Every business and organization has visitors. Some just get a few package and food deliveries. Others have customers, vendors and interview candidates streaming in and out all day. How offices manage visitors can be as varied as the organizations themselves. For some, the process of visitor check-in is regimented and formal. For others, handling guests is a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants affair.
Regardless of the visitor management system, there are certain aspects to the process of handling guests that are common across the board. Most are done so quickly that sometimes very little thought goes into the process at all. Each step, however, is important to the functioning of your organization, the safety of your employees and data, the comfort of the guest and -- most importantly -- the overall efficiency of time spent.
In this six-part article about the visitor management process, we’ll break down each step of the process, explain why it is important, and give examples of different methods for effectively accomplishing the end goal - great first impressions, productivity and safety.
Visitor Management Step 1: Recognizing Visitors and Making Them Comfortable
Have you ever walked into a restaurant or other place of business, looked around and had no idea what you were supposed to do next? No one said hello. No sign directed you to “Order at the Window” or “Please seat yourself.” No directory on the wall pointed you to a visitor desk. Most guests in that situation will do one of three things: 1) they’ll wander around awkwardly and watch what other people do; 2) they’ll ask someone for help; or 3) they’ll turn around and leave.
This is an obvious failure of the organization to accomplish the first technique of a strong visitor management process: recognizing that visitors will come to your organization and they will need tools to make the initial moments of that visit comfortable and pleasant. We all know it is easier to remember negative experiences. Visitors who feel confused, lost or unwelcome may never want to return, and even worse, may tell others about their treatment.
People have an inherent need to be recognized. The first step of recognizing visitors can be easy as saying, “hello”, having a sign that reads “Welcome Visitors” or a welcome screen that informs visitors of their next step. Not every location needs to roll out the red carpet for visitors, but every location needs to acknowledge the visitors who do walk through the door.
Every organization has different ways of recognizing guests, and they range from very hands-on and labor intensive, to reception automation. Some methods can be combined for maximum impact.
Using People to Recognize Guests
Historically, the most common method used by organizations to make guests feel recognized was to use people. There are really three types of personnel employed to greet visitors.
- Dedicated receptionist: The dedicated receptionist’s primary job is to welcome visitors and perhaps answer incoming phone calls. They often have minimal responsibilities outside of assisting guests. The greeter at Wal-Mart has minimal duties beyond saying hello and checking the occasional receipt. In some locations where security is a concern, the dedicated person might be a security guard or a door-person.
- Semi-dedicated receptionist: The difference between a dedicated and a semi-dedicated receptionist is one of responsibilities. A semi-dedicated receptionist is stationed near the door and expected to greet guests as part of the job description (or, maybe they forgot to mention that part), but also has other responsibilities. Most administrative assistants fall into this category. They are expected to greet walk-in guests, answer phones, and perform other tasks, like write letters, manage calendars, set up meetings, and sometimes accomplish large projects. It is surprisingly hard to resume these other responsibilities after interruptions.
- Informal/unrecognized receptionist: This is perhaps the least considered visitor welcome method, but is, unfortunately, a very common one. The unrecognized receptionist is often a junior employee with a functional role - human resources, accounting, office management - a person who has their own list of priorities. But in today’s modern office happens to sit in a desk by the door. Depending on the number of walk-ins every day, unrecognized receptionists find themselves interrupting important tasks to help guests find their way. Whether they tell you or not, the unrecognized receptionist HATES IT. They resent the guests and the interruptions and prefer to just get their own work done.
Using people to greet guests has the advantage of bringing a personal touch to the welcome process. A warm smile, and a “how may I help you?” can provide the start to a truly positive experience.
On the other hand, using people is expensive. You have the direct cost of a dedicated receptionist who is paid primarily to greet guests. Or, if you prefer, you have the high cost of productivity lost for semi-dedicated and informal receptionists. And in the case where you have a less-than-effective receptionist – one who greets people gruffly because they are tired of being interrupted – the cost could be greater in terms of negative attitudes toward your organization.
