic change in your organization. You know that the effort needed to implement the new software can take days, weeks or even months or years. During this time, employees are tied up trying to input data, integrate software or otherwise are busy trying to make something function instead of doing their normal work. A modern visitor registration app should be both robust and simple enough that it takes minimal setup. You want it up and running quickly and smoothly.
- Customizable: What features do you need? If you don’t need ID badges, can you turn off or eliminate that feature? Can you add custom fields to the visitor sign-in app? Can you add graphics, text and images to match and show off your organization’s brand? Do you need visitors to eSign a non-disclosure agreement, and if so, can it be part of the registration process? A great visitor management system allows for this type of customization and more.
- White-labeled: You may not be familiar with the term “white label.” A white label product is is sold by a company without its brand in order for it to be re-branded by the company that ultimately sells or displays the product to the consumer or end-user. There are many benefits to using white label products. With a visitor management system, it may be important to you that your guests don’t see the brand of the visitor management system itself, only your graphics and text. Some electronic systems will show the software company’s logo, or a notification of some kind along the lines of “Powered by...” and the company name. If you want the visitor management system to be seamlessly integrated into your organization, check whether a product is white label, or can be made to be white label. You may also want to ask whether there is a fee for removing the creating company’s information.
- Various Notification Methods: One of the benefits to using an electronic visitor management system is that it can handle the sometimes tedious task of contacting the visitor’s host. When it is a receptionist’s job, the first step might be a phone call. When there is no answer, next comes a text or instant message, then an email and finally roaming the office. It can be nearly impossible to know in a large organization who prefers which notification type, and which notification is best in that particular situation. A great electronic visitor management system will allow your employees to enter their notification preferences (e.g. best phone number for texts (SMS), best number for voice calls, Slack, or Google Hangouts preferences, etc.) and prioritize them based on which is most likely to work. When a visitor checks in to meet that host, the visitor management system does all the contacting for them, leaving the receptionist to show them the best place to sit and where to get coffee.
Research and Review Your Options
Once you know what your criteria are, it is time to start researching what visitor management system options are out there. Usually the steps to do so are as follows:
- Internet research: Start online. Nearly all your options will have a website you can explore to find a list of features of the system on offer. Use your Needs and Wants lists that you have already outlined to determine your top two or three choices.
- Get a Demo: Sometimes you just have to see the product in action to know whether it is right for you. Most companies offering software systems understand this and will gladly schedule a demonstration, either in person or virtually, for you to see how everything works.
- Ask about Pricing: Of course, as you are looking at all your systems and talking with salespeople, you will need to keep your budget in mind.
- Ask what is included in all the various packages. Are there up-charges for any features on your needs list? Will the price be fixed or can it change (and surprise you!) as your usage varies or the number of employees you have shifts up or down? (Pro tip: Many employees prefer text message notifications so make sure those are included in the plan you choose.)
- What are the licensing terms, e.g. monthly, yearly, etc? Do you get a reasonably discount for purchasing a longer subscription?
- Are any contracts to sign or long-term commitments?
- Are there different plans for different size organizations or number of check-in kiosks?
- Is there a cost to have the visitor management vendor help you customize it? What about customer support?
Congratulations! You’ve found the visitor check-in kiosk that will best fit the needs and wants of your organization. Now it’s time to get the ball rolling to make it really work for you.
- Start a free trial: Most visitor registration products offer a free trial so you can test the software before committing to buying. Be weary of vendors that require a credit card in order to initiate a trial. If you must, put a reminder in your calendar to ensure you do not accidentally purchase an digital receptionist that is not a great fit for your workspace.
- Set up an account: Many visitor management system providers use the Software as a Service (often referred to as SaaS) model. This provides the benefit of not needing to deal with on-site servers, or worry about updates. If a visitor registration product is not SaaS, it is likely a legacy product. In order to start using SaaS software, you will need to setup an account. While most modern visitor management systems are apps that can be downloaded to any compatible device, however account setup is often done via a web browser rather than in the app.
- Customize: During the account setup phase, you may have the opportunity to start the customization of your app. You will likely select the fields you want to appear on your check-in form, upload and place any necessary graphics to brand the display as your own, and enter other important settings. This may include setting up a connection to your CRM, adding personnel notification settings, and uploading documents that are part of the registration process.
- Procure hardware: If you don’t already have the proper equipment to run the visitor management system, you will want to get that purchased, either with the company providing the software or through a third party. Determine the number of kiosks you need and purchase accordingly.
- Download the app: Once you have the devices in-hand, it is time to download the app from the app store. Find the app for the software you have selected and download it. You will need to do this on each device you plan to use
- Log in: Using the account you set up via the web browser, you will need to log into the app on each device.
Once you’ve done the upfront work of downloading and logging into the program, it is time to do some testing. Whenever you have new software, it is important to try some test runs to make sure it is doing what you want and expect.
- Test for visitor type: Test how the app handles for different types of visitors. Check in as someone delivering food to an employee, then as a state building inspector, then as a job candidate meeting the Vice President of Marketing. Was the form easy to fill out, or problematic and annoying? Did it have too many fields, or was it missing a crucial question? Did the proper form pop up for an electronic signature that was needed?
- Look for visual appeal: Did all the graphics appear properly, or were some stretched or cut off? Are the words spelled correctly? Did the colors look right on the screen? (If not, this could be a screen calibration problem and may require returning the hardware if it can’t be easily corrected.) Any changes you want to make to the visuals on the screen should be corrected prior to going live.
- Check for notifications: If the app offers automatic notifications, make sure they are working properly. Set up your own notification preferences and test it out by checking in a guest that is coming to see you. Are text messages, Slack notifications, email and phone calls all going through? If not, check to make sure all the contact information is entered properly. If it still isn’t working right, it is time to troubleshoot with the company to see what is going on.
When you’ve determined that the app is functioning the way you want, it is time to go live. In order for real visitors to use the app, you need to have a plan in place for making sure visitors are aware of the process.
- Place the visitor management system in the reception area: The placement should be quite prominent so it is difficult to miss. Signs that direct all visitors to check in can help significantly, as can having a very visible label identifying the kiosk itself. Don’t tuck your kiosk back in a corner and rely on guests to find it themselves.
- Inform your employees: All your employees should be informed of the new check-in system. They, in turn, should set up their own contact profiles in the system so they will be notified when their guests arrive. They should also inform their guests in advance of what to expect so they can be properly prepared.
- Train your receptionists: Any receptionists or security guards that are stationed near the new visitor management system equipment should be trained on any company protocols. Depending on the organization, they may have certain tasks to perform in conjunction with the visitor management system. For instance, in some organizations they may simply be trained in the best way to direct visitors to the kiosk. In others, they may be required to check identification and make sure it matches the information entered into the system. They might be taught how to troubleshoot the system, print visitor badges, or walk a visitor through the registration process in case they have trouble.
Conclusion: Download a Visitor Management System and Reap the Rewards
Now that you’ve got everything in place and set up, you can start benefiting from the increased efficiency that having an electronic visitor management system brings. Your employees can rest assured that guests will be greeted and get registered in a timely manner. Your organization will be more secure by knowing who is in the building at all times. You can even start working to build relationships and improve your program offerings by analyzing the data compiled in your electronic visitor database.
Choosing, downloading and implementing an electronic visitor management system doesn’t have to be a daunting process. The hardest part is knowing what you want and need. After that, the process for setting it up and getting it installed on your hardware is as easy as downloading the latest app to your phone. You’ll be ready to go in no time.