The complete guide to visitor management systems

For businesses who are ready to replace that visitor sign-in sheet with a digital visitor management system

Even as early as 7000 BC, Patagonian cave dwellers were leaving their stenciled handprints on the cave walls in Cueva de las Manos, Argenta.

This was the earliest representation of "I was here," albeit on the most primitive of visitor sign-in sheets.

We've all come a long way since caveman days, and that's why we've created this visitor management guide to help your organization decide where to go from here.

Here's what we'll cover:

1. The basics of visitor management

1.1  What is visitor management?

Visitor management is the act of tracking the people who come and go from your premises. 

Whether or not your company has receptionists or even a front desk in place, you should consider visitor management a golden opportunity to raise your brand awareness.

For example: If your organization is known for outstanding customer service and innovation, then the last thing your visitor would expect is to sign in on a piece of paper in your lobby. 

It's less about "managing" visitors and more about having them walk away with a good impression of your business. People management: because business meetings are people meetings.

It's a chance for you to align the way you welcome visitors into your building, with your company values.  

1.2 What are the different types of visitors?

On any given business day, your visitors can be categorized but not limited to:

  • Business meeting attendees
  • Candidates for job interviews
  • Messengers or delivery people
  • Contractors or vendors
  • Auditors or regulatory professionals
  • Unexpected drop-ins

In our many chats with hosts and visitors alike, we've heard it all.

Your visitor count might even include employees left their access cards at home and can't let themselves into the office. For that day, they can be registered in the system as a visitor so they can be accounted for in case of an emergency evacuation. 

So really, your business dictates the types of visitors to be welcomed for the day.

1.3  What is a visitor management system (VMS)?

If you're reading this, then you've probably attended a meeting or two at someone else's place of business. Or maybe you've been job hunting recently, and have been in an out of your share of corporate lobbies. 

Hopefully, you have fond memories of those visits—how you were greeted, made to feel safe and welcomed during your stay, as a part of doing business.

Chances are, there was a system in place to make your experience such a positive one.  

A visitor management system represents all the processes and activities an organization puts in place to manage the flow of visitors, from start to finish, as a part of the bigger picture—the visitor experience.

1.4  What is a visitor experience, exactly?

The term "visitor experience" is used most often in the business-to-consumer (B2C) world—trips to the movie theater, museums, or memories made of Disney magic—all the remaining feelings and impressions about a specific environment. 

But in this era of digital transformation, it's more important than ever that there's a human touch in the B2B world. 

Companies consist of people, and business-to-business settings also present stages for experiences.

— Pine & Gilmore in 'Welcome to the Experience Economy,' Harvard Business Review

The Harvard Business Review published Welcome to the Experience Economy more than 20 years ago, but the messages still ring true today. And they can be applied to your organization's visitor management.

It's high-time the visitor experience sees some changes, because "the conventional approach" isn't working anymore.

Example of a bad visitor experience:

An archaic visitor management system, aka the paper sign-in sheet, results in a poor experience for our friendly visitor "Steven":

before-visitor-management-system

If only his hosts had chosen a better visitor management system than old-fashioned pen and paper!

Would you believe us if we told you that Steven could have been saved from all his pain and misery? 

Download Steven's improved path so you can see how you can do better for your visitors today.

1.5 Who uses visitor management systems?

There's a common misconception that "visitor management systems are expensive and only for big companies."

Size does not matter when it comes to visitor management. Organizations both great and small, to Fortune 500 and Fortune 50, can benefit from a solid visitor management system.

There exist solid use cases already, both on global and local levels:

Visitor management systems are used across industries as well, from A to almost-Z (until we get our first Proxyclick-using Zoo, maybe).

  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Air Freight & Logistics
  • Automotive
  • Biotechnology
  • Chemicals
  • Commercial Services & Supplies
  • Communications Equipment
  • Construction & Engineering
  • Consumer Discretionary
  • Consumer Goods & Staples
  • Containers & Packaging
  • Distributors
  • Diversified Financial Services
  • Diversified Telecommunication Services
  • Education Services
  • Electronic Equipment, Instruments & Components
  • Food Products
  • Gas Utilities
  • Health Care Providers & Services
  • Hotels, Restaurants & Leisure
  • Industrial Conglomerates
  • Internet Software & Services
  • Leisure Products
  • Machinery
  • Media & Creative
  • Metals & Mining
  • Paper & Forest Products
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Professional Services
  • Real Estate
  • Renewable Electricity
  • Retail
  • Technology Hardware, Storage & Peripherals
  • Textiles, Apparel & Luxury Goods
  • Transportation

We've pretty much seen them all and happily served them all over the years.

But we know that there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

So it's important to find a visitor management provider who can scale—up or down—with you.

