There are a number of different ways that organizations manage visitors to their offices and workspaces. Some use dedicated receptionists. Others have security guards or locked entrances. Still others have very informal systems with loose guidelines at best.
What is the best way to manage visitors? While it can be different for every organization based on their needs, there are definitely pros and cons to the different methods that hold true across organizations. There are also some best practices that can be helpful regardless of the method.
What are some of the different visitor management systems used by different companies? Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is worth taking the time to explore each one to see what is right for your organization.
A dedicated receptionist is an employee whose primary responsibility is to greet and direct guests. Some examples of a dedicated receptionist includes:
- The check-in clerk at a hotel or museum
- The information desk representative at a place of tourism or other large building
- The admissions and visitor desks at hospitals.
While these employees may very well carry out other important tasks – hotel clerks answer the phones and assist guests who are already checked in – their job, first and foremost, is to check in guests who are arriving and assist them with finding what they need.
Advantages of a Dedicated Receptionist
- Regular Staffing: Places who employ a dedicated receptionist know the position is staffed at all times and that visitors will not be presented with an empty desk upon arrival.
- Friendly Face: Being greeted by a person who is trained to be welcoming is a friendly way to start your visit. It adds a personal touch.
- Human Knowledge: When it comes to answering questions, sometimes having a human being to ask is the simplest way for a visitor to get the information needed. If a person drops in only to get directions to another location, there isn’t really need for checking in – just a person who can direct them the right way.
Disadvantages to a Dedicated Receptionist
- Costly: Hiring a person whose only job is to assist visitors can be a costly proposition for some organizations. Most organizations prefer to hire people who can attend to multiple different tasks as necessary. A person who should never leave there post can’t run errands or be in meetings.
- Inappropriate: Part of the costliness of a dedicated receptionist is the fact that many organizations simply do not have enough visitors to justify such a position. While every organization has visitors – from vendors coming for meetings to candidates coming for interviews – the volume and type of visitors is such that such a position could be quite frivolous. Who wants a person sitting idly at a desk all day when they only have a handful of people to greet?
Unlike a dedicated receptionist, a semi-dedicated receptionist greets guests as an equal or lesser duty to other responsibilities. This person might be an office manager, an administrative assistant or some other position of that nature. These employees answer phones, schedule meetings, order supplies, organize events and perform a multitude of other tasks that are just as important as greeting visitors.
- Flexibility: Compared to a dedicated receptionist, a semi-dedicated receptionist is more effective due to the varied responsibility they have. They are simply able to accomplish more with their time because they are given and trained in more responsibilities.
- Human Touch: Again, having a person there to greet visitors is friendly and welcoming for guests. A smile and a handshake can go a long way.
- Cost: While cost may not be an issue at some organizations, an administrative assistant or office manager makes more than an untrained receptionist. Using their time to deal with visitors may not be the most cost effective use.
- Interruptions: Since semi-dedicated receptionists have more responsibilities, the interruptions caused by visitors, both expected and unexpected, can derail their thoughts and cause them to lose efficiency in their tasks. Just as multitasking does not work, neither is splitting a person between multiple real-time jobs.
- Absences: Semi-dedicated receptionists are more likely to be pulled away from their posts for meetings, special events and other responsibilities. This could leave visitors floundering when they arrive to find an empty desk.
Ever worked in an office with no official receptionist? The unlucky soul whose desk is near the door has all the visitors walk straight to their desk for assistance. If this person happens to be a people person and doesn’t have anything pressing to accomplish, this may not be an issue. On the other hand, it is a recipe for inefficiency.
There aren’t really any cut-and-dried advantages to this method. You could argue that since you aren’t paying a person to greet guests that it is cost effective, but in all likelihood, it is more costly in more important ways.
The disadvantages to this visitor management method are quite significant.
- Lost Productivity: Monetarily, it may seem cost effective not to pay a receptionist and just allow the person nearest the door to absorb visitors. However, this may be costing the organization more money in the long run due to lost productivity. An interrupted employee is an inefficient employee who isn’t getting their primary work done.
- Hard Feelings: It is highly likely the employee who is interrupted harbors resentment toward the visitors for interrupting. This could manifest in poor attitude both toward the organization and the visitors and could lead to bad-mouthing both. If this is a co-working location and the interrupted employee is a member, they may consider going elsewhere to work.
- Poor Visitor Experience: Visitors who have to hunt for someone to get oriented may think your organization is unprofessional. If the visitor runs into an employee with a bad attitude and has a rude welcome, that can leave a terrible impression of the organization.
For those who have a mind toward security issues, a security guard posted at the door might be a strong consideration. In many ways, this is just another form of the dedicated receptionist, albeit a specialized one.
- Extra Training: A security guard is likely to have extra training in dealing with unwelcome guests, how to spot suspicious behavior and to deal with other emergency situations.
- Professional Appearance: A security guard projects a professional aura that can help visitors feel secure. On the other hand, it may be intimidating to those who are up to no good and act as a deterrent.