Un-staffed Ways to Recognize Visitors
Visitors don’t always want or need to talk to a person to feel welcome. Organizations can spare employee time and save money by making effective use of the following methods for greeting guests.
- Automated receptionists: More and more locations are taking advantage of automation in order to greet and assist guests. It is common to see airport check-in kiosks, visitor registration kiosks, informational kiosks in visitor centers and libraries, self-ordering stations at fast-food restaurants. Even just an automated announcement connected to your door - “Welcome, please turn right and proceed to the counter” - tells visitors they are expected and what they are supposed to do. Modern offices are rapidly adopting visitor check-in apps to create strong impressions and improve efficiency.
- Signage: Prominent signs bridge important gaps for visitors. Posted directories, plaques that identify visitor check-in locations or information desks, and directional signs all help visitors to feel comfortable.
Automated receptionists and signage have the advantage of being relatively permanent, tireless, and available 24 hours a day. The cost is far less than paying a dedicated person. Also, as crazy as it sounds, people don’t always like talking to people. Being able to use a kiosk or signage is often preferable to having to ask someone for directions. Signs and kiosks may not be able to deliver the warmth of a smile, but they can direct visitors to the person most likely to give them that smile.
Conclusion: The Best Way
You guessed it, there is no single "best way". Rather, the best option to greet guests varies by organization, but all of the most effective methods ensure that the guest is acknowledged, either by a sign or a smile. Visitors should feel welcome, and confident that they can accomplish what they came to do. Using forethought and planning, you can ensure your organization recognizes visitors as part of your visitor management process.
Visitor Management Step 2: Identifying Visitors
When visitors arrive in your place of work, how do you find out who they are and what their business is? Identifying visitors is an important step in the visitor management process. Once you have this valuable piece of information you can create a great visitor experience. Not having it though could cause you to steer a guest the wrong direction, or allow someone onto the premise who should not be there.
In Part One of this series, we described how important it is to simply greet guests and make them feel comfortable. Once this is accomplished, the next step in the process is to determine who they are, what type of guest they are, and how best to meet their needs.
Organizations have varying levels for how they need or want to greet guests, and it often depends on the type of business that person has come to accomplish. You might be thinking, “My organization doesn’t have any visitors,” but you’d be wrong. Even the most insular of organizations will have people from outside show up from time to time. Consider the following types of visitors:
- Task-oriented visitors: These include postal workers and delivery personnel, maintenance workers, building and code inspectors. These are people who arrive with a set task that must be done at your location (e.g. dropping off a pizza, painting an office, checking the smoke detectors). They are often paid (or tipped) per task so they will leave quickly once it is complete.
- Important guests: Prospective and current clients or donors, prospective and current vendors, management visiting from the head office, contacts from a related firm, etc., are all important guests. Anyone who your organization wants to have an ongoing, positive relationship with needs to have special care taken to ensure they feel welcome and are treated accordingly.
- Casual visitors: These are visitors who don’t plan to stay long do business, but need to know how to get where they are going. Consider hospitals, who have people stop in to visit patients all the time. Colleges have family visiting students on campus. Friends and family of employees also fall into this category; the manager’s spouse might show up to take her out to lunch.
- Visitor-visitors: This might seem like a no-brainer, but places like museums, hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and retail are designed to draw people in and welcome those who may only ever be there once.
Starting the Conversation
Once a visitor walks in the door, how do you find out what they need?
If you are employing a full-time receptionist to greet people, the logical next step is to ask the person who they are, and what they are there to accomplish. With a person at the door, a simple, “How may I help you?” will start the conversation, though other questions may be needed. Depending upon the security needs of your organization, you might require a guest to show an I.D., fill out forms, create a and explain their business.
What happens if the receptionist is busy on the phone when a guest arrives? Or if you don’t have a dedicated receptionist, and the person nearest the door is engaged in other tasks?
