It doesn’t matter whether you have a simple front desk, a spacious lobby, or even a check-in kiosk in the hallway. Everything from the way the space is painted, decorated, and lit to the way the staff dresses and greets visitors can come together to create an experience that’s either positive or negative.


These impressions pave the way for other important meetings, such as those with potential star hires, big clients, and important partners. But they can also make an important impression on visitors who are just stopping in for the little things, like routine deliveries. These impressions are a great way to cement your brand and your reputation in the community.

But how do you know that your front desk experience is making the impression that you want to make? One of the simplest ways to get a better feel for what visitors are experiencing is to look at it with fresh eyes, as if you yourself were a first-time visitor. This doesn’t happen naturally. It takes a special and effort, as we’ll explain.

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Why We Stop Noticing our Own Offices

Have you ever suddenly noticed things about your home or office before that had been there all along? You might look around and ask “Have the walls always been this color?” or “Wow, how did I never notice this crack along the doorframe?” These things usually get noticed after you get a change of scenery, such as when you come home from a vacation. Why is it that we don’t notice these kinds things on a standard day?

It has to do with our innate biological need to save as much energy as possible. Consider this: the brain uses 20% of our energy even though it only accounts for 2% of our mass. Looking at things through an evolutionary lens, the humans who figured how to conserve as much brainpower as possible may have been the most likely to survive. After all, the more energy you burn, the harder you need to work to replace that energy with more food.

Plus, if our brains were constantly taking in every small detail of what is happening around us, we wouldn’t be able to focus on what is really important. It’s called selective attention.

As this Scientific American article explains: “For a brain with finite computing power, zooming in to focus on one thing always means picking up less information about everything else. That’s how we are able to concentrate on anything at all and leave behind the blooming, buzzing bundle of distraction that is the rest of the world.”

This is what explains the phenomenon of how we stop “seeing” our own noses or our glasses even though they’re constantly right before our eyes.

The Importance of Changing Focus

Making the decision to consciously notice surroundings that we’ve grown used to takes special effort. But shifting our brains from “focused mode” to “diffuse mode” has other benefits, too, as this Inc. article explains. Being in diffuse mode is associated with being in a more relaxed state, taking in things as we notice them and possibly using our time to process something we’ve learned or work through a difficult problem in the background.

When our brains are in this state, we’re more likely to get unexpected insights and breakthroughs, which is why it’s so important to take breaks from deep focus work. We may choose to step away from work by going on a stroll, for example, or walking over to the office break room.

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Using the “Secret Shopper” Method to Assess Visitor Experience

Of course, any employee can try shifting their perspective to make a special effort to empathize with office visitors and notice the things that a first-time visitor might notice.

But you can also enlist the help of actual office visitors to see what kind of impression your office is making.

Surveying visitors after their visits could potentially lend some insights. But the visitors who have come into the office for things like job interviews or potential business partnerships won’t be completely honest about their feelings. Others, such as those who come to make a quick delivery, might feel inconvenienced by a request for feedback.

Consider enlisting neutral, third parties to help you evaluate your office visitor experience. For example, friends or family members of employees who come to the office for the first time have less at stake in telling you what they really think.

You can even anonymize visitors’ responses if it makes them feel more comfortable.

Try to use a standard framework to track and assess responses. It doesn’t have to be too formal, but making sure that survey questions are standardized can make them more helpful.

Some of the questions can be open-ended, such as asking visitors to describe their general experience and impressions, or make general suggestions for improvement. Other questions may ask visitors to reflect on or rate specific parts of their visit, such as

  • Their impressions on pulling into the parking lot
  • Their impressions as they walked up to the building exterior
  • Their thoughts on the lobby, visually
  • Their thoughts on how they were greeted and checked in
  • Their thoughts on the furniture, refreshments, or other amenities (or lack thereof)

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