The Ingredients for a Great Concierge

By Holly Stiel President, Thank You Very Much Inc. | April 01, 2012

What distinguishes the good from the great hotel concierges? For the past 30 years, I've been fascinated with their artistry. What sets them apart, and why do so many other industries aspire to emulate them?

I remember the very first article I ever read on the subject. It was in 1977, when only a few people in the United States had even heard of the concierge. There were only a handful of us here at that time. I found a cover story in Town & Country magazine, which featured photos of the great concierges from the five-star hotels in Paris. Each was holding two telephones (smiling, I might add), and the headline read, "Nothing But Nothing Phases The Omnipotent Concierge."

I read the article with enthusiasm and fascination, as I had recently stepped, or shall I say fell, into the position. Was I an omnipotent concierge? Was I expected to be all-powerful? Was I to create memorable experiences for our guests, be respected throughout the city, appreciated in my own hotel, well known among travelers? That was how the article described concierges. And I thought: Why not?

Today, everyone not only knows what a hotel concierge is, but the term has become synonymous with service excellence. Countless people have adopted the word. We have Concierge Towels, Concierge Carpets, and Concierge TVs. There are concierges at apartment buildings and department stores. We have personal concierge services and hospital concierges. A few years ago, the cover story of Worth magazine introduced concierge medicine-the latest trend in personalized service in the medical industry. Some people in the hospitality industry become annoyed at this "misuse" of our name, but I find it flattering that the word has become shorthand for over-the-top quality and professionalism. I also find it encouraging that other industries are following suit, though they might not even use the word "concierge."

Apple computer, for example, held a focus group to discover ways to set their new retail stores apart from their competition. When the group was asked about the best service they'd ever experienced, 16 out of the 18 participants said it was in a hotel. But of course! The concierge desk at a hotel has no other agenda, but to help. So, they came up with a bar-a bar that "serves up" helpful advice. Essentially, what they did was put high-tech versions of a concierge desk in each of their retail stores and populated them with "Geniuses."

Concierges-the excellent ones-are geniuses, magicians in the art of hospitality. They have a spirit that separates not only concierges from other professionals, but also the good concierges from the great concierges. I have identified five qualities that the greatest concierges seem to posses. They represent a few of the many ways in which concierges practice their craft and elevate it to the level of art. The first three of these qualities are willingness, commitment and readiness to take action.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.