People aren’t the only way to ask guests what they need. More and more offices are using iPad receptionists to allow visitors to check in themselves, whether they employ a receptionist or not. If the receptionist is tied up on the phone but can pause long enough to point a guest to an automated reception kiosk, the guest can continue the visitor registration process instead of waiting around. Guests of all kinds don’t like to wait and appreciate the ability to be proactive instead of inactive.
A reception application might ask the following questions:
- Your Name.
- The name of the person you are meeting, if applicable.
- The purpose for your visit.
Once the information is obtained, the receptionist or the kiosk can either direct the guest to the appropriate location, or contact the appropriate person to come meet the guest.
Conclusion: This is Mission-Critical Information
Unless they are lost and only walked in to get directions to somewhere else, every visitor who enters your organization is there for a specific purpose. However the person is greeted, finding out the reason for their visit is mission-critical to successfully moving them along on their journey. Your method for identifying them, whether a person or a digital visitor management system, needs to have the necessary skills to politely and effectively gather this key information. Then, they must be intelligent enough to guide the visitor to their next step.
Only after you have successfully identified the visitor and their purpose can both your visitor and your organization continue the tasks that keep you in business.
Visitor Management Step 3: Signing In
Does your organization require visitors to sign in upon arrival? Every organization, and even individual offices within, has different guidelinessurrounding guests and whether or not signing guests in is part of their visitor management system.
In parts of this series detailing the visitor management process, we described different ways to greet and identify your guests. Once you’ve identified which type of person or group is standing in your lobby, it is time to determine how much of the check-in process they are required to complete.
Whether or not you have visitors sign a paper or digital visitor logbook will depend largely on the rules or customs of your organization, but there are definite benefits to requiring visitors to check in.
In today’s modern world, office security is a higher priority than ever before. Schools, government buildings, large firms and factories all have reasons for knowing who is inside their facilities. And while businesses might like to maintain an open-campus type policy when it comes to visitors, that also makes them less secure.
Visitors are wild cards. Security best practices require visitors to sign in, which acts as the first layer of protection from would-be criminals – people who would harm people or steal data – by causing them to have to think twice about leaving a trail of evidence.
Many organizations require employees to wear or carry identification that doubles as electronic access keys for buildings. Visitors might also need visitor badges in order to access areas, or simply for identification.
A good, secure sign-in process will require, at a minimum, the following information from guests:
- First and last name.
- Business or organization they represent (if applicable).
- Purpose for visiting.
- Name of the employee, host or contact person they are visiting.
To go above and beyond, some organizations might also require:
- A visitor photograph is taken upon entry
- Signed, or electronically signed non-disclosure agreements or waivers
Making Visitors Welcome
It might seem slightly counter-intuitive, but having visitors sign in can actually help them feel more welcome. While some visitors may be frustrated by having to jump through hoops, this technique is also a signal that your organization has taken visitors into consideration, and it gives guests the knowledge that they’ve come to the right place. When a guest signs in, they know you are aware of their presence and therefore they are less likely to be left wandering around.
Also, if visitor badges are part of the sign-in process, you can train your employees to keep an eye out for those visitors who might need a little extra help. Guests often find themselves lost in an unfamiliar location, especially if your building has a lot of twists, turns and levels. Visitor badges give employees the immediate knowledge that the people wearing them are supposed to be in the building, but may not be familiar with the layout.
Who Signs In?
Not every organization is super-sensitive to security, and maybe not every visitor who comes in will be required to sign in. When thinking about your organization and its security needs, you’ll want to think about what your goals are, and what happens in your visitor management process. In step six of this article we will discuss the benefits of keeping a visitor registration log that includes all guests, but here are some possible questions to consider.
- Do delivery personnel need to sign in? Will they go beyond the lobby? If not, then signing in may not be necessary. Or, you may require less information for delivery people.
- How much access will the person have? Could they see or hear sensitive information or encounter semi-dangerous manufacturing equipment? If so, they might need to sign a non-disclosure agreement or a waiver. Such documents can be handled during the sign-in process with an e-signature app.
- Does your organization want or need to know who is in the building at all times? If yes, then having every person sign in is important. Some organization may not; perhaps you don’t need to know about the visit from an employee’s spouse or the pizza delivery person.
