How would your clients describe their visit to your office?  Would you get a 5 star rating?

I recently got a jolt as I walked into my office waiting room. It looked like a tornado had touched down; magazines on the floor, sugar spilled on the tea table and cushions askew.

I had a new client coming in 10 minutes. Luckily, I put it back together and was ready to go. Later, I found out our adolescent therapist had a gaggle of kids waiting for their older brother and had some fun while doing so.

However, this gave me a chance to take a good look around the office waiting room. And this is what I decided. It’s fine. Not glamorous, but not unappealing. It’s warm, although small. I’d like a few more square feet but it will do. The joke with my office colleagues is that the tea and candy continue to be the biggest draw while our clients wait. In fact, I have clients tell me a little anxiously when we seem to be low on their favorite flavor. So much for the fine clinical work going on in my office!

This led me to imagine the entire client experience from the moment they pull up in the parking lot until they leave. Try it for your own space. You may be surprised.

Here are some guidelines for a 5 star client experience:

The parking is free, easy to find, plainly marked and steps from the front door.

The lobby is clean and bright with security for after hours clients.

Handicap accessibility is not an afterthought; the elevator is quick and big enough for a wheelchair, ramps are near the doors.

Once inside your office, there is ample seating. The magazines are new, apolitical and displayed nicely. Beverages and supplies are plentiful.

The common spaces in general are well lighted, clean and look professional and are not a refuge for empty boxes, files or whimsical decorations.

Your office furniture is clean. Take a seat on your couch. How does your area look? Put away the books, files, and extra knickknacks if it looks cluttered. Be sure your plants are healthy and the woodwork around your door is clean from fingerprints. If your office tends toward hot or cold in certain months, have a comfy throw and a small fan nearby to accommodate.

Now, for the personal 5 star experience.

Start and end on time. If for some reason, you are five to ten minutes late, step out and assure your next client you are there. At the first session, direct your client to the restroom, the tea, and the particulars of the space.

Be sure your documents are up to date and if you haven’t transmitted them electronically, they are at the ready at the first appointment. Try not to leave your office to print out documents after the client arrives. Those minutes count in session. When you receive payment, look the client in the eye and say thank you! Whether you walk them to the door or out into the hallway, be sure to be confidential in your closing remarks.

Be aware of ambient noise: the music in the next office, the laughter in the break room or the construction down the hall. Keep it to a minimum if you have control over it and commiserate with your client if you don’t. They notice!

Silence your phone and computer. It’s a good model for the client, too. I hesitate to tell you to turn your phone off and away, especially if you are a parent, but I have found through many years of cell vs. non-cell, very few emergencies can’t wait. And I have had them all. At the very least, your phone should not be answered or prove to be a distraction to the process.

Keep your shoes on! (probably). I referred a client to a couples therapist I know and value. My client couldn’t get past the informality of the therapist. When his shoes were parked under his chair, it changed the dynamic. The exception to this is your population. Sometimes, the under 20 crowd likes a casual therapist–and my play therapist colleagues are often crawling around on the floor. Professional appearance telegraphs a seriousness about your work–understand your population.

Likewise about dogs, cats or hobby items. They don’t belong in the office unless they are providing a professional service–your yoga mat goes in the break room or the car. And while it may seem far fetched, please don’t eat while you are working with a client. Even a little! It conveys that your needs are more important.

Occasionally, our parking lot fills and I appreciate the feedback when it happens. If I see a client reluctant to put down the magazine they are reading when I come to retrieve them in the waiting room, I either copy the article or more often, give them the magazine. I check the bathroom frequently and am vigilant about building security. And of course, I make sure the popular cinnamon tea is always plentiful and the candy bowl is full.