Did you know it took over 600 hours to think up, agree upon, and refine the first ten seconds of the original Ginsu infomercial? (“In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife…”) The image – a hand karate chopping a tomato – was so arresting—weird enough to make the person with the remote stop flipping channels and say, ‘What the heck is THAT?’— that it went on to become one of the most successful ads of all time.
But while we’ve all heard we’re judged on the first ten seconds of any interaction, how many of us have put even 100 hours into the impressions others get when they walk into our office, or business’s reception area? With this in mind, here are a few suggestions for ways to make these spaces warm and inviting:
Let’s begin by taking as a given reception areas need to be clean and pleasantly lit—no “airplane bathroom lighting” i.e. unflattering from every angle. After this, other considerations in play include:
- While I want them to be clean, I prefer they don’t smell of either disinfectant or floral/woodsy/citrus air freshener. Proper ventilation is a must.
- Candy/flowers/plants: Each of these is a personal choice. My only request is that you don’t have all three, which promotes a garage-sale environment. If you have plants, they need to be kept religiously fresh and blooming—you don’t want those sitting and waiting to be mentally picking the dead leaves off your Ficus tree. If you have flowers, you want to make sure they’re unscented– you don’t want allergy sufferers sneezing wetly in your lobby.
- If you’re going to have candy make sure it’s wrapped. The same way the chips bowl at a party has been scientifically proven to be germier than the bathroom door handle unwrapped candy has the potential to lay waste to your visitors’ GI tracts. Also be sure to have a garbage can accessible for wrappers.
- Chairs in conversational groupings: Too often, chairs are ranged around the edge of the room, giving a airport/lounge/dentist’s waiting room feel to an otherwise elegant space. Turning chairs even slightly toward each other, and providing a table in between, will keep those waiting from feeling like they’re waiting for a root canal or delayed departure. Should you have a table in between them, the choice to place a box of Kleenex there is often gratefully received.
- Magazines/newspapers: if you choose to have either on-hand, make sure they are up-to-date and fresh looking. No one wants to feel like they have to break out Purell and rubber gloves to pore over your manhandled copy of People.
- Should you have a television in your waiting room—to my mind a dubious choice, but one which is becoming more pervasive—keep the volume low; if only one person is on-site, ask him or her if they would like it turned off.
- For those businesses with potential walk-in customers inquiring about services, be sure to have welcome packages at the front desk that they can take away and look through at their leisure.
As you can see, putting even an hour or two into organizing and/or refreshing your space can go a long way toward a dazzling first impression.
Frances Cole Jones