Have no money, need roboceptionist.
January 25, 2016 1:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an app (iOS or Android or webapp, no preference) that displays the names (and ideally pictures) of the six people that work in my office, and when a name is tapped, an email is automatically sent alerting the person that they have a visitor. And it needs to be free. Explanations within.

I work at a large public institution and the reigns of the budget are entirely out of my hands. We don't even have petty cash. I can barely get a pen without signing my life away.

Our receptionist recently retired and, true to form, the position was promptly eliminated. We will not be getting a new one. My department provides support to the entire institution and while most of it is taken care of on the phone or in email, we do get walk-in traffic. None of our cubicles face the door and the result is people wandering in and then shouting "HELLO??? ANYONE HERE???" and being resentful that they were made to feel unimportant.

I thought surely there must be a solution to this using one of the tablets we have hanging around. A grid of six names, poke a name and an email is sent, with a friendly pop up that requests our visitor to please take a seat and someone will be with them shortly. We don't want or need a sign-in "visitor book" where people have to fat-finger their names or print out a badge or anything like that, we don't need to track visitor metrics or know anything about who is visiting. Just tap name, email sent, please take a seat. Bonus points for all the staff here to be able to easily mark themselves as out of office/unavailable.

And there are such apps! For exorbitant monthly fees. This is not a thing that will ever happen. Most of the time with this sort of thing we skate by with a freemium pricing model where whatever little piddling thing we want to accomplish is done at the "basic" free level a la MailChimp. Occasionally we can manage a one-time purchase in the double-digit realm. A pretty hefty monthly fee for "tap a name, send an email" is just not in the cards.

I've Googled "receptionist app" and "visitor management" and checked out all the results found on the first several pages. They all are either configured as "visitor books" where the visitor enters their name, rank and serial number, and signs an NDA and gets a badge printed and all that jazz, or they do exactly what I want but are extremely expensive.

Please, dear community, if you can, answer one or more of my questions three:

1. Did I overlook an app that meets my requirements?
2. Is there a way you can think of to kluge together something out of an app or apps that aren't specifically meant for this purpose, but will do this thing just fine anyway?
3. On a scale of totes easy to oh you sweet summer child no, how difficult would it be for someone with beginner-to-intermediate level web development experience to put together a web-based application of this nature?
posted by soren_lorensen to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about a tablet with a Skype account with only the six people as contacts? Many people don't check email in real time, so an email telling them they have a visitor may not been seen immediately.
posted by COD at 2:04 PM on January 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would think something IM like Skype might be better - it will show who is available, do the things you want, etc, but instant message rather than email. All six people will need Skype (or whichever IM client) running on their computers though.
If you can install software on the six people's machines like this, that opens up more possibility.
posted by anonymisc at 2:04 PM on January 25, 2016

I agree that Skype or text or phone is better of course.

But to answer your question...

If I was going to build this the cheapest possible way, I'd actually just have one tidy-looking email form open on a web page on a tablet to greet people.

It'd say like:
Hi, please let us know you're here!
Your name: _____
Here to visit: _____

And it would just send an email to all of you, with [X] is here to see [Y] at [TIME SENT].

That way you all would know who was there lurking around the office being creepy, and also like "Oh Linda is not even in the office and this person is here to see her, ugh I guess I'll deal."

That would take you a couple hours, all told, if it's soup to nuts, buying a domain and tinkering etc.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:08 PM on January 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

Don't want to threadsit but I should clarify that email is fine because our core function is to sit and answer incoming emails and phone calls all day. So we are just sitting around in front of our computers with inboxes open any time were at our desks.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:16 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The way other companies do it now is to install a company phone on the wall with a sign saying to call the extension of the person you're here to see.
posted by Coffeetyme at 2:16 PM on January 25, 2016 [25 favorites]

"Welcome y'all, please ring the bell and take a seat. We'll be right out!"
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:29 PM on January 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure about an app, but my therapist's office does something very similar to what you're after.

