Companies in every industry actively seek ways to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. Digital technologies are proving to be helpful as companies use them to automate previously manual processes. But sometimes these business “improvements” prove to be costly in unexpected ways, such as by degrading customer service. One area that companies can improve efficiencies, reduce costs and maintain excellent customer service levels is by using a video collaboration solution to deploy virtual lobby attendants.

Outsourcing your lobby receptionist to a service provider or implementing a self-service kiosk may be cost effective if it costs less than a full-time receptionist’s salary and benefits. However, when you outsource your receptionist, you’re also outsourcing your customer service to an unknown entity.

Your receptionists or lobby attendants, are the “face” of your business. He or she is the first person visitors see when they come through your office doors. As much as customers want self-service, they also want personalized service—and nowhere is this truer than in real life. Customers walking into your physical place of business expect to be greeted by real people. A self-service kiosk does not exude a warm welcome. An outsourced virtual attendant won’t help visitors create the personal connection with your business that builds trust and loyalty.

There is another option. By deploying a video collaboration solution, a limited number of receptionists doesn’t mean your visitors aren’t greeted by someone when they walk into your office. One person can manage receptionist services for multiple locations or receptionists from different offices can cover for each other when they are out of the office due to illness or personal appointments. This ensures that customers and visitors receive consistent service while eliminating the need to hire a temp or re-assign someone from another department.

Polycom’s four lobby attendants, for example, staff the reception areas of their respective offices in Austin, Herndon, San Jose and New York City, and cover for each other when needed. The process is simple: If one employee will be away from her desk for some time, she sends an email to the group asking for availability.

“Once someone agrees to cover as a virtual lobby attendant, we send out a calendar invite to remind them and make sure that our Polycom RealPresence Convenes are set to auto-answer,” explains Nancy Le, Briefing Coordinator for Polycom’s San Jose office. “We then make sure the video screen in the reception area of the office is placed so that a customer or any visitor entering the building can see the virtual attendant and have someone to interact with. The virtual lobby attendant then just dials in at the appropriate time and keeps an eye out for visitors.”

Virtual lobby attendants have many of the same responsibilities as they do in their home office. They greet customers, ask them who they are there to see, ping the appropriate person via Skype for Business, and then ask the visitor to have a seat or help themselves to a drink. This is all done through RealPresence Convene.

“It’s very easy for us. We just make sure our system is on auto-dial, unmuted and Acoustic Fence is turned off,” says Elisa Aviles who works from Polycom’s Austin lobby. “It saves time and money since there is no need to hire a temp to fill in and spend the time to train them.”

Virtual lobby attendants are also well received by customers and visitors coming to the Polycom offices. “I’ve gotten very amused reactions from those on the far-end,” says Le. “One time a fire alarm went off in the Herndon office, and I was serving as the virtual receptionist at the time. I was dialed into RealPresence Convene and the firefighters that came in just stared at me on the monitor. They then waved at me and when I waved back, they came over to talk to me. They didn’t think I was a real person! At the end of our conversation, they said, ‘That’s really cool!’”

The real-life interaction enabled by the RealPresence Convene solution impresses visitors and allows Polycom to deliver the personal service customers crave from business today. The lobby attendants understand Polycom’s business and can answer questions that a temp or outsourced visitor management solution simply could not.

Aviles recounts one of her most memorable experiences as a virtual lobby attendant for Polycom’s New York City office while she sat in the company’s Austin office: “A customer came in and was staring at me. I said hi and he said, ‘Oh! You’re a real person!’ He was very intrigued so I gave him information on the product and called over the local account manager. He was very impressed and very interested, even saying, ‘I want it!’”