- Do you have a skilled dedicated receptionist to help visitors find their way? If the answer is no, then an electronic check-in kiosk has the benefit of both signing in visitors and helping to move them along in the process. Otherwise, they may very well be lost from the start.
Conclusion – Efficient Sign-In for Happy Guests
Whatever process you choose for signing in guests, visitors will appreciate any steps you take to make the experience easy. Take the time to plan ahead to determine your security needs and how best to make guests feel welcome. An efficient visitor sign-in process shows your guests that they are not just an afterthought, but rather an integrated part of a well-functioning workplace.
Visitor Management Step 4: Contacting the Host
When any visitor arrives at your workplace, they are there to connect with a person. It might be their host for a meeting, one of the people who receives food or package deliveries or someone they need to consult with. Helping the guest and their host connect is a crucial step in any visitor management process. There is nothing worse than walking into a building and talking to ten different people before you find someone who can actually help you. So how can you make this step seamless?
First, of course, you have to ensure you are first greeting guests, if necessary. Upon knowing their purpose, you can determine who they came to see; it may be a specific person, a group of people, a department or even security if they are not wanted at your site.
What is a host employee’s job? And what are the mechanics of making sure the host knows their guest has arrived in a timely manner?
The Responsibilities of a Host
When we think of a host, we often think of those who hold a dinner party, house guests or even travelers in their home, like Airbnb. The fact is, whenever an employee has someone come to see them at work, that employee is serving as a host. For however long the visitor is at your organization, that employee is the face of your organization. It is their responsibility to leave a good impression.
Here are some basic reception etiquette tasks a host can do prior to a guest’s arrival to make sure their visitor has a good experience:
- Provide crucial information to a visitor, like their name or their department.
- Communicate vital contact information, like telephone number, email and office number.
- Inform the guest of which entrance to use and any sign-in requirements your organization has.
- If possible, determine a meeting spot with the guest in advance and be there prior to the appointed meeting time.
- If appropriate, preregister the guest with either your human receptionist or visitor registration.
The Mechanics of Connecting Visitors to Hosts
How you connect your visitors to your hosts will largely depend on how your reception area is staffed and what the practices of your organization are, but the mechanics are basic. One of the following things has to happen:
- Reception notifications via a phone call, text, email or instant message - or several of those - is sent to the host, who comes and meets the guest.
- The visitor is given directions for how to find the host, either by another person or a posted directory and finds the host themselves. This method can have several unfortunate consequences ranging from lost and frustrated guests to unwanted visitors unfettered access to your place of work.
- The visitor is escorted by another person to their host.
Who Makes the Call and Why it’s Important
While the mechanics are simple, there are multiple consequences that could interfere with how work gets done and the impression guests get from your organization. The pros and cons hinge on whose responsibility it is to contact the host:
- The Receptionist: If you have an obvious reception desk, then the receptionist handles making phone calls, answering questions, giving directions and escorting guests. While this has the benefit of being great customer service, it also requires a very knowledgeable and personable staff member – and it’s expensive. In a busy office, the receptionist might be overwhelmed by people who don’t follow rules or too many people at once. This could leave your desk without staff, and keep guests waiting. It also prevents the receptionist from accomplishing other work, if necessary.
- The unlucky person by the door: If you are in a modern office or coworking situation, you likely don’t have a designated receptionist. The unfortunate soul who sits near the door may find themselves constantly interrupted by deliveries, salespeople, prospective candidates and more. They then have to stop what they are doing to use a phone, shout across the room (we hope not!) or guide the guest to the person in question, wasting work productivity in the process.
- A Digital Receptionist: Having a digital visitor check-in kiosk with a visitor management system can be a simple solution for visitors. It can automatically inform the host of a guest’s arrival via the host’s preferred method. A digital system can be set to contact hosts using email, text, phone, Slack or all of the above. This is especially helpful in the case of unexpected guests, like the flower delivery person sent to bring a surprise bouquet. They simply enter the name of the recipient into the system, and the person is contacted – wherever they are – that they have a delivery. One drawback of a digital receptionist is that it can be quite easy for a visitor to walk right past a kiosk
Perhaps the most fail-safe method of ensuring that guests and hosts get connected is to have a combination of a visitor check-in app supported by live staff for extenuating circumstances.
