Unimaginative, visitor-unfriendly office buildings do nothing to promote a positive, dynamic picture of the industry. Tony Baker suggest some effective measures to rid receptions of their ‘post-office' look for good.

I would be only too pleased to receive hundreds of emails saying I am wrong. But if honesty prevails, I believe the very great majority should state “you're right, I never really thought much about it”.

What am I referring to? The place in which you work. It surprises me how offices are often not a great advertisement for the public and visitors. This is a real opportunity missed, especially where there is a “high street” location.

After reading this article, leave your office, walk twenty metres away and look back. What sort of impression does it make? Does the look reflect the image your business would like to portray, or is the branding unclear, the appearance dowdy, perhaps boring, and not very inviting?

Compare the look of your building with the best around and think how it could be improved with only modest expenditure. Offices and shops can be made attractive and appealing with just a little thought.

What about the look and greeting when you enter? How welcoming and inviting is it? Some outlets are excellent, but often displays are poor and out of date, counters resemble post offices without the security screen and there is a clear lack of thought and investment. I accept that the great majority of business is on the telephone and by post, but people do look at offices and shops – and make judgments.

I was walking down a small parade of shops this week with my wife and we paused opposite one of them. I asked her what she thought it was used for, and she replied: “A drop-in centre for drug users.” It was a broker's office, but the description was good.

For many intermediaries, a potential asset is not being utilised effectively. Why not have some imaginative shop displays, hanging baskets – something to entice the public to enter. A smiling face at reception, visitors being made to feel special and some space allocated to their needs can make all the difference. What is there to do if they have to wait? Is there anything to command their interest? A decent chair to sit on? Are visitors really welcomed or more tolerated out of need?

My experience in judging insurance awards is that this is one of the weaker areas of businesses. It would be quite easy to come up with a very short short-list for “office of the year” or “building of the century”, or whatever the award may be called, as nominees would be few.

A lego table in the reception area, open-plan rather than formal counters and a toilet that visitors and customers are welcome to use really excites the judges. Sad but true!

Are there opportunities for your business to engage more closely with the local community? These could include attracting new business, recruiting staff and obtaining media coverage. Small initiatives could help: an open evening with talks and information for potential new drivers and their parents could open doors, for example. Publicising a free insurance consumer advice afternoon once a week, or allowing your car park to be used for charity fund-raising could all make a difference.

The insurance industry needs to improve its image, and everyone employed in or by the industry has an important part to play. A well motivated, customer-focused insurance workforce of over a quarter of a million people could start to change the industry's image.

But the lead needs to come from the top. There are some excellent business developments and initiatives about, but your building's potential should also not be ignored. Perhaps the answer is to make someone responsible for customer focus and the image of your building. The right person will relish the opportunity and the challenge and surprise everyone with what can be achieved.

Before you embark on this new crusade, however, what would your email response be to the challenge I have outlined?

Tony Baker

Tony Baker was Deputy Director General of the Association of British Insurers and now runs his own independent consultancy (he can be contacted at Thetbaker@aol.com).