By Marjorie Silverman, Honorary President, Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hotels, Les Clefs d’Or
The symphony of service! The ubiquitous Verizon Wireless television ad featuring the “network” comes to mind when one conjures up the “part Merlin, part Houdini” magic of the concierge. Concierges cannot function without their network. Think of it in terms of a symphony with a maestro at the podium and a semicircle of the orchestra who make the music.
In the Hotel
The first semicircle of “musicians” begins in one’s own property. Who to call to get things done—need a room rushed for a VIP, a reservation in the hotel’s 5 star restaurant, to freeze that freshly pumped mother’s milk, a board room for an impromptu important meeting, where to find the wedding cake top for the parents who have spent thousands on a wedding, a private space facing Mecca for a morning prayer: See the Concierge.
All of those “back of the house” geniuses are part of the network. The General Manager makes this possible by placing his trust in the concierge staff and their credibility by instructing the management team to give them what they need to please the guest. He trusts their judgment, communication skills and their expertise; that they would not ask, were it not important. They are in the first circle of harmony to assure that all guest requests within the property are met with friendship, promptness and efficiency. They understand that they are part of the creative team who make it happen. They are schooled in all aspects of hospitality and the hotel’s mission statement. They are the first chairs of the orchestra.
The second semicircle is located in the local community. This layer of instrumentation gives the concierge orchestra its fullness and richness. Guests want to experience the spirit of the place. They demand authentic local experiences that synchronize with their hotel experience—they do not want any jarring notes. How does the concierge team audition and decide the services and vendors to recommend? How do they augment the sound of the orchestra to a crescendo?
At a time when upper management in most chain hotels rotates on a 1-3 year cycle within a particular hotel, the role of the Chef Concierge to provide memorable local experiences is enhanced. The concierge becomes a vital link between the community and the hotel. The concierge starts with the local concierge association. Concierges around the world meet within their local communities. They are not competitive; they network and share information.
To their monthly meetings they invite limo companies, restaurateurs, tour operators, destination management companies, ticket brokers, spa owners and personal shoppers. In their spare time they regularly experience theaters, museums, tours, restaurants, jazz clubs, neighborhood shops and florists. They query local experts and each other on the best service providers for shoe repair, dry cleaners, tailors, framers, packers, hair stylists, emergency care and websites which are concierge friendly.
They add all of these contacts to their little black books now located on the hard drives of their computers. Their recommendations are particularly valuable because they are personal and up to the minute accurate. Concierges are constantly Vetting the Vendors. The decision to place them in the orchestra of excellent service is an important one for the hotel.
Concierges evaluate the vendors using the following criteria:
Concierges are looking for promptness of pickup, and a responsive phone representative. Is he helpful, can he find room for a special guest in a sold out restaurant? Does the company have consistency in having good people work the phones? Concierges often speak to the voice on the phone for years without any personal contact and yet maintain an amazing relationship.
I once expressed to the owner of a renowned Chicago steakhouse that I believed some of the new hires taking concierge reservations needed additional training. He readily agreed and asked me if I could please set aside a date to come in to address the reservationists and wait staff at their next meeting. This presented an incredible opportunity for me to share the concierge standards as well as establish a personal relationship which helped improve our performance.
Outreach of the Company to the Concierge Community
A concierge will want to know who owns the business and how to reach them in a pinch. Most chef concierges have the personal phone numbers of the major owners of the limo companies, restaurants and ticket brokers with whom they deal on a regular basis.
Does the business invite the concierge staff to experience the service? It is much easier to recommend a restaurant or a tour if one has experienced it. You can create a detailed word picture for the guest and describe to them the ambiance and specifics of the experience. How willing is the company to accommodate the special needs of the hotel client for special seating, handicap accessibility and security arrangements for VIP’s?
Many companies courting concierge recommendations offer special considerations for hotel guests. Restaurants may send an appetizer, glass of wine, or dessert, compliments of the management and the concierge. A tour company may offer a special discount or line so that the hotel guest gets priority consideration. These are enhancements that concierges can expect and request for their guests, especially for those celebrating special events.
Feedback from Hotel Guests
Does the company welcome feedback from hotel guests either directly or via the concierge who made the reservation? Concierges solicit comments from guests on outside vendors. If there are glitches in service, the concierge wants to handle it immediately and get some resolution that satisfies the guest before he leaves the hotel. His overall satisfaction with his stay may depend on this as well as his return to the hotel. Conversely, the compliments the concierge receives on a particular referral should also be passed on to the company’s management. If there are many negative comments, the concierge will want to remove that company from the list of recommendations while explaining the reason to the company.
Many 4 and 5 star hotels have a major percentage of their guests order airport transfers. Most guests perceive that the car service belongs to the hotel, making this relationship an especially crucial one. Car service is usually a contractual arrangement between an outside company and the hotel. The concierge will have a good idea of the top companies in the city for reliability, clean cars, good drivers, airport greeters, and high levels of insurance. The chef concierge will involve upper management in the signing of this contract. All staff including front desk, door and bell staff are trained never to recommend drivers who solicit business off the street. There can be huge liability issues in this area for the hotel. The concierge staff is tasked with booking the cars and reconciling all of the accounts.
Some hotels require that the limo company send a representative to the hotel’s morning meeting so that they can be totally briefed on the special needs of all that day’s airport pickups and limo bookings. Hotels routinely specify how they want the drivers dressed and what amenities they want in the car, including the hotel’s publications.
The savvy concierge will maintain scrupulous relationships with the editors and publishers of the plethora of Visitor Publications operating locally, regionally, nationally and worldwide—Key Magazine, Niche Media, Where, Time Out, Front Desk, to name a few. These publishers depend on the concierge desk to distribute their product to the traveling public. They regularly aim to introduce concierges to their advertisers, offering venue visits, as well as contacts to movers and shakers in the tourism industry.
Visitor publications occupy the third semicircle of our orchestra, not only providing local access to vendors but to national and international services as well. The relationship is based on mutual respect as the management of the publications depends on the concierge to give them valuable feedback on what the guest wants in terms of information, maps, and articles of interest..
Les Clefs d’Or
It is the goal of every serious concierge to become a member of Les Clefs d’Or, the international society of professional hotel concierges. This is the chorus of the orchestra. This membership extends the reach of the concierge to all 3500 members in 40 countries around the globe. Many experienced concierges make reservations and arrangements for their good clients wherever they may travel. The hotel benefits from the Clefs d’Or affiliation with:
- Increased room night referrals from concierge colleagues booking ongoing global travel for their repeat clients.
- Increased publicity for the hotel as colleagues refer reporters to good interview subjects in publications such as The International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Cornell Quarterly, Travel & Leisure, or The Wall Street Journal.
- Development of relationships with major global travel partners such as American Express, major international airlines and car rental companies, all corporate sponsors of Les Clefs d’Or.
The Symphony of Service
There is a hush in the concert hall. All the players are in place. Our talented concierge maestro pauses for a moment reflecting on the complexity of his performance depending on so many others to make it happen. He raises his baton with humility, confidence, finesse and pride; he knows when to call on the strings, the brass, the woodwinds and the timpani. The global concierge chorus is ready to sing. They all acutely feel the expectations of the sophisticated audience and together they are ready to dazzle with their music.