Conclusion – Get Them Together
Real-time reception notifications connecting visitors with the appropriate host is vital to getting business done. You want your visitors to feel welcomed, and to leave with the impression that your office has its act together. Contacting their host quickly and efficiently allows everyone to get on with the important job of accomplishing the purpose of their visit.
Visitor Management Step 5: Checking Out
Your visitor has arrived, been greeted, signed in and has been connected with the appropriate host. When their business at your workplace is complete, what happens? Does your guest just walk out the door? Or is your visitor required to check out?
Throughout this series, we’ve been exploring the various steps to a good visitor management system and explaining why some easily overlooked steps and processes can important. Perhaps the most overlooked step of visitor management is visitor checkout. Unless you run a medical office or are in the hotel business, most organizations don’t focus on guests checking out; guests just leave. However, there is one very compelling reason to have guests check out: security.
Your Secure Workplace
Security means protecting your people, physical assets and your data. When it comes to securing your workplace from the dangers of onsite visitors, you can’t know if a guest has left your premises unless the guest is required to check out. There are multiple security reasons for a visitor to actively check out of the location.
- Access: If a guest is given any sort of physical access capability (a key, key card or identification) it must be returned at the time of checkout. If the visitor gives it to the host and just leaves the site, then the host is responsible for returning it, and it is more likely to get lost. If the guest has been given electronic key card access, even if they don’t return the card or item, your system should register that they have left and deactivate access connected to the unreturned key card (like that pile of hotel keys you have).
- Accurate records: Knowing who was in your facility on which days at which times and for how long can be incredibly important if it is ever necessary to investigate a crime. (We’ll discuss in detail why it is important to keep these records in our final installment in this series.)
- Visual record: If all visitors are required to check out at the same location (a security best practice), it is easy to station a staff person or a security camera to watch for anything unusual. Strange behavior, unusual bulges in pockets and other visual cues can alert staff to theft or other crimes. If the use of a camera is engaged, it can also provide the physical appearance of a person for identification in connection with a crime – whether that person is a suspect or a victim – and can provide a record of their movements and what they were wearing.
- Visitor Safety: Imagine if a visitor completed their meeting, accidentally wandered into an unused area and either got locked in or had an accident of some sort. If the visitor isn’t required to check out, how would anyone know to look for them? At the end of the day or at shift changes, it is good practice to review a visitor log and see if anyone is still in the building or has stayed far longer than is normal. (A good host will also make sure to walk a visitor who is unfamiliar with the facility to the exit!)
Methods for Checking Out
How your visitors check out will largely depend upon how they check in. If a guest is writing their name on a paper visitor logbook upon checking in, then they might be required to write the time at which they check out next to their initial signature. If you have a large volume of guests checking in and out, this may require flipping through a number of pages and isn’t very efficient. Not to mention that every guest can see everyone else that has visited.
If you have a staffed reception desk, the receptionist or security guard may check the visitor out, taking any physical objects, like keys or key cards, at that time. The staff person might be required to update the paper or electronic log, or to ask the visitor to do so.
Pointing visitors to an iPad receptionist for checkout is probably one of the most efficient ways to have them check out. This maintains easy-to-search electronic records of the visit. It also gives visitors some active role in the check-out process. It is a signal that their business is complete and they can transition to their next task accordingly.
Summary – Checking Out Completes the Circle
Last time you went to an amazing restaurant, did you save room for dessert? Never underestimate the value of a great last impression.
Checking out of your facility is quite simply the final step a visitor ought to take before leaving your facility. With the stress of business complete, and all parties mentally recapping the visit or moving onto their next activities, it is easy to skip. Yet this important step in the visitor management process gives your organization a measure of security nearly impossible to achieve without it.
