As seen on HotelExecutive.com
Going back a few centuries to the time of castles in France, the concierge was the individual who held the keys to the castle rooms and looked after the needs of visiting royalty. Henceforth the correct meaning of the title; “The Keeper of the Keys.”
Advancing this tradition of ancient hospitality forward in time, European hotels began featuring concierge services in earnest about the start of the 20th century for their wealthy guests. Everyone quickly came to understand that the concierge was engaged in making guests more than just comfortable; he or she would deliver a stellar level of personalized service. This basic hotel service is now an institution and has carried over into many facets of our business world. Indeed, the key itself is still used today to symbolize the concierge’s level of knowledge, connections and service expertise.
The ‘Wow’ Factor
In today’s world travelers and residents alike have come to know that using a concierge service results in the facilitation of any request as long as it is legal, ethical and within our power to fulfill. Going one step further, concierges have been known to provide a “WOW” factor on a frequent basis. We’ve all heard the stories of a concierge making arrangements for a gentleman to propose to his girlfriend in an Alfa Romeo with a full orchestra playing in the background on a beach in south Florida. In my years as a concierge I have had my share of unusual requests. A few instances that come to mind are making the arrangements for a fully decorated Christmas tree complete with wrapped presents awaiting my client’s arrival in a hotel room in Rome (a last minute business trip resulted in his wife and daughter accompanying him there so they could spend the holiday together ).
Another more recent incident involved a client who waited until two weeks before his daughter was due to arrive home from overseas to be married to book her bridal dinner, wedding and post-wedding brunch. Within hours of his call to me he was well on his way to being the family hero! On a daily basis however the “wow” factor is all about hard to find great seats to theater performances, last minute reservations in a sold out restaurant or hotel accommodations. Sometimes it’s a simple gesture like a complimentary bottle of wine or other amenity placed in a hotel room or making certain a husband doesn’t forget his wife’s birthday or their anniversary.
Over the top service, giving the customer an unexpected delightful experience, is more than anything an attitude – a mentality that is prevalent in the concierge profession. A way to describe it would be to add in equal components of having a sense of accuracy, expediency, responsiveness, immediacy and ownership of each and every request placed with the concierge service or individual. This is no easy job. There are unpaid hours of establishing business relationships and reviewing venues, volunteering for industry related community services and keeping abreast of industry trends by attending local and national forums. In short, one is never done with any of these pursuits; they are simply a continuing factor in being able to stay on top of one’s game. And the truth is we would be dead in the water so to speak without the assistance of an incredible roster of associates with whom we form business friendships.
As I often state when talking about how one succeeds as a concierge, even with the internet at our at our instant disposal through ipads, iphones and computers, a successful concierge must personally know the finest dry cleaners, florists, transportation managers and so many more categories of industry leaders. The fact of the matter is that, it’s not what you know – but who you know, that counts.
The payoff is amazing. In my own services, because of my business relationships I am able to use statements with my clientele like “Let’s make that happen for you” and “When would you like to do this” and “of course you want the best seats in the house. How many would you like?” – knowing I have a record of success based on my repertoire of contacts and connections and education. If, heaven forbid, I cannot facilitate exactly what is requested, I have an extensive list of amazing recommendations and that is one of the main ingredient to successful concierge services; acceptable yet spectacular alternatives.
Every concierge I have ever met will agree that it all boils down to a passion for service and a world class “can-do” spirit. We go the distance to get the job done and we do each task with style and grace. Not long ago I had a client call and tell me he wanted to purchase a particular album of music by an older rock band as a surprise for his wife. He could not recall the name of the group nor the title of any of the songs but he did know the words to the music. It sounds crazy and perhaps like a joke but I asked him to hum a few bars and maybe together we could discover what in the world he was trying to request of me. He spoke the lines he remembered from one of the songs. It just so happens I am a multi-faceted music trivia type of person and instantly recognized a Queen song from several decades ago. I found the CD for him and suggested he pair it with a couple of front row seats to a concert coming to one of the local theaters which was going to feature their music. So out of the box thinking as well as connections to local ticket sellers is an absolute necessity in my profession.
