swamped-receptionist-pan_12833Hi-Touch and Hi-Visibility corporate facilities are becoming much more focused on delivering a hospitality experience. The Facilities Manger needs to be aware of the pivotal role played by the reception area in the visitor and service experience. Addressing this important factor can be tricky. It’s easy to get lost in the process and to underestimate the many variables involved.

This is not supposed to be the definitive answer but I do want to suggest 10 simple steps we have experimented with in our Clients premises previously. In the search for new and innovative ideas we should never leave any opportunity untested or untried and so at the bottom of the post I have set out a typical guest journey through reception and I would love to hear of your experiences.

Looking Forward

As most Facilities Managers will be able to tell you, the modern-day workplace is less about the infrastructure and more about the people. In the past two decades, the reception, area has gone from being a kind of a cosmetic afterthought to becoming a tangible expression of corporate identity, values and mission.

Getting it right can make an enormous difference in our Customer’s daily business and pave the way for future recognition and success. In order to support the brand, uphold the company’s vision, mission and to make the right impression on your Customer’s, competitors and clients it’s essential to make the right first impression.

Office buildings are becoming more like hotels. In my post entitled Customer Experience, The Near Future for FM I mentioned that the phrase a ‘hotel with desks’ was coined in reference to the desired experience for the occupants of a client’s Corporate HQ. Reception areas are a unique and important component of the facility that you manage. It needs to be a place that draws people in and makes them feel welcome.

1.   Consult a Specialist.

The reception area is often the first physical contact a visitor has with a company. Visually, it has to be a bright, well-lit space (preferably natural light), clean and accessible. The visitor experience starts long before she reaches the reception but upon entering the senses must be engaged: it has to smell good, be pleasant to the eyes, and you need to have a smiling, reassuring person to welcome and guide the visitor to their meeting.

As tempting as it may be to scrimp on the cost of the reception area, you would not go to a medical GP for brain surgery. You need to engage an experienced specialist to design every aspect of the reception area. Do not rely on the Architect or Interior designers that built the facility, this is a job for a specialist.

You need to engage with someone who has experience in bringing to life a vision that meets with the company’s brand and the desired experience. A specialist Interior Designer with hospitality experience will bring the company vision and mission to life through technology, fragrances, flowers and art, creating the “wow factor” that will shape your visitors’ first impressions. It’s all about engaging the client and their senses and beginning a journey together.

2.   Define the DNA

As FM’s it is hard for us to influence the outcome of a meeting, but our real ability to impact our Customer’s Customer as well as they staff, suppliers and other important stakeholders is to influence the way they enter and exit the facility, and the lasting impression that our service leaves with them.

Once you have a reception area that has been created as a tangible expression of your client’s identity, the first thing you as the FM need to do is to be sure you know what that DNA is and how the client wants it to be expressed through the service experience.

Once this DNA is established, you can translate it into services and behaviour that match your Customer’s culture and values. This is how, ultimately, you will build loyalty for their brand.

3.   Hire for Behaviour.

I am sure you have heard the phrase recruit for behaviours, train for skills. This is particularly important in the services sector and particularly so in hospitality related spheres. Last century was about infrastructure. This one is all about people. Our industry is not rocket science and you will go far if you ensure that you reach out to the right people.

People are the trademark of outstanding hospitality and it is only people who can create a truly memorable service experience. Our receptionists, concierge, ushers attendants and security all need to be a living embodiment of the desired brand.

We need to make sure that when we hire them they have a great attitude and an engaging personality and that they take great pride in whatever they do. They need to bring a personal dignity and a ‘can do will do attitude’ the rest can be taught.

The right attitude and behaviours make everything else possible. It’s not magic, but when the chemistry is right, everything else becomes easy. Seek out the brightest people, people who are motivated enough to make a difference. Talent retention is probably our greatest challenge in reshaping the reception area experience.

Facilities management has for too long fished for talent in an ever-decreasing pond. With a greater focus on the reception area, the industry has looked to the hospitality industry for talent. An ever-increasing number of reception managers come from the hotel business, and their expertise in guest-centered and tailored service is moving the sector forward.

4.   Create Guest Journeys.

Unfortunately, too many Facilities Managers make the mistake of thinking that one size fits all. They believe that because a particular process has been successful in one of their previous contracts, it will be successful in any context. This is a serious error.

Every visitor deserves a tailored journey. That is why it’s important to create guest journeys based on different categories of visitors and guests e.g., the arrogant new important new Customer, the enthusiastic vendor, the shy student, the delivery guy etc.

Identifying these personas allows you to focus on specific groups of people among your potential guests in order to better serve them. Such personas do exist in the real world and getting to know them puts you in a position to offer your guests a unique and memorable experience.

Remember: First impressions are lasting, and they will remember this experience whenever they interact with the company.

For each of these guests and users, we should be answering the following questions;

  • What is the experience I want to create for guests as well as staff entering the building?
  • What are the specific outcomes I want to create in other words how will the guest feel as a result of this experience?
  • What specific expectations does the typical guest bring to this experience?
  • What does failing to meet the guest expectations for this experience look like?

5.   Get Your Guests Input .

In your quest to find the answers to the questions above do not assume that you know what is in the mind of the average guest or visitor, ask questions. One of the simplest methods for keeping in touch with your guests is through regular but quick and simple surveys.

Some clients will baulk and the idea of you approaching their Customers but persevere and build the business case for how important the reception experience is to the branding of your client’s business as well as their Customer retention process.

Once you have understood and identified the different personas that will use the area, involve them in finding solutions. Organise workshops and focus groups and let people give their input regarding such things as design or new ideas you want to test.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be afraid of negative feedback. As I have said before dissatisfaction and complaints are golden nuggets of information giving you the opportunity to improve your service and create a better experience. The way you deal and recover from negativity says a lot about the person that you are.

