Visitor Management Systems: What They Are and Why You Need One

How many visitors are in your office right now? How many did you have yesterday? What about on August 27, 2015?

You probably struggled to answer at least that last question, if not the one before. And if you could answer them at all, you likely had to pull out the binder that holds your visitor sign-in sheets and manually count the entries.

While you’ve got that binder open, here are a few more questions for you:

  • How many of the names can you actually read?
  • How many visitors forgot to write down what time they arrived?
  • Who forgot to sign out? (Or are they still hiding somewhere in the office?)
  • Was the sign-in or sign-out time they wrote down accurate?
  • Did they write down the right employee’s name who they met with?

Now, think about what happens when visitors arrive at your office. Who greets them? A smiling receptionist who makes them feel welcome by engaging them on a personal level? Or one who’s obviously hassled and hasn’t had enough coffee because they’ve been chained to the desk all day?

Maybe no one’s there to greet visitors at all. Then what do they do? Hang out until an employee walks by or start knocking on random doors? Many buildings have unattended lobbies and unlocked doors, which means anyone could walk into any office at any time.

These simple scenarios take place every day in offices worldwide. And they illustrate the need for visitor management. In particular, they show why you need a visitor management system.

This article describes what a visitor management system is and why so many businesses today use this technology.

What is a Visitor Management System?

Visitor management is the process of tracking everyone who enters your building or your office. A visitor may be a customer, a delivery person, a job applicant, a contractor, a consultant, or the CEO’s third cousin twice removed. Essentially, anyone who is not a regular full-time employee is a visitor.

A visitor management system is a technology used to track visitors in a formal way.

Visitor Management Systems Before the Digital Revolution

The old fashioned version of a visitor management system is the sign-in sheet — a piece of paper usually kept on a clipboard or in a binder at the front desk. When a visitor arrives, they write down their name, who they’re there to see, and the time. Then the staff member sitting at the front desk notifies the host that their visitor is waiting in the lobby. At some point, that sign-in sheet gets filed away, or shredded, and a new sheet appears on the clipboard to record the next 10 or so visitors.

It’s not a particularly good visitor management system (and certainly not environmentally friendly). But it does work — as long as you don’t need an easily searchable visitor log, visitor photos, and ID badges. And as long as you’re happy paying someone to sit at the front desk all day, just in case a visitor or delivery may arrive.

But that doesn’t hack it for most companies today.

Most companies can’t afford to pay someone just to man the front desk. Receptionist salaries can reach $36K, and that’s before taxes, benefits, and overhead! Businesses also need tighter security than a pen and paper can provide.

And — let’s face it — no company wants to look old-fashioned, especially when it comes to technology. You want to look innovative and modern. You want to show your customers, your job applicants, and the world that you’re on the cutting edge.

Visitor Management Systems Today

Today, companies are eschewing binders, pens, and paper in favor of digital visitor management systems, like The Receptionist for iPad.

A digital visitor management system does the core job of checking in visitors. But it also does many things a pen and paper can’t:

  • Maintain a cloud-based visitor log
  • Take photos of your visitors to help you identify them
  • Print visitor ID badges, customized with your company’s logo
  • Capture signatures for NDAs and other legal agreements
  • Accept deliveries from UPS, FedEx, and other courier services
  • Send SMS, email, and Slack notifications when visitors arrive
  • Allow two-way communication between employees and visitors
  • Accept food deliveries and document drop-off
  • Provide instructions for visitors
  • And more

A visitor management system increases your office productivity, enhances your office security, and elevates your brand image. Let’s dive into each of these benefits in turn.

The Original iPad-Based Visitor Management App

The Receptionist for iPad (formerly known as The iPad Receptionist), a Denver-based company, was the original iPad-based visitor management system. It burst onto the scene in 2013, when Brad Feld of Boulder, CO’s, Foundry Group approached local startup TextUs about creating an app to protect employees from the demands of roaming visitors.

Feld wrote on his blog:

“We’ve never had a dedicated receptionist at Foundry Group but our office was oriented so the people “in the line of fire” were constantly interrupted whenever someone came in the office….[TextUs] came up with an iPad app called ‘Receptionist’ which freed up anyone from having to pay specific attention to the front door. As a result, we redesigned the entrance to our office with ‘Receptionist’ front and center…”

With that simple idea, Feld created the entire product category of iPad-based visitor management systems.