2. Types of visitor management systems

The progress we've made through to the 21st century is no laughing matter.

Even the role of the receptionist has evolved dramatically since the antiquated days depicted in television shows like AMC's Mad Men. So why are we still utilizing pen and paper as a default visitor management system?

paper-logbook-visitor-management-system

Dreaded pen and paper

on-premise-visitor-management-software

On-premise software

cloud-based-visitor-management-system

Cloud-based software

2.1  Pen and paper visitor management system

The infamous paper logbook—what seems like an innocent enough and low-cost VMS can cost you more in the long run. You'll be able to record basic information about your visitors and hope that they've given their real names and such. But that's if you can read their handwriting in the first place.

But from an efficiency and security standpoint, you're asking for trouble if you depend on the paper logbook.

Not only do visitor sign-in sheets cause long lines at reception, but they also violate your visitors' privacy because their information is left there in plain sight for the next person to see.

At this point, we should give an honorable mention to the old "Excel spreadsheet," which also goes by the alias "Google doc." Front desk heroes all over the world are crafty and creative, and more than capable of "re-creating" the paper-based logbook into an electronic spreadsheet.

Still, there are a number of issues around visitor data retention and (which you'll read more about later in this guide).

2.2  On-premise software

Friends shouldn't let friends use old legacy software for their visitor management either.

Granted, moving away from the paper trail and onto the electronic logbook is a step in the right direction. But do you really want to deal with the amortized costs of legacy systems? 

With on-site software options, you'll run into a number of obstacles:

  • High acquisition costs involving the installation of server-side hardware, storage or anti-virus, or patch application (this includes any hidden costs of a self-hosted solution)...
  • The need to make space (i.e., a server room/closet) for it, or power it or cool it.
  • Buying hardware maintenance plans, software support, and future software version upgrades. 
Why refresh servers and burden your balance sheet when you can get them as a service?

— Jacek Materna in 'On-Premise Is Dead, Long Live On-Premise,' Forbes

Forbes Technology Council member Jacek Materna is absolutely right.

Besides—knock on wood—in the event of emergency or evacuation, that "electronic sign in sheet" stored on a hard drive inside your office isn't going to be of much help to you.

2.3  Cloud-based visitor management

The interface is connected to the cloud where the information the visitors enter is gathered and then presented -- on the other side of the front desk -- in a dashboard for easy management.

Only a cloud-based SaaS solution can provide you a best-of-breed approach so you have more control over what you're using and what you're paying for. 

You don't even have to take our word for it. 

  • There are scholarly white papers dedicated to the virtues of moving to the cloud.
  • According to Forbes, a subscription to software as a service (SaaS) makes the most business sense.
  • Cisco even predicts that "By 2021, 94% of all workloads and compute instances will be processed in the cloud."

This movement also holds true for that of the cloud-based visitor management system

Your visitor management system should be able to make your life easier in a number of ways. At a minimum, you'll sleep better at night knowing you can count on a cloud-based visitor log. 

And let's face it, the cloud doesn't sleep or take bathroom breaks. It doesn't need cooling or storing in some server room in your building. Nowadays, you can try cloud applications for free before you ever put any money down.

3. Reasons to consider a visitor management system

We've got four really good and timely reasons right of the top of our heads to share with you.

They're actually statistics pulled from 2,000 working professionals who were polled in the Front Desk Experience Survey 2018.

And they only scratch the surface of what office workers across the US and the UK had to say about their experiences in corporate lobbies. (Download the report)

But they do provide some compelling reasons to consider a visitor management system:

visitor-management-system-survey-results

Even in this era of video conferencing and live webinars, there is no end to live face-to-face business meetings in sight.

This goes for both the US and the UK.

You will never see eye-to-eye if you never meet face-to-face.

— Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

According to numbers reported in Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs, and attitudes..., there are an estimated 11 million face-to-face business meetings happening across the US every day.

At first, the number sounds unbelievable, but when you consider the population of America runs upwards of 320 million then it makes sense.

visitor-management-system-guide

Similarly, a 2016 survey commissioned by that Centre for Economics and Business Research reports that face-to-face business meetings account for £193Bn of the UK economy. 

In addition, London-based companies especially are primed to gain approximately £250K in new business simply by holding in-person business meetings.

So why wouldn't you (and your organization) take visitor management seriously? Let's take a closer look at the aforementioned four reasons.

3.1 Impress your visitors

visitor-management-system-statistic-1

With 48% of US respondents admitting to having bad experiences in corporate lobbies, we can deduce that these were bad first impressions made off the bat.

We even took a deeper look at the 8 main reasons cited for the poor visitor experiences in the reception area

It's such a shame because most bad experiences in corporate lobbies can be avoided with the right amount of preparation and automation. In fact, you should never underestimate the power of an invitation email in setting the tone and professionalism from day one.

