The 6 Ways Business Receptions Can Get Awkward (And How to Avoid Them)

We’ve all been there: You’re visiting an office for the first time — maybe to meet with a potential client or for a job interview. You double check that you’re early (but not too early!), walk into the reception area clutching your portfolio, and …. hmmm. That’s a little off.

Maybe the front desk area is eerily empty. Maybe you walked into the middle of something you weren’t expecting. Or maybe it’s just not clear how to check in.

It’s safe to say that visitor experience is not always top-of-mind for non-retail businesses, which is why awkward situations abound in office reception areas.

However, the reception area is where first impressions are made, and first impressions matter. As just one example, career expert Liz Ryan encourages job seekers to view their experience with the receptionist as a direct indicator of company culture. It makes sense: Just think about the damper that your weird reception experience would have had on your theoretical new job or partnership.

At The Receptionist, we’ve heard all kinds of front desk area mishaps. Here are the most common sources of awkwardness and confusion in the reception area — and how to make sure your own visitors avoid them.

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Awkward Situation #1: The desk is abandoned

When you walk into a business only to be greeted by a silent, empty front desk, you’re left wondering what to do next.

Should you take a seat and wait? Search for one of those little call bells? Get out your phone to email the person you’re meeting? Or get adventurous and take a few steps into the rest of the office?

No matter which one you choose, it’s not an ideal way to start a visit.

Most of us know what it feels like to walk into this situation, but we also know as business managers how difficult it can be to keep the front desk staffed constantly.

Even when we employ someone exclusively dedicated to reception, they need to take bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, and meal breaks. And because front desk workers are often in charge of more than just checking in visitors, they may get pulled into meetings that take them away from their desks.

It would be easier if you always knew when visitors were coming, but pop-in visitors and deliveries are always a possibility.

How to avoid empty lobby awkwardness:

  • Split front-desk duty among employees and make sure your staff understands that they have to cover for each other.
  • Put up a professional looking sign that tells visitors what to do when there’s no one at the desk. The sign may also note when the receptionist will return.
  • Invest in visitor management software that lets visitors check in and communicate with their hosts via a tablet or touchscreen.

Awkward situation #2: When you get shown in by a random employee

Perhaps as you’re trying to figure out your next move at the empty reception desk, employees unrelated to your visit stroll past, notice you, and try to help out — even as they’re clearly just trying to head out the door for lunch.

The cousin of this awkward situation is when you take a few steps into the office and encounter someone at the water cooler, coming out of the bathroom, in the conference room, or even at their desk and startle them by asking where you can find your host.

These situations are annoying for both visitors and for employees.

How to avoid this awkwardness:

  • First, keep the desk staffed (see awkward situation #1). If you can’t do that, you should let your employees know that if they’re expecting visitors, it’s their responsibility to make a plan for when they arrive. Most of us have the best intentions of meeting our guests at the front door, but things happen: meetings run over and fires have to be put out. Always have a backup plan.
  • Consider using a visitor management solution that notifies your entire team of when visitors check in. That way, no one is surprised to encounter a stranger at the water cooler.

Awkward Situation #3: The reception area is unprofessional

Is it more awkward to come into an totally empty front desk, or walk in to the smell of lo mein and the sight of the receptionist mid-bite?

No one wants to feel like they’re interrupting something personal when they walk into an office. Details like papers scattered all over, rain boots visible on the floor, or outerwear hung over the back of her chair can make you feel like you just stepped into someone’s living room.

Another example of this awkwardness: When the receptionist sees you, she has to hurriedly get off what seems like an important phone call, or even continue that call as she gestures for you to check in.

Sometimes it’s clear that the “receptionist” is actually just the employee who happens to be sitting at the desk nearest the entrance. Click To Tweet

It’s not a great first impression.

How to keep your reception area professional:

  • Give your receptionists the means and incentives to keep the reception area tidy (and odor-free) by encouraging them to take their breaks in the breakroom or elsewhere. Let them know that it’s fine for them to leave their desks as long as you have one of the backup plans listed in step 1.
  • Empower your receptionist to focus on guests by making sure they understand that other responsibilities are secondary. If you expect your front desk worker to be making calls and dialing into meetings during the day, make a backup plan for managing visitors during that time. (Being preoccupied while receiving visitors isn’t just a bad impression for visitors: it also makes it hard for them to get their other work done.)
  • If the employee in charge of reception has too many other responsibilities to do reception tasks well, they would probably love to have those reception duties taken off their plate. If you have another desk they can work from, leave the reception area empty and employ a dedicated visitor management system instead.

Awkward Situation #4: The receptionist isn’t expecting you

Maybe you walk into the office and are greeted right away by a cheerful, professional-looking receptionist.

However, when you give him your name, you see his brow furrow as he tries to figure out who you’re meeting and where you should go. You get worried. Are you in the wrong place? Did you get the meeting date or time wrong?

Maybe the receptionist is new and they don’t know everyone yet, or maybe they just weren’t alerted that you were coming. Maybe your host isn’t expecting you and the receptionist isn’t sure how to handle the situation.

Regardless, the receptionist should greet all visitors with confidence.

How to avoid this situation:

  • Give your receptionist a clear set of workflows that indicate what to do in each visitor scenario. If you use a program like The Receptionist, you can create clear, simple visit categories so every visitor check-in goes through a custom list of automated steps.

Awkward Situation #5: The self-check-in system is unclear

More companies are figuring out that automating visitor check-in with a tablet or touch screen equipped with visitor management software is a great way to aid a human receptionist or even substitute for one.

However, if you’ve ever tried to check in with a system that’s unclear and had no one around to help you, you’ll understand quickly how this can backfire.

How to avoid confusing your guests:

  • Make sure your system has the ability for visitors to directly contact the person they came to visit. That way they have an easy way to get help if they need it.
  • Before letting your automated visitor management solution run solo, supervise the process for a few days and see if there’s any confusion.

Awkward Situation #6: You don’t know who to look for

If you’ve never seen the person you’re scheduled to meet, you probably won’t be able to recognize them with certainty in the lobby.

That means you may find yourself awkwardly scanning the reception area until you meet the eyes of someone doing the same thing. If that weren’t awkward enough, not knowing what the person you’re meeting looks like can also result in some mistaken introductions.

How to avoid this:

  • Use a visitor management system that takes photos of visitors as they check in. Photos are a good security measure (they keep visitor badges accurate and are a foolproof record of who actually checked in), but they also make introductions much easier. That’s because when the visitor checks in, the host gets a notification that includes the visitor photo. Then, the host can confidently walk into the lobby and introduce themselves to the right person.

The reception area doesn’t have to be awkward or confusing. With a bit of thoughtful planning and perhaps the help of an automated system, it becomes a consistently pleasant introduction to a business.

By the way, if you’re ready to see one of those automated systems for yourself, The Receptionist visitor management software is built to handle your visitor check-in from start to finish. To learn more, contact us or click here to start a free 14-day trial.

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