Concierge Level Service, it’s Not Just for Hotels Anymore

by Diane Berenbaum

We are working more hours than ever—a 2006 survey revealed that 55% of men and 43% of women brought work on vacation (up from 26% and 18% respectively in 1995). Lack of time and leisure are common complaints among Americans today.

We could all use some pampering; someone to help make our lives a little easier. That's why more and more businesses—even the ones you would least expect—are offering concierge services to woo and keep customers.

Hotels Lead the Way in Concierge Service

For years, hotels have been examining every detail of high-end hospitality and creating memorable experiences. There's no shortage of examples today.

On a dream vacation to Mexico, I was fortunate enough to stay at the One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos. Each guest is assigned a butler whose sole purpose is to help with any question or task. So unaccustomed to this treatment, we never asked him to do a thing for us during our entire stay! The Palmilla also has a pool concierge who brings water spritzers for cooling off and pillows for your head and feet, which we did take advantage of.

The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok sends its employees to a Buddhist monastery for a week to absorb the spirit of what service should be—thinking of others—all in the interest of making each guest feel like he is the most important person in the world.

I've heard that the doorman at the Hotel Martinez on the Cote d'Azur will discretely ask guests going for a run about their route. He will then estimate the time of return and be ready with a fresh towel. Now that's personalized, concierge-level service!

While hotels tend to be the leaders in this area, other industries are learning from them, and their ability to attract and retain customers, and are following suit.

A Car Insurance Company that Takes the Pains out of Car Repair

A car insurance company with concierge service? No way! When I read about Progressive Insurance's concierge level of claims service, I was skeptical. Dealing with auto repair is always a hassle. We're talking lots of phone calls, long waits for responses from all parties involved, inevitable delays and challenges getting to and fro. I should know—I've had a few accidents in my day (most were not my fault, I might add).

Progressive's concierge level of service, on other hand, seems too good to be true. You drop off your car at one of their Service Centers and they take care of the rest. Whether it's writing estimates, arranging repairs with a body shop, or renting a car if you need one, you don't have to worry about any of it. While I have yet to try this service, they claim that you are finished with the process in about 15 minutes. Perhaps it would be worth a call next time, if there is a next time.

Professional Sports Teams Get into the Service Game

The personal touch is also appearing in some other unusual places—like professional sports teams. According to the Wall Street Journal, sports teams are facing stiff competition from other entertainment options and are searching for ways to make customers feel special. And, they are turning to concierge services for help. For example:

  • The National Basketball Association hired a specialist from Four Seasons Hotel Inc. to help them create a concierge program geared to fans buying season tickets, including those in the “nose-bleed” seats. The New Jersey Nets have concierges who arrange autograph sessions for kids and free tickets. They even have luxury boxes and buses stocked with food for long-time season-ticket holders.
  • The National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles have 200 concierges who work their premium seating areas and keep track of customers' preferences.
  • In Major League Baseball, I was surprised to learn that there is a new vice president of “guest experiences” at the Houston Astros. Since when are those fans gulping down hot dogs and peanuts, and yelling at the ump, considered “guests?” Since Marty Price joined the Astros.

In his new role, Marty surveyed season-ticket holders and found, to the surprise of many in the organization, that price is not the main concern. Services and amenities are. That's why he's planning to add more special touches like inviting fans to watch batting practice and to tour the locker room. “Service definitely will differentiate teams from the competition if done properly,” commented Mr. Price.

So even if their favorite team loses on the field or court, the fans can still feel like winners.

The Personal Touch is the Direction of the Future

“Service is something that happens to you; hospitality is something that happens for you. This then is the new frontier for any business that involves people,” noted Ckekitan Dev, an associate professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

And, there are many ways to bring a hospitality mindset to your organization. Here are just a few to ponder:

  • Focus on designing services for specific customer segments.  IBM Express Advantage offers a concierge service for mid-size companies: one phone number; one web site; one-to-one help and connection to a network of IBM specialists, products and resources.
  • Make life easier and more convenient for your customers. Each year, thousands of patients from across the US come to the Cleveland Clinic for specialized Medical Concierge care that is not available close to home. This complimentary concierge service is exclusively for out-of-state patients and their families.
  • Provide “one-stop-shopping” and easy access to related resources. Coldwell Banker Concierge Service helps people with their needs before, during and after they buy or sell their homes (such as home repair, maintenance and access to local providers of each).
  • Create an exclusive product to attract new customers. The new Visa Signature card provides cardholders privileged access to events, reservations and hard-to-find tickets.
  • Support your customers with special needs. The Stanford Comprehensive Cancer Center offers patients, families and caregivers highly personal services such as one-on-one appointments, spiritual activities or simply a newspaper to read while waiting.


How Can Your Organization Stand Out and Deliver Concierge Level Service?

What can you do to make something special happen for your customers? How can you introduce concierge level service in your organization, and impress customers with a more personalized approach?

Ask your associates. Better yet, ask your customers. Be creative and you'll find that your concierge service will make such an impact on your customers' experience that they won't want to go anywhere else.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .

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