Treat Everyone Like a VIP
The concierge mentality is a simple formula. Everyone wants to be treated like a VIP. Everyone who meets personnel in any division of the hospitality industry wants each and every encounter to be professional, friendly and helpful. Everyone wants to be treated with respect no matter what the situation is. I was at an NCA conference in Nashville a few years ago. To be sure, coordinating a huge conference is a stressful experience to say the least. One evening after our daily events were through, one of the organization’s officers and I were having a glass of wine in my suite. Suddenly the fire alarm went off and there came over the loudspeaker an announcement to vacate the floor. The elevators were not working of course and so the only exits were the stairwells. With so many people trying to leave at one time it was fairly chaotic. When finally I made it to the first floor I immediately went to the concierge desk and asked breathlessly “do I need to leave the building?” The person behind the desk must have gotten that question a million times or more by the time I arrived to ask it again but she was unflappable, calm and professional to the max. She calmly said that the alarm had gone off by mistake (someone pulled it) there was no fire or emergency and then handed me a small gift card to go have a beverage. And that was an unusual situation at that hotel. Everyone I encountered during our time there, from the janitor to the concierge to the managers, was in that exact same frame of mind consistently. I have never forgotten the service, the professionalism, the presentation of little gestures to soothe my nerves. For me that was a game changer and because of my experience there, I have since booked conferences in other hotels in their chain for several years in a row and each one has been a positive experience.
One of the leading factors in why concierges love being of service are the rewards. There is a myth, largely perpetuated by the movie industry I believe, that if you give us a large enough gratuity we will move mountains for you. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Like everyone who works for a living we love being compensated and, depending on which segment of the industry in which we work, a portion of our salary may depend on commissions or gratuities not unlike the servers in restaurants. But being a concierge is about having the power to make any number of people very happy each day. It doesn’t get any better than that in my opinion. I read somewhere that being of service is highest calling to which one could aspire. This is a “thank you very much” business and our reward lies in the gratifying feeling of pleasing people. This is the essence of who we are. I can make this claim from my own personal experience that this adage is true. After twenty years in the business I love it when a client takes time out of a busy day to send me a thank you note for a job well done and it doesn’t matter if it’s the result of fulfilling a complicated request or an easy small task I have performed for that person. If indeed the thank you comes to me in the form of a gratuity, a bottle of wine, a certificate for something, that is icing on the cake to me and not expected or necessary in order for me to go to bat for my client.
I approach each request wanting to provide the very best service I can possibly could. I have known concierge in my home state of Minnesota to brave the cold winter weather to fulfill an errand for a client who needed an immediate replacement of a shirt ruined by a tear or forgotten at home. I have heard my fellow concierge friends tell me of purchasing items for a client without compensation so that individual had an item needed for a very important business meeting. All too frequently I have heard tales of concierges using their own personal time to do favors for their clients. I am not advocating a policy of not reimbursing concierge for out-of-their-pocket expenses, I am just saying that it is not unheard of that concierge will pull out all the stops for a client. That’s pretty much who we are and how we feel about being of service.
Across America and quite a few countries of the world, concierge services are found today in the hotel, corporate real estate, medical, civic, academic, residential, and retail and privately owned arenas. We all have duties in common which are traditional concierge services. But there are differences too. If you are in a residential setting the emphasis on service may be to feed the cats, collect and deliver parcels, order transportation, stock the refrigerator, help the resident plan and execute an event. The corporate arena is somewhat like this as well.
One of the fastest growing segments of our industry is the Medical Concierge. It is my privilege to know quite a few of the concierge staff at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Part of their duties is to provide comfort and assistance to families of very ill children. They book hotel accommodations, plan family dinners, book group events for the children and so much more. At a time when the family focus is on a terribly ill child, the concierge plays a vital role in the facilitation of a positive experience. In a retail setting like Nordstrom for instance you may be asked to check packages, make dinner reservations for the guest, even help someone decide on a purchase.
From the ever growing popularity and variety of services, it seems obvious that human beings love doing business with professionals whose first response is to serve at their pleasure. The concierge mentality is holding everyone to a higher standard of customer service. A few years ago following 911, I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and asked if the concierge industry was suffering because of the hit we took in the hospitality industry. I am happy to say that we recovered from that and came back stronger than ever and especially so in the current economic climate. The concept of providing concierge service or as I am writing about it – the concierge mentality – is prevalent throughout the real estate community. With both parents in the workplace and so little time available, the concierge becomes a necessary amenity in the workplace, in hotels and just about every other aspect of our daily lives.
Sara-ann Kasner has been a corporate Concierge in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area since 1992. In 1998, Ms. Kasner founded the National Concierge Association, an international networking organization for Concierge and hospitality industry businesses. As Chief Executive Officer she has been instrumental in developing the NCA Certification and NCA Endorsed Partner Programs and establishing chapters of the organization throughout the United States. In 1996, Ms. Kasner was named “Corporate Concierge of The Year” by Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine and received the prestigious gold key and lifetime achievement award from Where Magazine International in 1997. During her career, Ms. Kasner has been quoted in articles about concierge service by the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, the Japan Times and “O” Magazine.