Since then, the market has exploded. Visitor management systems now sit in offices around the globe, shielding the people “in the line of fire” from interruptions. From tech companies to law offices, to manufacturing and engineering facilities, to schools — organizations across the board are realizing the benefits of visitor management.

TextUs’s Receptionist app soon became The iPad Receptionist. Then, in April 2015, The iPad Receptionist spun off as its own company under the direction of Andy Alsop (read his story). Just recently, it got a new name: The Receptionist (learn why).

All this in just three years! And all signs point toward continued growth.

Benefits of Visitor Management Systems: Office Productivity

The first visitor management system was designed to solve two major challenges related to office productivity: too many interruptions and receptionists being stuck at their desks.

Productivity Challenge #1: Interruptions

When Brad Feld asked TextUs to create a visitor management app, he wanted to eliminate interruptions.

Especially in offices that don’t have a full-time receptionist, interruptions are a huge problem. A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker is interrupted once every 11 minutes. Furthermore, it takes 25 minutes to get back into a task after an interruption.

Clearly, this math doesn’t work out well for productivity. After one interruption, the typical office worker wouldn’t even be back to their peak on a task before getting interrupted again.

But distractions aren’t just annoying. Research suggests they actually make us dumber. This study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who were interrupted during a cognitive skill test performed 20% worse than those who weren’t interrupted. The author of the New York Times article put it bluntly:

“…the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20% dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student into a failure.”

In today’s competitive business landscape, no company can afford to have their employees operating at a 20% disadvantage. You need your employees to work as fast as possible and at the highest level possible. To do that, they need to be able to focus.

Don’t let your employees suffer from Person Nearest the Door Syndrome. Your competitive advantage could be at stake.

Productivity Challenge #2: Receptionists Stuck at Their Desks

Another productivity pitfall is the necessity of having a person at the front desk all of the time.

For many companies, going receptionless isn’t an option. But that doesn’t mean that checking in visitor and answering phones is all your front desk staff can do. Jane Streat, the Head of Client Services at Lexington Reception Services, identifies many ways in which the traditional receptionist role has expanded.

Here are some common receptionist duties today:

  • Enhancing organizational brand
  • Creating a positive and memorable customer experience
  • Welcoming guests as a host
  • Assisting guests with office technology
  • Providing first-line support for technical issues
  • Coordinate meetings and prep conference rooms
  • Providing concierge services

And that’s not all! Receptionists are often called upon to support other departments. In our 2015 survey, we found that receptionists, office managers, and executive assistants regularly perform work outside of their job description:

  • Data entry (31% of respondents)
  • Human resources (20%)
  • Accounting (15%)
  • Social media (14%)
  • Newsletters (9%)
  • Travel planning (7%)
  • Other (4%)

They also said they’d like to be doing more. Two out of three respondents agreed with the statement: “Companies often do not take full advantage of the skills their receptionists have.”

Your receptionist can contribute a lot to the success of your business. But not if they’re stuck at their desk all day.

By welcoming and checking in your office visitors, a visitor management system frees your receptionist to work on other things. Guaranteed both you and your receptionist will be happier for it.

To learn more about how a visitor management system complements your front desk staff, read 5 Reasons You Need a Receptionist for iPad Even if You Have a Real, Live Receptionist.

Benefits of Visitor Management Systems: Office Security

The next set of benefits revolves around office security. In particular, a visitor management system helps combat challenges related to information security, visitor privacy, emergency evacuation plans, and regulatory compliance.

Security Challenge #1: Information Security

Do you work with confidential documents? Intellectual property? Trade secrets? Would you want someone wandering into your office and discovering your company’s secret sauce? Of course not.

Your lobby plays a big role in your office security. That includes keeping your company’s information secure. And a visitor management system can help.

Here are three stories that represent what we hear about why companies choose to implement a visitor management system. Do any of them sound familiar?

Imagine this scenario:

You’re an intellectual property lawyer who works with confidential documents almost all day, every day. You don’t have a visitor management system, and your receptionist is away from the front desk.

Your 2:00 appointment arrives 10 minutes early, while you’re on the phone with another client. With no way to pre-alert you that she’s there, your 2:00 just walks straight into your office, overhearing part of your conversation and possibly seeing some of the other client’s intellectual property.

Or how about this one:

Your company has 300 employees at its HQ. You’re in an active growth phase, so new faces appear monthly. Currently, you don’t have a visitor management system or any way of issuing ID badges to visitors. As a result, you’re never sure the status of the people you see walking around.

