By Holly Stiel, President, Thank You Very Much Inc.
I have heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention and that desperate times require desperate measures. These old adages are certainly playing themselves out through the big changes in concierge services that are happening in Las Vegas. Who would ever have thought that the heart and soul of a concierge’s job and the wizardry and effectiveness of technology would culminate in a partnership that generates millions of dollars of revenue while serving customers efficiently? It’s what’s happening in Las Vegas and what’s happening in Las Vegas should not stay in Las Vegas.
While it was the sheer volume of guest requests for concierge services at these mega-hotels that instigated the necessity for change, the bottom line is that they created a model that can be applied to dramatically increase revenue for hotels around the world no matter their size. For hotels on the Vegas Strip, there was simply no possible way that a traditional concierge desk with a few people on the front line would ever be able to keep up with the constant demands via email and website reservation requests, let alone calls and requests from guests on the property.
It took visionary thinking to maximize the use of space and talents of the staff. As a case study, I’d like to introduce you to one such visionary leader among Las Vegas concierges. Jeanne Mills, concierge at The MGM Grand has been in and around Las Vegas hospitality since she was a small child. It is safe to say that a Las Vegas hotel lobby is literally in her blood. As the daughter of the former Bell Captain from the old Dunes Hotel, Jeanne literally grew up with a passion for hotels, guest service and the unique scene that makes up Las Vegas. So, it comes as no surprise that this first recipient of The Liberace College Scholarship Fund would be the same person to envision the concierge in a new way. In a nutshell, here is what she does.
Managing a staff of 56 concierges, and with the help of technology, Jeanne runs a full front and back-of-the-house concierge staff. There are nine stations in the front and nine in the back, presently being expanded to 18 back of the house stations. All phone calls and emails are answered in the back office. Shifts are rotated so both the rewards and stresses of each position are shared. This alleviates the usual problems and subsequent costs of burnout, turnover, carpel tunnel syndrome, sore feet, sick time, and emotional stress, while providing excellent guest service in the process.
Because most everything can now be accomplished electronically, Jeanne has changed the way the job is actually performed. In the old, antiquated days where a telephone, a personal relationship and four steps were required for each transaction — a guest would make a request, the concierge would write it down or put it in the computer, contact the restaurant, car company, spa, etc., make the reservation, then check to make sure that message was delivered to the guest or have the guest come back to check on it. With computer systems, all of those arrangements can be made in real time. No call is required, the guest has an instantaneous answer, and confirmation form and no checking back is required, thus eliminating two steps for the concierge and one for the guest. This has been working for restaurants on line through the use of Open Table software for quite some time. Jeanne, however, has taken the idea to new levels. She has combined sales and service absolutely seamlessly. Since every outlet at the MGM and Mirage properties have a reservation system, Jeanne and her staff toggle between twelve different screens. If a guest wants to book a spa service, Jeanne goes directly into the spa reservation system, books it and confirms it. If the guest had called the spa directly, the interaction would have stopped there, but not with this new way of combing sales and service through a professional concierge team. Because Jeanne’s staff is trained in all systems and has the mindset of a concierge, they begin to work their magic. Jeanne calls it the cross-sell and the up-sell.
They continue talking with the guest and asking questions instead of just answering them. “Are you interested in going to a show? (Pause for the answer). May I tell you about our shows?” She then books the tickets on the spot. Next the concierge will inquire about their dining plans, asking probing questions — to match the guest’s vision with one of the many fabulous restaurant venues in the MGM/ Mirage family. So now, a spa appointment has become show tickets, dinner and perhaps an airport pick-up. There are also possibilities for booking tours, room service deliveries, club passes, etc.
Jeanne has had spreadsheets designed along with her Go Concierge software system that tracks all of this business. She has quantified how much business her department is capturing and generating for the hotel. At last count, just with the in-house referrals, it is in the multi-millions of dollars a month. Yes, you read that correctly — it is millions of dollars a month, not a year. This all gets accomplished without the frenzy associated with the old way of operating a concierge department — a phone in each ear, calls on hold, not being able to answer a question in a full sentence before a ringing phone interrupts the flow. Add to that the onslaught of email waiting for an instantaneous response, and the overwhelmed concierge is hard pressed to serve all the in-house guests and outside callers, let alone think about cross-selling and up-selling.
It isn’t just reservation system technology that is being utilized by the concierge at The MGM Grand. Now, when a guest calls to request extra towels or a different pillow type, the concierge puts the request into the computer and it goes directly to the housekeeper responsible for that particular area. The housekeeper in turn enters into the computer that the task has been completed, thus eliminating the steps required to call and request it, then have housekeeping page the responsible party, then have the concierge call the housekeeper to make sure it has been done and then in some cases, call the guest to make double sure it was taken care of. Four steps have become two. It is the same for Lost and Found, and packages.
Jeanne and MGM management also believe in training. Jeanne, of course, trains on all those computer systems. She also includes grooming, culinary, culture, diversity, and personal development skills. The ROI is proving to be substantial. So much so that the MGM just took two stations out of the front desk to be turned into concierge stations. Now that is a radical shift in point of view!
Does this technology come with a cost in terms of personal service? Just the opposite – service keeps getting better and better. When I worked in a busy hotel we used to “punch the lines,” i.e., serve punch to guests waiting to check-in. Now, the idea of “punching the lines” has been seriously punched up. The same type of technology that is used so successfully at car rental returns is now being utilized to work the lines at concierge desks. There is a floater or two armed with a notebook/pad portable computer, equipped with wireless Internet access that is compatible with a nearby printer. This mobile concierge can expedite guest requests thus virtually eliminating or at the very least, substantially reducing waiting time.
I recognize that technology is only as good as the people that use it. If that is true, it follows that the concierge department — the one area completely dedicated and devoted to providing guest service, with no other agenda or job description – is the place to invest in training. They are the perfect employees to pioneer and model the combination of connecting in the heart with the wizardry of technology.