The Concierge: Luxury or Commodity?

‘Get our credit card and we’ll give you free ‘Concierge’ service; sign up for our premium bank account and we’ll help you arrange your life beautifully, buy a VERTU and concierge comes for free … and if you’re in the US, buy a Hyundai Equus’ … “because your convenience is the greatest luxury of all”(1)

What happened to the legendary, mystique and secrecy of great Concierges that made the lives of the social elite a delight? What happened to the profession known for their unrivalled local knowledge, relationships and commitment to excel in faultless service delivery – all at unquestioned discretion?

The stories of Concierges range from arranging a simple wake-up call, to getting you a ticket to that already sold out concert, to finding a thousand roses at 5pm for a birthday party at 8pm, to arranging a white elephant for an Indian wedding.(2)

Steeped in History

The profession of the Concierge dates back to medieval France, when the ‘Comptes des Cierges’ (or literally: carriers of the candles) fulfilled the purpose of carrying light for the noblesse and elite during their travels. The Concierges were responsible for lighting their ways in times when light came at a premium. From there, the step to holding the keys to special places – and over time – relationships was no stretch: providing ‘access’ to places and people ordinary citizens could only fathom at, making the lives of the elite as smooth as possible in every aspect was quickly turning into a full fledged profession. To belong to the society of the crossed keys (golden, generally) is to this day an expression of status and recognition for any true concierge.

Fast forward to our era of not-enough-time

It is more than likely that the image of a concierge will conjure up an image of professional, gentlemanly help for you. For most of our recent time, concierges remained a proposition mostly encountered in upscale hotels of four stars and beyond. Up until recently, or to be exact up to the early 1980ies.

The pace of economic growth in most parts of the world started to accelerate drastically and technology meant that information was available at an ever-increasing rate, incompatible with most people’s limited capacities of absorption. The transitional concept of luxury is moving rapidly form extraverted status symbols (as in ‘the flashy car’) to a more introvert understanding of status (as in ‘sophistication and taste’) to values such as satisfying the inner-self (as in ‘luxury travel and treatments’). Whilst this does not apply to all parts, societies and even generations to the same extent, the evolutionary curve of luxury as a concept is both consistent and progressive. One of the consequences is that Time is now considered ‘Luxury’. In simple terms, it implies that time has become ‘aspirational; having ‘time’ is desirable and for large parts of mature societies no longer a commodity that is abundantly available in one’s life.

Enters the time of the New ‘Added-Value Concierge’

Combine the above with an ever more competitive economic landscape, the concept of offering your clients more time is a tempting one: painting an aspirational picture of how you can help your prospects and clients spending their lives on what really counts is an easy enough marketing communications exercise. Setting up a concierge ‘service’ is equally simple and can be set-up in a matter of weeks; depending on your scale a few days might me enough. Providers such as TEN or Quintessentially offer large-scale, call-center style, systemized behind the-scenes white label solutions to help you get going. A look behind the scenes and into these operations reveal a picture that could not be further from what you will have in mind when thinking about the luxury proposition a traditional ‘Concierge’ stands for. (Watch out for the Vaseline, the Lysterin bottle and the hand towels in the background)

Concierge: what a nice ‘added-value’! Easy and quick to set up with the ability to propel your perhaps commoditized service into an aspirational dimension. Best of all, and because you now offer an intangible element in addition to an otherwise perhaps ‘standard’ product or service, it is an add-on that is difficult for customers to attribute a precise monetary value to. In addition, the purchase driver (aspiration) is hugely different to the actual usage (reality). Think of it as a Range Rover Sport: absolutely capable of taking you through the snow or carrying you safely up that steep, unpaved and muddy hill. It is of course common wisdom that 99% of the actual usage is in urban environments, on paved roads where all is safe and predictable. The same goes for commoditized concierge services.

Is a Concierge relevant for your proposition?

It depends. It always does – and on many more factors than a short post would allow for. The basic premise consists of a service level agreement geared to help ‘organize’ (such as in: “find me a babysitter for tonight”) and the actual delivery that is paid for by the customer (i.e. you will have to pay that babysitter directly for her services). White label Concierge packages start from about GBP 200+ for a very basic offering (i.e. included in certain bank accounts, or credit-card agreements), go to mid-range of about GBP 1,000+ (i.e. when buying a car or a VERTU phone) to dedicated concierge services of GBP 10’000+ (i.e. Private Bank or Wealth Management Accounts). The entry barriers for providers are very low (a computer and a phone are in principle enough to set up shop) and – no surprise – the variability of services offered on the market is accordingly widespread.

Before jumping to the mechanics of setting up a Concierge Service, here are a few basic questions for contemplation:

Why are you considering it?
Are you looking at Concierge as yet another promotional angle to help you stand out in the sea of competitors? Can you genuinely link a concierge service to your overarching purpose, to the very reason why you exist?

Is it Attractive?
Don’t just think in regards to the aspirational world you can conjure up and create around your product or service by linking in a concierge proposition – that’s the easy part. Is it really going to benefit your customers and will it truly make their lives better?

Will they use it?
Aspiration and actual usage are often wildly far apart. Will your customers value and use a concierge service?

Can you do it with integrity?
Unless you build up internal and owned resources to deliver on it, it is likely that you will trust a 3rd party to deliver on your Concierge promise. Can you trust them with breathing and speaking your brand, your culture in your voice?

Will it create more business?
The associated overhead-cost with a Concierge services is non-trivial, and rightly so. But will it outweigh the potential upside of attracting more of the right customers, will it build loyalty and repeat business?

Consider this …

Setting up a concierge service is not rocket-science; and nor is it to establish the basic parameters whether, if and how a Concierge Proposition can truly enhance your brand and business for the future. I have seen successful Concierge services being implemented for both consumer facing propositions as well as internal efficiency measure to make employees lives easier – and more productive for both the individual and the business.

As famous Concierge Gustave H. says beautifully in ‘The Grand Budapest’ (3) : “The plot thickens as they say … why, by the way?” … and there comes the car liberating him out a desperate situation, arranged through his very own contacts through the crossed-key-society of Concierges. (watch the clip here; note the breath of activity these concierges are involved in)

Knowledge, trust and relationships are at the basis of what great Concierge service is all about. The same should go for your brand, too. Hence before you play with these elements and associate them either with or into your product, service or even brand and business through an ‘added-value’ Concierge, it is – however precious and quite literally – time well spent reflecting on the broader implications on both the potential upsides and the risks involved.

 


This post represents a shortened synoposis of the presentation „Luxury Concierges“ delivered as part of the Henley Center for Customer Management Workshop series, for Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK and only focuses on the Concierge Element.

Footnotes

[1]Hyundai Equoos, @1.38min, http://www.jimburkehyundaicars.com/new-inventory/hyundai-equus-concierge-service
[2]All real examples based on my own experience working with companies offering concierge services
[3]The Grand Budapest, 2014, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2278388/

 

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