One day you discover that some sensitive information was stolen from a senior VP’s laptop. How can you even begin to find out who did it? You don’t even have a record of who was in your office that day.

One more:

Your software company is just about to launch your new product. You hire several consultants to help you prepare for the big day. You know your competitors want to get the skinny, and you’ve been working hard to keep it under wraps.

But then you discover a competitor’s name on the paper sign-in sheet at the front desk. With dread, you notice that the names of the consultants you hired are on the same page. Now the competition knows who you’re working with. And while they might not have the full details yet, they’re one step closer to learning your plans.

None of these stories is entirely fictional. For more on this topic, read Are Your Competitors Using Your Visitor Log to Spy on You? and How Secure is Your Office? (And How a Visitor Management System Can Help).

Security Challenge #2: Visitor Privacy

Hopefully, your company puts customer privacy at the very top of the priority list. But have you thought about how a visible visitor log might put them at risk?

This is a concern we’ve heard from several customers, particularly those who work in fields where privacy is paramount, like legal and financial services. Your customers might not want others to know they paid you a visit. And it’s your responsibility to respect their desire for privacy.

Privacy killers exist everywhere in office environments. Learn about three of the worst.

Security Challenge #3: Emergency Evacuation Planning

No one likes to think about it, but emergencies happen — floods, fires, civil disturbances, incidences of workplace violence, and so on. And when those emergencies happen, you need to know who’s in your office so you can do everything in your power to keep them safe.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workplaces to have emergency action plans, which include an evacuation policy and procedure. Although the standard doesn’t specifically mention visitors (OSHA’s mandate is to ensure employee safety and health), many insurance providers require emergency plans that extend to visitors.

The first step in making sure everyone on your premises is safe in an emergency is knowing exactly who’s on your premises. With a visitor management system, you have this information available at your fingertips.

Read more from OSHA on How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations.

Security Challenge #4: Regulatory Compliance

While OSHA doesn’t specifically require visitor management, some other regulations do. Here are three types of compliance you should be aware of:

ITAR Compliance

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations is a set of export control laws to prevent sensitive information from getting into the hands of foreign nationals. Any company involved in defense articles, services, and technical data must be ITAR compliant (aka ITAR certified). All visitors to facilities that supply these products must first verify that they are U.S. citizens, and they may be required to sign other legal agreements as well.

C-TPAT Compliance

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism is a program to ensure the safety of all goods entering the United States from foreign suppliers. This is a voluntary program under which importers must ensure the security of their supply chain, including keeping detailed records of everyone who visits the suppliers’ facilities.

FSMA Compliance

The Food Safety Modernization Act is a set of FDA rules aimed at improving the safety of the U.S. food supply. As part of the Food Defense Rule, the FDA recommends implementing a check-in/check-out system at security or reception areas, a comprehensive visitor policy, and a transportation driver check-in policy.

Many aspects of visitor management are just good practice. But regulatory compliance is mandatory. Learn more about these three regulations and their implications for your company.

Benefits of Visitor Management Systems: Brand Image

The last key set of benefits revolves around a company’s brand image. Specifically, a visitor management system helps you create a great first impression and ensure the brand image you’ve got is the one you want.

Brand Image Challenge #1: Your Company’s First Impression

Think about the last few office you visited. How was your experience?

When you walked in, did you think, “Wow! This is a great office!” Or did you think, “Wow. I just really can’t wait to get out of here.”

You’ve probably heard that it takes only 7 seconds to make a first impression. That’s a lot of pressure! It’s also a serious overstatement. You have far less time than that. Researchers at Princeton found that we actually form first impressions in about 1/10 of a second.

Often, when visitors enter your office, they’re forming that crucial first impression of your company. If they’re greeted promptly and made to feel welcome, their first impression will be positive. If they feel ignored or lost, that impression will suffer.

A visitor management system helps you make a great first impression, even if there’s no receptionist there when your visitors walk through the door. It welcomes them to your office and helps them immediately get in contact with whoever they’re there to see. It also provides a positive and efficient visitor experience by checking them in quickly and getting them where they need to go.

Brand Image Challenge #2: Building the Right Brand Image

Finally, a visitor management system elevates your company’s brand image. Your brand image is how other people view your company. And it’s incredibly important because of how it affects your bottom line. Studies show that customers are more likely to purchase from companies they perceive in a positive light.