Can you see the potential for best practices in each of the complaints above? Every one of them could be remedied by the right visitor management system.

3.2 Streamline procedures at reception

visitor-management-system-statistic-2

Business meetings are people meetings, and in-person meetings are not going anywhere. So why are "long lines at reception" to blame 60% of the time?

The 2018 Front Desk Experience Survey also revealed three other obstacles.

visitor-management-guide-survey-results

Independent of other research, Joseph Allen, at the University of Nebraska Omaha, surveyed professionals across a variety of industries in the US: sales, retail, media, construction, IT, etc.

Allen and his team asked these volunteers about the last meeting they'd attended, and his team published their findings in "Let's get this meeting started: Meeting lateness and actual meeting outcomes."

In it, they reveal that 40–50% of the meetings started late. Period. 

That margin of lateness borders on destruction, and certainly indicates wastes of time that a visitor management system could have salvaged.

3.3 Secure your building

gdpr-compliant-visitor-management-3

We get it. There's a fine line between keeping your office building secure and making your visitors uncomfortable.

But there's no need to make 85% of your visitors feel weird about the level of personal data you're asking of them.

Did you know that you can only collect data for required security protocol or to fulfill a business contract?

Data privacy laws, like GDPR, require something called data minimization.

Personal data must be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed.

— GDPR, Article 5, 1(c)

This should be engrained in the way you do business and a part of your GDPR compliance checklist.

But that's not all.

You have to consider the real risks and imminent threats that start at your front desk.

When it comes to the physical security of your workplace, workforce, and intellectual property, your visitor management system can serve as your first line of defense. 

For example: Maintaining high levels of security can be made easier with access and integrations with global watchlists and facial recognition capabilities for verifying ID documentation.

visitor-management-system-security

Nobody likes to have features thrown in their face when searching for digital solutions on the internet. However, being tasked with finding the perfect visitor management system for your business means you've got to be thorough.

Does the solution you're looking for check off all the boxes on your list of items for security protocol?

3.4 Stay in compliance

gdpr-compliant-visitor-management-system

If somewhere between 62% and 70% of your visitors are admitting to sneaking peeks at other people's personal information in the guest registry, then that's a huge red flag you can't ignore.

And according to the survey results, the percentage of confessions to "snooping" was higher for US respondents: 70% to be exact.

Compliance audits around data privacy

When it comes to regulatory compliance audits, your visitor management system will—by default— be the first thing the auditor will "see." 

Now, it is possible to procure "discreet sheets" that use blackened bars for carbon copy records—for confidential sign-ins—but still begs the question of data retention and GDPR's Article 7(3).

If you haven't yet been able to wrap your head around all the business requirements around visitor management data and GDPR, then no worries.

We recommend you start with "The simple guide to GDPR and visitor management" and go from there.

Incidentally, the majority of respondents to the 2018 Front Desk Experience Survey voiced their willingness to check in using iPads over the old pen and paper system.

visitor-management-system-iPad

Everyone's well on their way to a digital future across generations. People, young and old, have been checking in via cloud-based visitor management software for years now.

Isn't time to join the movement before you're left behind with paper cuts?

4. How to choose the best visitor management solution

If you've made it to this part of the guide, then it means you're ready to start the research phase into the things to look for when choosing a visitor management system.

So, it's always a good idea to start with a little homework and determine how to align your needs with your visitors' needs.

4.1 Think about your visitors

Really, take a minute and give this some thought.

It's the visitor experience that matters. The way your business is perceived is directly correlated to the way your visitors are welcomed. 

Consider this an opportunity to see your visitors in a new way by "re-thinking your reception area."

To get you started, we asked international corporate hospitality experts for their 10 key recommendations:

  1. Define your DNA and build loyalty… 
  2. Hire the right people from the right places.
  3. Create (or recreate) visitor journeys.
  4. Let your visitors help you find solutions that work.
  5. Extend your definition of “visitor."
  6. Recognize that technology, while essential, will never replace the human touch.
  7. Consult a specialist.
  8. Remember that money matters but in the end, people matter more. 
  9. Communicate effectively.
  10. Never leave any opportunity untested or untried.

Great list, isn't it? Would you like to know more? 

Well, you can download all the best practices and actionable steps to step up your reception area before you take a minute to assess the kinds of visitors you receive on a regular basis.

Some questions to ask yourself

If you haven't already, then check out the list of different types of visitors, in Section 1.2 of this guide, before answering the following questions:

  • Do you get many messengers or suppliers stopping in on their delivery rounds?
  • Do you have any heavy recruiting and interviewing seasons coming up?
  • Are your Board meetings scheduled in advance so that you can pre-register your visitors?
  • Are most of your visitor's one-time guests, or do you have recurring visitors? 
  • What percentage of your visitors arrive unannounced? And would you like to manage the check-in process differently for such guests?

