When clients are sitting in a lobby waiting to see their lawyer, dentist or doctor, their minds may begin to wander. They may think about worst-case scenarios, bad news, costly procedures – and by the time their appointment begins, they’re agitated and nervous.

Some of that client angst can be alleviated with the use of good design in the waiting area. When people are physically comfortable and have something to focus on, they may be more relaxed heading into their appointment.

Find out how a good waiting room experience can put clients at ease.

Be the Client

Few professionals, if any, sit in their own waiting rooms. But spend 15 minutes in your waiting room sometime, and see what you notice. Is the furniture comfortable and clean? Is the lighting too bright or too dim for the space? Are chairs uncomfortably close to each other?

Think about what your lobby says about your business. Particularly in medical practices, a dirty lobby may scare away patients who assume the rest of the premises are unsanitary.

If your lobby doesn’t make a good first impression with you, it’s time to make some changes.

Natural Elements

A study of an underused waiting room at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y., found that the room was seldom used because it didn’t have enough distractions, which contributed to higher patient stress levels. The study found that patient stress is reduced when there are ample distractions, such as art, natural elements or a window to a pleasing outdoor view – but most importantly, there should be enough distractions or amenities that people have options about what to look at or do as they wait.

When you add features like plants, sculptures or indoor waterfalls to your lobby, you create a relaxing environment that allows people to focus on something other than their immediate problem.

New Approaches

At Tahlequah City Hospital, in Tahlequah, OK., administrators have tried to make patients and their families feel more welcome by adding amenities like a Starbucks in the first-floor café and Wi-Fi throughout the hospital. Comfy leather seating in the main lobby allows people to enjoy coffee in comfort as they wait for updates on loved ones.

Keep Kids Busy

Parents often have no choice but to bring their young children along for important appointments. Keeping children occupied is a challenge anywhere, but especially so in waiting rooms.

You can add a play area to your waiting room with building blocks and colorful toys, so children have something to do as they wait. Parents will appreciate that perk as much as their kids do.

Offer Water

When people are anxious, they may develop a dry mouth and have problems swallowing. Always offer water to clients. Law offices will often offer cold water served in a tall glass, which makes clients feel more like a guest in someone’s home than a passing visitor. In medical or dental offices, a water cooler with disposable paper cups should be enough to make clients feel more relaxed.

Unless your office is in a remote area, you probably have plenty of nearby competitors, and when you make people feel comfortable in your waiting room, they’ll be less inclined to go to someone else for services.