Brand image is tricky because it’s not something you can control entirely. But you can shape it through the choices you make. For example, by supporting green initiatives, you can promote the image that you’re environmentally responsible.

Your office technology also influences your brand image. One of the comments we hear repeatedly from customers is that a visitor management system enhances their brand image. That’s why a lot of them choose to use a visitor management system in the first place.

Think about it — how would you feel if you walked into the office of a technology company and were asked to write your name on a paper sign-in sheet? You’d probably wonder what kind of technology company still uses a paper sign-in sheet. You might question their tech savviness.

This is one of the reasons companies like Upland Software, eOriginal, and CCS Presentation Systems use The Receptionist for iPad. They’re all leaders in their technology fields, and they want to reinforce that image from the moment people walk in the door.

High-end fitness and training studio Vault Fitness provides another example. Their clients want “attractive amenities and high-end technology, and they expect the best.” A piece of paper on a clipboard with a pen attached simply doesn’t fit the bill.

Many of the companies we work with say the same thing — a visitor management system elevates their brand and impresses their visitors. Scroll through our customer stories for more examples of how this simple piece of technology can influence how customers view a brand.

What to Look for in a Visitor Management System

There are several visitor management systems on the market. And while they all perform the basic task of checking in visitors, they differ in the features and functions they provide.

Here are seven of the most essential features to look for, based on our customers’ reports:

Customized Check-in Process

You probably have more than one type of visitor, and they don’t all need to go through the same check-in process. For example, for a general visitor, you may want to capture their name, company, email, and phone number. They might also need to sign an agreement and wear a badge. But for a courier delivering a document, probably all you need is their name and company. A customized check-in process allows you to design the reception experience around each visitor who comes to your office.  

Notifications via Multiple Channels

When a visitor arrives at the office, the visitor management system sends an automatic notification to the person the visitor is there to see. The Receptionist for iPad can send notifications via email, text message, or Slack. This allows each contact within your company to choose the notification channel(s) they prefer.

Two-way Communication

Your employees don’t just receive messages from the visitor management system. They can also send messages back to their visitors. For example, suppose an employee is running late for a client meeting. When the client checks in, the employee can send a quick note back to the iPad to say it will be just a few minutes.

Message Forwarding

Sometimes a visitor’s primary contact isn’t available. In this case, a notification can be sent to someone else. And if the secondary contact isn’t available (maybe they’re at lunch together), a third person can be notified. Unlimited options for backup notifications ensures you don’t leave any visitors hanging.

NDAs and Other Legal Agreements

More and more companies are asking job applicants, business partners, and colleagues to sign NDAs and other legal agreements. To make this even more complex, different visitors often need to sign different agreements. Being able to simplify the paperwork and get the signing done quickly upfront saves a lot of time and hassle.

Digital Visitor Log

Let’s be honest — no one ever goes back to review paper visitor logs or takes the time to enter the data into a spreadsheet. But companies find many uses for digital visitor logs, from tracking visitors for security purposes to exporting lists of people who attended a particular event. For example, Vault Fitness uses their visitor log for to streamline the billing process. Others use it as a way to track pick-ups and deliveries.

Badge Printing

Badge printing is one of the most-searched-for features. Visitor badges contribute to security by letting you know at a glance who’s in your office. Some of our customers take it a step further by printing badges for some types of visitors, but not others.

These are just a few of the ways a visitor management system makes office life easier. View The Receptionist for iPad’s full list of features.

The Future of Visitor Management – What’s Coming in the Next 3 to 5 Years?

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! And thanks for reading. As a reward for your perseverance, here’s a sneak peek at the future of visitor management.

A Visitor Management System in Every Office

In the next few years, digital visitor management systems will become the norm and paper sign-in sheets will disappear from offices completely. No one will be sad about this.

Integration with Physical Security Systems

The next major development will be the ability to scan visitor IDs (like driver’s licenses) and integrate with physical security systems (like keycard access control).

Integration with Other Office Management Technologies

After physical security, visitor management systems will start integrating with other office management tools, like conference room scheduling apps. The result will be seamless communication among all of the tools you use to move people into and around your office.

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There you have it! An in-depth look at visitor management systems, their benefits and features, and what’s coming down the road. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at 888-315-5230 or hello@thereceptionist.com.

To see the original visitor management app in action in your office, sign up for a free 14-day trial of The Receptionist for iPad today.

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Visitor Management System
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Krista GarverVisitor Management Systems: The Complete Guide to What They Are and Why You Need One