6.   Staff are Guests Too

Most people tend to think that the term “guest” applies only to individuals who are not part of the company. When we identify the personas that will use the reception area do not forget the everyday staff member that walks through the entrance doors. We need to ensure that the reception area reinforces the values for them as well. If the company promotes behaviours such as honesty and integrity above all others, then frisk searching them every time they walk out of the door is going to cause a great deal of dissonance.

In terms of reception practices, I have found that the best results are achieved by extending the definition of “guest” to everyone, both within and outside the company. Visitors, and everyday staff members then, are always considered guests If you provide the same care and attention to anticipating and satisfying the needs of all, you’ll quickly find yourself on the road to success.

7.   Customer Experience First.

Technology will play a critical role in the foreseeable future: it will help companies to become more efficient and more cost effective. Improving quality and reducing cost is possible and desirable but we do not need innovation at the cost of the Customer experience.

In my post Customer Experience, the Near future for FM I put forward the idea based on the quote from Steve jobs You’ve got to start with the Customer Experience and work backwards toward the technology, not the other way around.

Technology facilitates human interaction, but it can’t and won’t replace it. That’s why, now and in the foreseeable future, it’s the human touch that makes the difference in outstanding reception practices. A guest might be able to check in from his smartphone, but if something goes wrong, it will still take a skilled reception manager to find a solution.

In the rush to apply technology we must not forget the Customer experience. We must put a human face at the start of the guest journey.

8.   People Matter More.

Too often people explain their failure to realise their dreams with the same excuse: not enough money. (“If I could have spent more, it would have been perfect.”) Similarly, managers with a large budget believe that a huge investment will always guarantee a successful result. They’re both wrong.

Money is important, but at the end of the day, it’s about the people. You can spend a fortune on interior design and art, but if you don’t have the right attitude, the best-trained people, and a genuine desire to engage with your clients and guests, it’s highly unlikely that you‘ll achieve the result you want.

9.   Communicate Effectively.

Communication is a very powerful tool but only if you use it wisely. Displaying company policies and sending informative emails is important, but the best way to ensure a high-performing reception area (and company) is by involving your support team in the entire process. Making sure that they understand why you’re doing what you‘re doing and why you need them to be engaged is the best way to gain their support and bring out their best.

10. Invest in Training

Designing the end to end process for reception and concierge management can be a daunting task. There are specialist providers of training in all aspects of guest management, hospitality all the way down to personal grooming, style and deportment. A Customer’s reception is a shop window to his business if he is entrusting you to create the first impression it is worth investing in specialised training to create the desired guest experience.

A Typical Customer Journey

What does exceeding Customers’ expectations for this experience look like? referring to the bullet points in #4 above, the Guest journey might look something like this

  • The experience starts from the time and appointment is made over the telephone.
  • On the day of the meeting, car parking has been easy to find from the clear directions given and a friendly uniformed security guard knew who you were and when you were arriving.
  • The Security check in was automated and verified and a message confirming your arrival was sent to reception.
  • Your are shown to your secure reserved parking space and escorted to the lift to the reception area.
  • The reception area is clean neat and well lit, with warm and inviting but practical furniture.
  • It is decorated with interesting artefacts from the company’s history with little cards explaining the significance of each one.
  • Low-level background music, nature sounds or a water feature provide a soothing oasis from the noise of the street outside.
  • The well dressed and groomed receptionist is standing behind a raised smiling openly and warmly in your direction
  • The receptionist appears as though he/she is “Director of First Impressions.” they understand the strategic importance of their job and take great pride in their role at the company.
  • The receptionist always refers to visitors as “guests.” The term visitor implies someone who doesn’t quite belong and whom everyone hopes leaves quickly. The term guest implies someone who is to be honoured and shown hospitality.
  • The receptionist warmly greets you by your name. You wonder to yourself, how did she know that?
  • The receptionist extends their hand and introduces himself. saying, “It so nice to meet you again the weather is a lot warmer than when you were here in March:”
  • You are not required to sign in and the receptionist signs you in herself through a process completely invisible to you.
  • The receptionist provides you with a pre-printed “guest” badge or security tag
  • The tag or badge is magnetic, rather than adhesive or a pin. It sticks to your jacket without damaging the fabric.
  • Your first name is in big letters and your last name is printed in smaller letters underneath it emphasising the informal nature of your surroundings.
  • Either the receptionist asks you if you care for something to drink or you are guided with an open hand to a guest lounge where you are greeted by the guest manager and are and provided beverage alternatives ranging from mineral water, fruit juice, or freshly brewed tea or coffee.
  • You are guided to a modern but comfortable individual upholstered seat (not a sofa) that is not too low so as not to cause you difficulty in standing again.
  • Guest Wi-Fi is immediately available.
  • The receptionist or guest manager then says, “If you would like to have a seat, I will call [Name] and tell him you are here. I know he’s looking forward to seeing you”.
  • While you’re waiting for him to come down, your beverage is served to you at your seat. There is a small side table for you to rest your cup.
  • There is a selection of the most recent edition of several popular magazines, as well as a few industry journals. A small card next to the stack invites guests to take a complimentary copy.
  • Within five minutes, the person with whom the guest has an appointment steps into the lobby and warmly greets the guest.
  • As you leave the reception area, the receptionist says, “It was good to meet you, I look forward to seeing you again.”

This sequence of events describes a journey that is clear and guides the Facilities Manager to be able to design an experience that will be memorable for the Guest.

This is not an exhaustive list but I would love to hear from any of my readers of any additional experiences they have included in a Guest Journey; please leave your comments below