Effectively Understanding the Role of the Hotel Concierge
By Leigh Anne Dolecki, President, The Northern California Concierge Association
What exactly is "the hotel concierge"?
In today's marketing world, the word "concierge" seems fairly ubiquitous. We seem to have many concierges, such as the "bank concierge", who is a bank staff member assigned to direct customers into the teller lines, to keep the lines moving efficiently. We also have the Auto Service Agency Concierge, whose main responsibility is to make sure that their customers have transportation to and from the agency while their car is being serviced. Department stores have concierges; staff members well versed in the store inventory who guide their customers to the correct line of clothing or goods to suit their needs or desires. Some of these concierges also provide general information, along with any advice and/or recommendations to their customers.
The word concierge actually dates back to mid 17th century Europe, when hosts, usually of a lavish property or castle, provided a servant whose primary responsibility was attending to the comfort of their traveling guests. This servant eventually catered to the every whim and wish of visiting nobles; they held a very important position in the household, and often kept the household keys. We can be sure that this "household" key ring included those to the more "limited access" areas, such as the pantry, wine cellar, and brandy hold, and that he would use those keys at his own discretion on behalf of his guests. He became the "go to person" of the castle.
Eventually hotel concierges began to appear in the finest hotels of Switzerland and France, expanding on the value of the "guest service" begun in those royal households. It wasn't until the mid 1970s that American hotels began to add the position of concierge to their staff, providing their guests with the impeccable guest service that they have come to enjoy in Europe.
Today, as in the Middle Ages, it is the concierge who sets the standard for guest service. The hotel concierge is the hotel ambassador, the very face of the hotel; the person uniquely qualified to provide your guests with personal service and special attention that shape the guest's overall experience. From the everyday requests such as directions, and local restaurant recommendations and reservations, to the more involved requests such as a romantic marriage proposal, or the return of the left-behind laptop; the private catered yacht or even the immediate need for a mariachi band, the concierge is the person to whom guests turn for advice and assistance. The concierge is the hotel's "go to person", and his household key ring has been replaced with a "little black book", a blackberry or an iphone. The concierge's currency is information and relationships. His handheld contains a vast database of information and connections: the cell phone numbers of maitre d's and store managers, the inside and after-hours phone lines to local service providers, as well as his network of connections, built over the years, that include his concierge colleagues from the local associations and the worldwide association, Les Clefs d'Or (the keys of gold). You may identify the members of Les Clefs d'Or by the golden keys that adorn their lapels. Those keys represent the highest standards of networking and service.
That explains what the hotel concierge is, but what about who the hotel concierge is?
Your average hotel concierge, by and large, is someone who genuinely cares about helping people. This compassion manifests itself in many different ways; for some, it's simply the joy of taking care of their guests, for others, it's the challenge of being able to solve anything and everything for their guests. When socializing amongst themselves concierges talk about restaurants and chefs like avid sports fans talk baseball or football, and they love to share their challenges and solutions with each other. These conversations often turn into an unspoken "one-upmanship" as they compare the difficulty of their challenges. Did you ever wonder, "How in the world did she know that???" when your esoteric or challenging question is immediately answered. Many concierges are Type A personalities; and often cannot help themselves or even stop themselves from helping people; few can pass by a map-wielding tourist on the street corner without offering assistance.
Please do not forget, that this compassion and dedication is not reserved just for the guests, but for the concierge's property as well.
What does this mean to the hotel?
You might well consider your concierge to be the "heartbeat" of your property. As the "go to" person, they are often the first person that your guest looks for upon arrival, and the last one they look for on departure. During their stay, all of your guests' miscellaneous needs are met, and that sense of comfort and ease is what they take with them, and what brings them back. The concierge develops a relationship with the guests, beginning before their arrival, and often continuing after the guests' departure.
To the front desk staff, this means that as they check in your guests, they feel a sense of pride in handing over the confirmation cards or notes from the concierge to your guest, that their plans are all confirmed, along with the concierge's offer of assistance in anything they might need during their stay. It creates a moment of ease for the front desk associate; an opportunity to engage with the guest, to make them feel truly welcome.
To the bell staff and doormen, this means a support staff. With the concierges booking rental cars, shuttles, and car service, and sharing information on arrival and departure times, they keep the bell staff and doormen informed, and "ahead of their game". Working as a team the bell and concierge staffs "wow" guests who enter the lobby to see that their needs have been anticipated; their bags are on the way up or down, and their car is out front, ready when they are. This teamwork is empowering; it creates a collective sense of pride and "ownership" of responsibility to the guests.
To the sales and catering departments, this means a boost of confidence and ease in their efforts to accommodate the hotel groups, whether it's help from the concierge with charter transportation and group dining reservations, or just making sure that the group's amenities have been sent, and the group contact's shoes were shined and delivered on time; the sales and catering departments depend upon the concierge extensively to ensure a smooth stay for your groups. The ever present concierge is often the first person the group turns to for assistance throughout their stay, and it's the concierge who irons out any wrinkle that might occur, often "wowing" the group with his facility in making even "spur of the moment" things happen. The concierge himself brings in groups, as he is the public face of the hotel, constantly networking and meeting people and promoting his property.
To the food and beverage department, this means a world of support, as the concierge supports and promotes your property's outlets to your guests, and to the outside world. Even in a highly competitive market, a savvy concierge can promote the best of your outlets. They promote your special features ("our restaurant is perfect for a businessmen's lunch!") to their contacts and their colleagues, and they take countless calls from the general public who seek their advice and recommendations.
To the reservations department, this means that they may further assist the guests by offering the concierge's service. The best way to conclude a reservation phone call is the offer of transferring the guest to the concierge for anything they might need for their stay.
To the guests, the concierge can make the difference between an average stay and an outstanding stay, whether it's business or pleasure. With the help of your reservations department to encourage incoming guests to contact the concierge before their stay, the concierge will make sure that the guests' plans are arranged and confirmed, and any of their special requests are met before they even arrive. During their stay, they seek out the concierge for any further requests or information. A veteran concierge can really wow your guests, even with some of the simplest things, such as the perfect restaurant to match their tastes and occasion, or the perfect suggestion for where and how to entertain their children. Sometimes your guests need to turn to the concierge for more personal assistance. The guest who lost his wallet will receive experienced help in all of the necessary steps to report the credit cards, and filing the reports that help the guest continue his travel. The family who has just been informed of a death in their family needs help in changing all of their travel plans. Every concierge can share stories of some very touching moments they have unexpectedly shared with guests. These moments are defining moments for the hotel and the guest.
The role of the hotel concierge constantly expands as his relationship with every department in your property grows. The hotel concierge is more than just the "go to person." I recently heard a General Managers refer to his concierge team as "our heart and soul." I can't think of a better description of effectively understanding the role of the hotel concierge.
Leigh Anne Dolecki joined the hospitality industry after a 20 years in theatre production. Since becoming a concierge in 2000 she has served as vice president of the Northern California Concierge Association; at the end of 2007 she completed a two year term as president of the NCCA. She represented a membership of over 160 concierges. As president, Ms. Dolecki provided educational opportunities for members by planning meetings and events, as well as building relationships with service providers throughout northern California, keeping NCCA members on the forefront of guest services. Ms. Dolecki can be contacted at 415-955-5552 or email@example.com Extended Bio...
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