Don't limit yourself to the questions listed above.

Brainstorming with key members of your team is also recommended, especially with those who will be benefiting most from a digital visitor management solution.

4.2 Assess your organizational needs

Write down as much as you can and as much you know about your visitors, past and present and future, and refer to it regularly while you conduct your research.

Then, ask yourself some questions around your business needs:

  • Do you multi-tenant needs or multiple locations to manage?
  • Do you need your visitors to review safety instructions or to sign legal agreements (e.g. NDAs)? And do you need those documents stored?
  • Are there complicated legal or compliance requirements you need to satisfy around screening or access control? And do they require your visitors to be checked against global watch lists? Or to wear visible visitor badges?
  • Do you have specific steps in the visitor journey that you'd like automated? 
  • How would you like your visitors' hosts to be notified upon check-in?

Having as much information handy will not only help you to better assess your needs, but it will also help you with the process of elimination—that is, choosing which visitor management systems make the cut before you give them a try.

Tip: Any visitor management system worth a try will be able to offer you a free trial with no strings attached (i.e. no credit card information required of you).

4.3 Research your options

Now that you're armed with some information around your visitors and your own needs, it's time to dig deeper.

You might turn to LinkedIn, or ask your friends, or maybe you remember checking in on an iPad yourself recently. No matter the trigger, chances are you'll hit the search engines.

Google, maybe?

Visitor-management-system-research

Once you've narrowed down your choices enough to count them on one hand, you'll get to have some more fun with the process.

Do your due diligence and dig a bit into each of the companies you're interested in.

What kind of reviews have they received on G2 Crowd and Capterra? Read through them. They're very telling, and an important of the research process.

Do they offer a free trial? What SaaS provider doesn't nowadays?

visitor-management-system-free-trial

If they don't, then take a hard pass. 

4.4 Start a free trial

Take the plunge and sign up.

Don't feel comfortable providing your credit card information to get that free trial started? We don't blame you. You shouldn't have to.

Free trials should be just that, at no cost, and no obligation.

The best way to determine whether not the solution will fulfill your needs is to throw it right into the mix of your daily operations.

If you can, then have your reception team and a handful of colleagues test the solution with you. Throw your own free trial party if you want to.

So take your time and see if the platform functions the way you need it to.

It's easy to take for granted something that's beautiful and intuitively designed. But the easier it is to use the better so there's minimal training involved.

Tip: Don't be afraid to ask for an extension on your trial if you need a few more days. 

4.5 Ask tough questions

Once you've taken your solution for a spin, and maybe even watched a demo, you'll know better whether or not it's "the one."

This is where you need to buckle down and get some answers for long-term use—before the "honeymoon phase" between you and your visitor management system fades. Figure out what's important to you and what your deal breakers are.

Then ask your questions including, but not limited to:

It's important to get straight answers, but it's also a great way to gauge the communication style and level of transparency in the conversation. 

You should feel supported and valued from day one, month after month and year over year.

4.6 Get buy-in from internal stakeholders

When it comes to delivering a VIP visitor experiences, it truly is a team effort. As such, you'll need to recruit the help of members across various departments:

  • Security
  • Facility Management
  • IT
  • Senior Executives

Do you how each stakeholder stands to benefit from adopting the visitor management system you present?

You can start with the list we provide in "Getting rid of the signing-in book," and use it as a catalyst to get the conversation going.

And don't forget that the number of "micro-influencers" you should also lean on.

Hint, hint—the receptionists and hosts who tried out the solution with you. Having their input will help when the time comes to getting your management team to sign that dotted line.

5. What is the future of visitor management?

Visitor management has been taken to the cloud where there are apps.

But now what?

Forward-thinking organizations will need to implement fully integrated solutions, enabling the Integrated Visitor Experience (IVE) to begin the very moment they connect with their guest.

The IVE is about making every visitor feel like a VIP while also creating value for the organization.

Proptech startups have started innovating the workplace with unprecedented solutions, just to name a few:

  • visitor management
  • meeting room management
  • employee apps
  • indoor navigation
  • IoT, and
  • access control

We predict that the industry will see best-of-breed startups integrating their offerings with each other to deliver a truly modern workplace.

Continue your research and discovery

  • A good way to discover how a visitor management solution can really enhance the productivity of the front desk in your organization is through 'Proxyclick Tour" demo. (Watch it here) 
  • If you'd like specific information about how to secure your building using Proxyclick, then join us for our exclusive live webinar. (Save my seat)

And don't be shy. We're certainly not.

In fact, we welcome your complex needs and look forward to hearing from you.