Lisa Morris Josefak
Investing in their waiting rooms helps companies get off to a good start with clients
Chances are, when a receptionist cordially invited you to "Please have a seat," you were steered to a plain waiting room with utilitarian chairs on multiple occasions.
However, many businesses - from law firms to healthcare providers to financial firms - are realizing the importance of creating a pleasant waiting room experience. They are introducing themes, moods and activities to the space where your appointment begins.
Meltzer Lippe Goldstein & Breitstone's three-section waiting area is distinguished by an eclectic collection of artwork, including two black-and-white vintage photographs by Berenice Abbott depicting New York City and a variety of paintings.
"We must have about 50 pieces of artwork on our walls," said Lew Meltzer, chairman of the Mineola-based law firm, who noted each piece is accompanied by a small sign providing details about the painting. Enriching this art gallery concept, the firm is planning to offer a recording with highlights about each work of art so visitors can take self-guided tours.
Looped in with this artsy ambiance is relaxation. "It's like sitting in a Starbucks," Meltzer said.
With the receptionist, a coffee bar, cappuccino machine, soda and water bottles in one area and a sofa, chair, TV and about 100 books in a second area, which is known as the library, this is not far-fetched.
"Our books are organized in categories," Meltzer said. "There are no law books, just books about history, novels and more. People can sit and talk, watch TV or read. They can even borrow our books if they'd like."
The third section of this ensemble is called the "pre-conference room," where clients can talk privately among themselves before they meet with their attorney. While it maintains the standard look and feel of an office conference room, the firm is looking to redesign it into a lounge. "We don't want the formality of a conference table," Meltzer noted. "Within the next couple of months we'd like to soften it up to set it up like a den in your house. We'd like to have the same kind of feel as our library, but this would be private."
Setting the tone
Establishing a pleasing atmosphere enhances a client's experience, said Robyn Baumgarten, owner and president of Interiors by Just Design in Woodbury.
"People want to feel good in their environment," she said. "Environment makes you feel better."
The waiting area sets the entire tone of your business, Baumgarten explained.
"When you walk into this space it tells eople who you are and whether people want to do business with you," she said. "If I go into a doctor's office and the rug is pulling and the reception area doesn't look appealing it isn't saying much about the doctor."
An interior designer for home and office, Baumgarten tells business owners to think about their waiting rooms like the entrance to their home.
"Your entrance way sets the tone for the rest of the space just like the waiting room defines who you are," she said. "This is where you show what you are all about and the place where you need to invest. After all, they are waiting for you - so make them understand you want to make them comfort.able."
For those seeking ways to express themselves and their business through this space, Baumgarten advises: "Businesses need to embrace this space like your wardrobe and you'll find your style."
Reflecting your style
Finding flair in the waiting area was a conscious effort for Maria Schwartz, a partner and co-founder at Schwartz & Ciesinkski, a matrimonial and family law firm in Garden City. "The idea when we designed this space was that we did not want it to look like a typical law office," Schwartz said. "We wanted the reception area to be on the smaller size, which would reflect our desire for people to get the feeling that this is something intimate and boutique-like and not be overwhelmed."
Presenting a neutral color scheme and some texture into the room, including a gray velvet couch and a chair that pulls in colors from the carpet, the waiting room WAITING ROOMS, From Page 29
has a soothing feel.
"We have beige, brown and some blues and gray all coming together," said Schwartz, who explained she and her partner purposely went to a home furniture store for the furnishings. "We wanted to stay away from office furniture in the reception area," she said. "We wanted cozy but elegant."
The ultimate goal was to create a unique and impressive environment, reflecting what people are looking for in a divorce lawyer, Schwartz said.
"They want someone who they feel has a particular style, a particular level of confidence," Schwartz said. "So wrive tried to design our suite to reflect who we are as individuals - starting with the reception area."
A distinct element of the firm's waiting room is a small "cozy" window, through which the client can communicate with the receptionist.
"We purposely placed the window there so our clients don't feel awkwardly alone," Schwartz said. "Usually, a reception area has the receptionist in with the client but she is ignoring the client because she is busy answering phones and doing what she needs to do. I personally have experienced that sense of awkwardness."
Bringing office technicalities behind the scenes but adding a small window inside the waiting room, the firm gave its clients personal space with a connection.
"It is a private area but clients are not left alone," she said.
Applying hospitality principles to healthcare
Installing charging stations inside its waiting areas is just one way North well Health is keeping its patients connected and comfortable, said Northwell Health Vice President and Chief Experience Officer Sven Gierlinger.