When you get to the waiting room, there is a panel of light switches. Each switch has a therapist's name on it. You flip the switch for your therapist and then something happens in his/her office that tells him/her you are there. (I'm not exactly sure what happens in the therapist's office, but I expect it is either a small light or a computer alert.)

This (fairly ridiculous looking) website seems to offer a similar product. Would that work?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:38 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding a phone in the lobby. A tablet will be gone within a month.

You make sure all 6 people have their voicemail working and some way to know they have a message (blinking light? email?). You need a way for people to know they have a visitor if they've walked away from their computer and phone for a minute. Nothing stinks more than finding out someone has been waiting for you for the last 20 minutes.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:51 PM on January 25, 2016

On a scale of totes easy to oh you sweet summer child no, how difficult would it be for someone with beginner-to-intermediate level web development experience to put together a web-based application of this nature?

Moderately easy. You essentially want each image to, when clicked, submit a form with the recipient's email (or an ID which links to that email) that then sends them a notification. The challenging part is hosting the app and, if it is hosted externally, making sure it isn't accessible to anyone but your office.

I concur, though, that the tablet might get jacked.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:53 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

A suggestion (I'll look when I get home, I'm at work right now): try searching for a "check-in" or "greeter" app, instead of receptionist. Receptionist implies scheduling and things, which is something you don't need.
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:03 PM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your tablet will likely not last long, as others have said. Repurposing the former receptionist's phone with an extension list is probably a better idea.

But also, how feasible would it be for you and the rest of your team to take turns filling the receptionist's role? It would not cost you additional money if they can log in to their own systems from that computer, and it would solve the issue of visitors not being responded to quickly if the person they wanted was out or busy.
posted by ananci at 5:12 PM on January 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Wireless doorbells are pretty cheap...one for each person, name tag taped under it. Just make sure each has a different ringtone...
posted by The Toad at 7:20 PM on January 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

You could do a google form with one question - who are you here to see? Then have the response emailed to the group. You could even look around and see if other free surveys have better features - like being able to choose a picture. The downside is that the screen would need to be refreshed somehow after the form was submitted.
posted by bleep at 7:34 PM on January 25, 2016

You could create a pdf or PowerPoint, have the six pictures each being a mailto hyperlink that opens an email with the subject line already filled in "hi sue, I'm in reception"
posted by KateViolet at 10:21 PM on January 25, 2016

Pingboard looks like it would be perfect, but will cost $18 / month for six employees. Seems like short money, considering they aren't funding the receptionist any more.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:42 AM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Further data points:

We already have tablets sitting out in the reception area for demo-ing purposes. They don't go anywhere.
The office is fairly small. Dinging bells would drive us all mad (the idea had already been floated).
You would think $18/month would be seen as a win considering a position got eliminated but as I say: try to even get a pen around here. Seriously. Though I do think that is the best option of the paid apps out there and I may try to make a case for it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:01 AM on January 26, 2016

It the tablets are android then you could build one yourself with App Inventor with 6 buttons (the buttons can be pictures or pictures labelled with names) which would send an email automatically. It isn't that difficult to build it with the block like interface with app inventor. I bet an hour getting it installed on your computer and an hour to write the program with 15 minutes for tweaks after testing it on the tablet. It is really a NBD.
posted by koolkat at 6:08 AM on January 26, 2016

There's an iOS App called Workflow that would be perfect for this. It's $2.99 up front and you can build individual workflows that will send an email to a specific address at the tap of a single button in the app. Plus you can do a bunch of other awesome stuff in it!

Just drag the "Send Email" action into a workflow, add your person's email address and the message "You have a visitor" Save it, and then make another workflow for the next person.
posted by SansPoint at 7:47 AM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older Should you ask your doctor before applying for...   |   Need new computer for Lightroom CC (Lightroom 6).... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.