Visitor Management Part 6: Keeping a Visitor Log
When putting a process to your visitor management system, when a visitor to your organization has signed in, accomplished something amazing - or maybe just had lunch - with one of your staff, and then signed out... Do you keep the visitor log?
Over the course of this series, we’ve discussed all the important steps of having a visitor management process. The final piece of an efficient process occurs almost completely outside the visitor’s experience. While the visitor is aware of signing in and signing out, whether or not you keep a record of visitors is completely at the discretion of your organization. There are definite benefits to keeping a visitor log.
Why keep a visitor log?
There are some distinct advantages to keeping a visitor log. You never know when you might need to reference the information. Here are some possible reasons and scenarios.
- Visitor Recall: Some employees meet with LOTS of people: salespeople, job candidates in a low unemployment market, vendors crucial to delivering a great product, potential and current clients, maintenance workers and even key staff from other sites. If they had an unfamiliar walk-in visitor and did not get the name or contact information of that person – or misplaced it – a visitor log can fill in the gap. Categorizing every visitors correctly in your CRM database and following up can be crucial for sales and relationship building.
- Following Up with Visitors: Perhaps you wish to send a message to certain visitors. For example, if you run a service organization, you might wish to send a survey after visitor departs your facility. The insights and data they provide will allow for continuous improvement. Or, perhaps you hosted a grand opening party or Meetup event. You might wish to recap the event to reinforce the good feelings or cause. With a properly built and maintained visitor log you can automate these tasks.
- Crime Investigation: If you know exactly when a visitor checked in and out of your facility, it can greatly assist with the investigation of a crime. If even the pizza delivery person must sign in and out, but for some reason spent an hour in your facility on the same day property was stolen, that is suspicious. The crime need not even be committed at your organization. If law enforcement is tracking the movements of a suspect or a victim, as in this case, the information of whether they entered your premises could be vital.
Digital vs. Paper
Most visitor logs are going to be in one of two forms: a paper log that people sign in and out of, or a digital record.
In our increasingly digital world, it is hard to believe that paper logbooks still exist. There are a number of drawbacks to paper visitor records.
- Bad handwriting can make them impossible to read.
- Unless closely monitored, it is easier for a person to fake entries, in particular, the check-in and check-out times. It is also easy to bypass altogether.
- They take up a lot of space.
- They can’t be sorted by name or otherwise easily searched.
- They can be sorted by any field, including name, date, time of check-in or check-out, host name or more. All of the visitor’s info is easy to read.
- They can be searched quickly and efficiently by computer.
- They take up only a small amount of digital storage space.
- They can store other records with the log, like non-disclosure agreements and waivers.
- The time is logged automatically by the electronic device, and therefore the time cannot be falsified.
How Long Should You Store Visitor Log Records?
When it comes to keeping organizational records, we often fall into two camps.
- Throw Everything Out: It frees up a lot of physical and mental space. (There is a reason Marie Kondo is so popular.) However, if you throw out records prematurely, you could find yourself needing them for reference; financial audits are the perfect example.
- Keeping Everything Forever: This can be beneficial when you need to reference information, assuming the records are kept in an organized system. If, however, you keep everything indefinitely AND your system is disorganized, you might as well just take a bulldozer to your files.
As is usually the case, the best scenario is somewhere in the middle: you may have reason to go back in the records two, five or ten years, depending on your organization’s needs.
If you are keeping paper records, it is likely they will either be thrown out long before this or filed away in a manner that it is unlikely to be retrieved. Digital records can be automatically archived or deleted after a certain length of time. Even if you choose never to delete the records, they take up so little space that keeping them will be no hassle at all.
Wrapping it all up
Keeping a visitor log, preferably in digital form, is the final step in a comprehensive visitor management process. A guest is greeted, identified, signs in, meets up with the host and signs out. Then, the log of these visits is filed away to the benefit of all the different parties who might have need of them. It is the final link in the chain of a successful visit and an efficient process.
You made it! You are now officially one of the world's foremost experts on visitor management techniques!