Building a Concierge Program for Life
By Tom LaTour, Principal, LaTour Signature Group
It is here that resort properties can move beyond merely "satisfied" customers to creating loyal ones for life. This bonded relationship is crucial in these tough economic times when there are fewer dollars to expend and each penny spent is closely scrutinized - even for those guests who are sitting in the lap of luxury.
Evolution of the Concierge
What exactly is a concierge? Depends who you ask. In my book, the concierge is the hotel employee with acute insight, improvisational action, personal responsibility and abundant optimism who is entrusted with all the specialized needs of the guest.
But for those who've been in that position or utilized their services, the concierge can be described as part magician for making the impossible appear with the slight of hand; part pit bull for having the tenacious intensity to dig their teeth in and not let go until the job is done; and, part miracle worker often elevated to near sainthood for pulling off feats of near biblical proportions.
The word concierge evolves from the French comte Des cierges, the "keeper of the candler," a term that referred to the servant who attended to the whims of visiting noblemen at medieval castles. Eventually, the name concierge came to stand for keeper of the keys at public buildings, especially hotels. There is even a famous prison in Paris called The Conciergerie, in honor of the warden who kept the keys and assigned cells to the inmates.
In another international twist of the definition, a client from Mexico tells me that in his country, the word concierge means janitor.
Regardless of the language or origin, luxury hotels around the world were the first to embrace the "concierge" idea and offer personalized services to their guests. Nowadays, five-star properties offer well-heeled guests such amenities as in-room acupuncture treatments, personal chefs and even pet grooming and specially prepared gourmet meals for Fido.
These and other far-fetched requests (securing travel visas, obtaining exotic edibles and drafting keynote convention speeches) are most frequently provided or procured by the concierge staff who are constantly anticipating guests needs and monitoring social and industry trends to stay on top of the most popular diversions and high-demand creature comforts.
From pet to car to health and beauty concierges, there's a mad competition among resort hotels that has pushed the benchmark for personal and innovative concierge services to incredible new heights. And it's a trend that isn't confined to the lodging industry. Today, you can find concierge programs everywhere -- in hospitals, shopping malls, large corporations, apartment buildings, office buildings, airports, colleges and even churches.
The popularity of these concierge services stem from the fact that people are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, stressed out and short of time at home and in the workplace. These real-world pressures often are packed for vacation along with the golf clubs and swim fins, and resort guests are looking more and more to hotel concierge staff for much-needed relief from daily duties ranging from the simple to the sublime.
Some travelers may still dismiss concierges as meaningless middlemen. And I confess that when my wife and I first started traveling, we rarely used them. But after several positive experiences arranging for basics like last minute transportation, sold out theatre tickets and to-die-for dinner reservations, we've come to rely on them almost exclusively, for mundane and emergency situations alike.
Like many guests, we'd gone from the fear of the unknown (aka the elusive concierge behind the intimidating desk) to an adopted and preferred behavior of tapping these thoughtful and talent professionals to further enhance our overall travel-leisure experiences.
Best of all, their ever-accommodating assistance and helpful advice are always free of charge. And let's face it, survey after survey shows that a consummate concierge program is on one of the defining reasons why guests select a brand.
And for owners of La Tour Signature Group fractional resort properties, the services are available anytime and from anyplace, even if you're not a guest in residence. Now that's a concierge program for my on-the-go lifestyle.
Now that I've convinced you that a concierge program is crucial and shouldn't be on the budget chopping block, how do you begin to establish a new or improve an existing concierge program? An initial step in developing a world-class concierge program is to hire and train the right people.
What types of personality traits and work skills are needed to be a successful concierge? The job takes the type of compassionate and confident person who will labor until the work is done no matter what time it is or what obstacles get in the way. Experience in sales, marketing, meeting/event planning, hospitality, human resources and customer service is great, but not essential. I've hired and trained excellent concierges who in previous career lives have been software engineers, cake bakers and manual bricklayers.
More important than education or experience is finding staffers with the "give to get" nature. These folks are willing to give their heart and soul, day in and day out, in anticipation of getting acknowledgement in the form of a sincere thank you or genuine sigh of relief - or, what I call "working for love."
If you think about, the core difference between adequate and exceptional concierge service providers is their unwavering way to say "yes" and relentless ability to make it happen.
Then just as crucial as this internal passion is external leadership. This comes by providing an environment that supports this willingness to serve and places service providers on a path to self-discovery and self-empowerment that benefits the customer..
We call this the Virtuous Circle: Service-minded people with a strong sense of purpose are more loyal because they are constantly rewarded for their behavior by positive feedback from guests and bosses.
Adding a social responsibility component to the concierge program also plays to the authenticity and service nature of these externally focused folks. At La Tour Signature Group Properties, we always pledge a portion of our sales proceeds to a local nonprofit effort or organization (from endangered sea turtles to supplies for village schools), which bonds employees around a common cause and helps build a sense of higher need.
Concierge Program for Life
A good concierge program is always evolving. Experienced concierges and their managers spend a great deal of time listening, watching and understanding what is happening in the universe at large that is pleasing and surprising to the public. Then, they adapt those pleasurable pieces that make the most sense for their preferred customers.
Many luxury hotels have shifted from a staid atmosphere to one that indulges guests' interests, whether that's gourmet food or adventurous excursions. Such extravagances will only become more common since fierce competition begets standout amenities and services.
A concierge program, therefore, must continuously grow. To create a successful program for life, it has to have the flexibility to constantly change, while having the underlying structure and integrity to support the "yes we can" mentality.
Bottom line? Resort owners and operators need to focus on the basics to build a concierge program for life.
It all boils down to cultivating an awareness and desire to serve among the concierge crew, so they feel emotionally connected to the brand. Management will then be endowed with an empowered employee, a devoted customer and higher revenue.
It's the relentless pursuit of developing and improving a concierge program that keep customers coming back for life.
Tom LaTour is one of the founding partners of LaTour Signature Group, a joint-venture business with ResortCom Elite that provides superior management services to small, luxury fractional ownership properties throughout North America. As the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, he is applying his more than 40 years of experience in the travel and hospitality industry to this booming new vacation real estate market. Mr. LaTour can be contacted at 415-568-2210 or email@example.com Extended Bio...
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