Previously holding leadership positions with The Ritz-Carlton, where he played a key role in the openings of several hotels around the world, Gierlinger says he is very passionate about applying hospitality principles to the healthcare setting. "The first impression you get when you walk into a facility should start from the parking lot and continue through to the reception area/waiting room," he said.
No matter the style, Gierlinger emphasized that the waiting room has to be clean, it has to be fresh and it must be clutter-free.
"In healthcare, you generally find that it is cluttered, people are sitting clown with their heads buried behind screens, the counter is full of brochures that nobody looks at, there is signage everywhere that nobody reads and the TVs are blaring," he said. "I think TVs are horrible in that environment because they are more of a noise pollutant. If they are there they should be on closed caption or should have images promoting health and healing and not the news or talk shows, which can create more stress."
With 21 hospitals across the region, Northwell is redesigning all the waiting areas - which the health system likes to refer to as lounges - to promote a friendly and homelike feel.
"In our Imbert Cancer Center in Bay Shore, we gave the feel of being in a living room," Gierlinger said. "Patients who are coming here are stressed and nervous. They need comfort and they need to feel like they are at home, and this feels like home with Ooor lamps, books and other decorations in the space."
Northwell's focus contrasts with the traditional st.ark clinical environment.
"While patients wait for blood results there is a lot of warmth," hes.aid. "There are warm colors, the right amount of lighting, soft fabrics, throw pillows and board games."
The health system's new emergency rooms in Huntington and South Shore hospitals have similar concepts.
"They have La-Z-Boy types of chairs pointed outward that are looking out a window, bringing nature into the room," Gier linger said. "This is an important component too."
Enlightening the senses can also give patients a better experience. "We are introducing some scents into the lobbies, as well as music that plays softly in the background." Gierlinger explained.
Back to nature
Bringing the outdoors inside is the key component to Empire National Bank's open and spacious waiting area in Islandia. Beyond the glass wall of Empire's reception area is a reflecting pool, a waterfall, evergreens and colorful plants.
"You can see the water when you sign in," said Empire National Bank Founder and CEO Douglas Manditch. "It's always a very bright and pleasing place to be."
This design was all about creating serene surroundings.
"I spoke to the architect about designing it," he said. "I wanted it to be relaxing and a mix between contemporary and traditional. We have a lot of wood accent walls, glass and a lot of metal, which holds up all the glass for a contemporary look."
Sitting in plush chairs, visitors can enjoy the calming scenery and therapeutic effects of the water while they wait. The waiting area also has a fireplace that is up and running from November to April, enhancing the tranquility this space promotes. Knowing its clients are business-savvy, Empire National Bank inst.ailed a television in this area that airs business news.
Knowing your clients
Knowing your clientele is important when creating space for them, said Censer Dubow Censer & Cona Managing Partner Jennifer Cana.
"We have a classic law firm reception area, which is what we thought would make our clients most comfortable," she said. To complete the traditional feel, the Melville elder care law firm incorporated a cherry wood Ooor, a cherry wood reception desk, a couple of elegant throw rugs, a coffee machine and a mini fridge into their waiting room.
"It's an old world charm and upscale warm tone atmosphere that we have set," Cana said. "Our look is never going to be edgy - and I'm okay with that."
While its waiting area may be considered soft and subtle, one thing is loud and clear: From the time clients enter the firm, it is all about education. In addition to racks of helpful material in the waiting area, the firm offers a clearinghouse of information on all things related to elder care through its Susan C. Snowe Caregiver Resource Center, situated within the waiting area. The center, which is named after a dedicated social worker who passed away several years ago, offers an open invitation to the public.
"When clients are waiting they often gravitate to the center to gather information," Cona said. "All those things that come up for our clients, including assisted living, home care, nursing home, hospice, senior housing and reverse mortgages, is housed in this resource center."
Helping individuals become well-versed in elder care is a top priority for the firm.
"We staff the center with an attorney once a week so the public can come in and ask elder law questions and we will help them for free," Cona said. "They can come in and gather information without any kind of sales pitch or pressure - just come and get the information."
Creating a welcoming waiting area and resource center was on the firm's wish list five years ago when it moved from its old office into this location.
"People choose to come to you and you want to make it a great client experience from the minute they call or the minute they walk in - or both," Cona said.
Visit the Cona Elder Law calendar to see who will be at the Susan C. Snowe Caregiver Resource Center this month!