- Cost: You are paying a specialized employee to act as a receptionist, which can potentially cost more than just employing a receptionist. (Surprisingly, security guards and receptionists have nearly identical average salaries, so this will largely depend on the training and experience of the guard.) This may very well be worth the extra expense to an organization with high security needs, but not for the average organization.
- Suspicion: That same professional appearance may have even the most straight-laced of visitors on edge. They may be wondering why the added security is necessary and if they are being scrutinized.
You may have been to apartment buildings and offices that have locked entrances. Visitors are required to press a doorbell and often speak through an intercom to allowed inside. The attendant then unlocks the door electronically. Such systems are often used in conjunction with a security guard or receptionist of another kind.
- Access from Anywhere: Theoretically, with the right equipment, the guest could be allowed inside by any employee.
- Secure: Automatic locks ensure that the premises is secure when no one is being admitted. Random guests, for the most part, cannot walk in unattended and unannounced.
- Cost: Electronic locks, intercom equipment and other hardware necessary for such entrances can be expensive.
- Can be defeated: Suppose one guest uses the intercom, is admitted electronically and then is followed through the door by another guest that just happened to arrive at the same time. The second guest has not been approved. To truly be secure, such entrances need to be monitored by a person to prevent unapproved access.
Visitor Check-in Kiosk
The increasing role of automation in society allows for such technology as visitor check-in kiosks. Using this method of visitor management, visitors check themselves into an organization using a touch screen or a computer. Kiosks of this nature can be stand-alone or can complement a human receptionist.
- Always there, always on: Unlike a human receptionist, who may be on the phone or pulled away from the desk at anytime, a kiosk is always on duty. There is no worry that a guest will be left unattended. If your office is typically a busy one, multiple kiosks can be employed to handle multiple visitors.
- Data Collection: Unlike most other visitor management methods, an electronic system allows you to collect data in a digital visitor logbook that can later be analyzed. You can find out what your busiest day is for visitors, send all the recent job candidates a follow-up note, search for who fixed the printer on Tuesday and more.
- Active Guests: While it is certainly possible that security guards and other receptionists can log all visitors in an electronic system to use for data collection and record keeping, people like feeling active. Allowing guests to check themselves into the system gives them something to do, ensures that their names are spelled correctly and more.
- Follows the Rules: Even the best trained receptionist can sometimes forget or bypass rules. If your company requires that all guests provide contact information, or sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to enter past a certain point, an electronic system will require it, too. Computers can’t bypass or forget rules in the same way a person can.
- Can notify hosts automatically: Human receptionists can spend a lot of time trying to connect visitors with hosts. This may take the form of phone calls, texts, emails or walking the guest to their host. Some electronic systems have the ability to contact the host automatically upon the guest completing the check-in process.
- Cost: Using an electronic visitor management system is likely significantly less expensive than paying a full-time person to staff a desk. Even if you do employ a person, an electronic kiosk can increase overall productivity by reducing interruptions.
- Cost: Yes, cost fits as both an advantage and a disadvantage. This is relative based on the system selected. If you think of the semi-dedicated or unofficial receptionist is "free", well then spending low triple digits on anything may seem daunting.
- Impersonal: Some people might feel that using an electronic kiosk is impersonal and lacks a human touch. As more electronic, self-serve systems arise, like check-in at the airport and check-out at the grocery store, human interaction may be seen as more valuable. On the other hand, as it becomes more regular, some people welcome the self-serve aspect and may come to expect it.
Which Do You Choose?
Choosing which management system is right for you is a matter of preference based on your organization’s needs. In general, an electronic system used in tandem with an employee receptionist offers the best of both worlds in terms of record-keeping, security and a human touch.
Great Visitor Management Practices
Regardless of whether you use human reception, electronic reception, or both together, certain techniques and best practices make the processes and records smooth and clean.
Consider using these techniques as you choose your system.
- Preregister Visitors: Some organizations choose to have hosts preregister their visitors. This ensures visitors receive parking passes and appropriate clearance prior to arriving on site. They may require an ID from the visitor to verify they are the person expected. This also offers the ability to roll out the red carpet for expected guests.
- Visitor Logs: Visitor logs are also a key feature in some of the best visitor management practices. Getting the name and contact information as well as check-in and check-out times can be valuable from a security and record-keeping standpoint. Paper logs are less efficient than electronic logs.
- Notifying the Host: Hosts should be notified as soon as possible upon the guest’s arrival. The real challenge lies in the varying methods that can be used to contact a host. Some people don’t answer their phones or never check email. Electronic systems have the ability to notify the host in accordance with their preferences.
Conclusion: What is the Best Visitor Management System?
The best visitor management system is the one that works. It welcomes your guests, gathers their information quickly and efficiently and gets them on their way. It helps keep your building and employees secure. It reduces interruptions for your valuable employees and keeps costs in check. And, most importantly, it is easy enough that you, your employees and your guests will use it consistently and happily.