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Does Your Building Make a Good First Impression?

I have an admission. My college job was as a waiter at an El Torito Mexican restaurant. In hindsight, I should have spent these formative years working on my professional development, interning at a real estate company or a tech startup. But, I wanted a job where I could work nights, meet new people and easily get time off to sow my wild oats in all of the far-flung places where I thought they needed to be sowed.

The most embarrassing part is that I had to work my way up to server. El Torito doesn’t just let any geek off the street deliver Cadillac Margaritas and make tableside guacamole, you know. You have to start as a host/hostess so you can understand the flow of the restaurant and the importance of hospitality. Restaurants, more than maybe any other industry, understands the importance of a first impression. 

The role of the host would be one of the easiest to automate, a simple tablet application could take names and tell people when their table is ready. But this is one of the last jobs that restaurants want to outsource. We all know the adage about the importance of first impressions. It applies to an establishment just as much as it does a stranger. The first interaction when someone enters the buildings can set the tone for the rest of the experience. The feeling of discord lingers long after the memory of harmony fades. 

Since a bad experience has so many negative repercussions on the perception of a building, managers should do everything that they can to prevent it. Sometimes even the most highly trained teams and the most hospitable operating procedure can still lead to a bungled first touch. All it takes is for a hiccup in any one of the systems that need to work together to get a tenant or a guest where they are going in a secure building.

When it comes to commercial real estate, whether you are the tenant or the building owner, you need to care about that first impression a visitor or occupant has when they first enter your building or your office. At El Torito we were not allowed to use the word “customer.” Instead we had to call them “guests.” While this was a rule that I broke all the time (I was not the best host in the world to be honest) the distinction always stuck with me. It is not enough for a business, or a building, to just wait for their clients to come to them. They need to go out of their way to make their experience as easy as possible. This is something that much of the property industry has not yet learned.

Some of the new technologies coming out are trying to fix this. I talked with James Segil, co-founder at access control technology company Openpath. He told me that he created his company’s product as a comprehensive service, with hardware, software and training combined in order to make sure that they were able to deliver when it counts, namely every time.  “We saw that the legacy physical access control systems were cobbled together,” he said, “with readers from one vendor, control boards from another and software from another. As a result, there is no consistent user experience and it makes it a challenge to innovate as you don’t control everything under one system.”

“Access Control technology hasn’t changed much in 40 years—it’s old tech” says Segil. “The reason why a better experience hasn’t come along sooner is that there isn’t just one vendor making a complete access control solution, instead there are so many different companies who make each of the piece parts—credentials, readers, panels, software, etc.—innovation happens at a snail’s pace.” Designing for a better user experience is what led Openpath to make their own hardware (readers and panels), software and mobile app. By using industry standards for wiring, credential support and communication protocols they were able to integrate with all the standard building access systems like turnstiles, elevators & garage gates. What Openpath then did was develop cloud-based software built on Open APIs and a mobile app built with an easy SDK (software development kit) so that both the access control software and the mobile app that goes with it can be integrated with anyone else’s software or mobile app. Now they have a developer community springing up around their access platform with other PropTech companies integrating into Openpath like Envoy for integrated visitor management or HqO for an integrated tenant amenity app.

When it comes to creating great workplace experiences, the details matter.

Matt Harris, Envoy

“When it comes to creating great workplace experiences, the details matter. Expectations of the workplace are changing, opening the door for elegant, modern solutions like Openpath,” says Matt Harris, Head of Workplace Technology at Envoy. “Cloud integrations enable the systems we use to run our workplaces to work seamlessly together, meaning that everyone benefits, from employees to visitors to security and IT professionals.”

These kinds of partnerships help focused on user experience and create both the hardware and the software so that they are able to achieve what other cloud and mobile access offerings couldn’t: fast unlock speeds, 99.9% reliability and friction-free access via “touch” technology. This approach must be working as Openpath reports 94% mobile adoption compared to the 2-3% on average for the industry and reports tremendous traction with big landlords and tenants alike in just their first year of business. 

Modern-day tech companies prefer to focus on one narrow part of a larger system as a way to out-innovate their competitors. They know that most uses for technology do just fine by “stacking” enough hardware and software together until it can get a job done. But some things are just too risky to leave to a number of disparate systems. I imagine most military technology is all created under one larger schema since it is too risky to leave something like the launch of a warhead up to a patchwork of stitched together systems.

Well, a building’s entrance should be no different. The possible downsides of a security breach or a bad guest experience far outweighs the extra effort it takes to ensure a building’s technology is perfectly integrated. Next time you walk into a new building think about how your first interaction made you feel. Think about what that feeling is worth and then multiply it by the thousands of people that have to go in and out the building every day. In the end, you will likely find that this number is many times higher than what it costs to deploy a well-designed access control system and train your staff to be able to know how to use it.

Editor and Co-Founder

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