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Concierges thrive as their realm expands into everyday life tasks

Janet Babin Jan 16, 2019
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A concierge takes a call at Lutetia Hotel in Paris.
Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Chef concierge Michael Romei needed to get blood oranges to a film crew in Mexico.  

His client was making a movie named after the fruit. The last shot of the film was a dissolve onto a basket of blood oranges. But there were none to be had in all of Mexico. The VIP knew Romei would find a solution.

“I purchased the blood oranges at Grace’s Marketplace [in New York City] and sent them with someone by plane to Mexico City,” Romei said.

All in a day’s work for a member of Les Clefs d’Or (pronounced lay-clay-door), an elite global hotel concierge network started in France back in 1929.  

For all its pomp, the group’s motto is surprisingly egalitarian: “In service through friendship.”

The group, whose name translates to The Golden Keys, is thriving, with about 4,000 members in more than 80 locations around the world.  

Romei worked for a quarter century at the iconic Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. He still serves some of the establishment’s former clients and also trains younger staffers. The education involves everything from communication and social media etiquette to executing the proper handshake.

Certification in Les Clefs d’Or is elaborate — recruits in some cases must work as concierges for five years and pass a written exam.

With so much information available online and through smartphone apps, many hotels have begun to cut concierges from their staffs. But too much information can be just as confusing as too little. Romei said clients these days come to concierges for validation after they’ve done a mountain of their own research.

“They’ll often say, ‘You know, this is what I looked at online. This is what my friend told me. What do you think?’ Because they know that we’re the local experts.”

Wealthy clients can be demanding, and Romei is prepared. He offers coping strategies to trainees.

“We never take it personally. We just continue to deliver consistently the same level of service.”

A new breed of clientele is looking for that level of service not just on holiday, but every day. The personal and company concierge for everyday living is becoming more popular with the more-money-than-time set.

A report from IBISWorld, with data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau, estimates that the percentage of households earning more than $100,000 has increased an annualized 3 percent over the five years ending in 2018.  

The report also estimated that concierge industry revenue will rise 3.7 percent over the next five years to $4.4 billion annually.

That may be why personal concierge Michael James is having his busiest year since he opened Michael James Group in 2004.

James’ fees open at $15,000 per year; that pays for six tasks per month. That may sound like a lot.

“Our fees are nothing — if you knew what it costs to book a private jet to go round trip to Palm Beach, you know it’s around $24,000 to $30,000 for that flight, you know, our services are a no brainer,” James said.

James’ communication style is direct. It may come from his background, growing up in New Canaan, Connecticut, surrounded by wealth. Or from experience — he took his first trip to St. Bart’s as a teenager.  

“You know, I deal with some very powerful folks. And I think that when you push back — not be a jerk, but push back a little bit — they go, ‘OK, you know, he’s human, too. They make mistakes too just like I do,’” James said.

While mistakes will happen, James bets the app-based concierge services will make more missteps than he does. Plus, if there is an issue, he will be there to help the client and correct the error.

“My client is not using an app. God forbid there’s a hiccup. What are [they] going to do, scream into a phone, call an 800 number? No.”

Do you have what it takes to become a Les Clefs d’Or concierge? Here are five skills needed to become a concierge, in Michael Romei’s own words:

1. Passion

Passion must be in our DNA. It is our passion that drives us to deliver exemplary service. It is our passion that drives us to want to make others happy, which in turn makes us happy.  

2. Discipline

We learn and develop ourselves continuously during our own personal time, which requires a certain level of discipline. Most hotel concierge throughout the world are standing up while delivering service; this also requires a certain discipline and energy to perform.

3. Curiosity

We are curious individuals by nature — this is another requirement for a truly successful hotel concierge. To be curious and to strive for continuous learning makes us the ultimate expert of our city, country and hotel.

4. Communication skills

Verbal and written communication is paramount. We are consulted throughout the day and questioned for our expertise. It is therefore vital that we should articulate this information accurately and professionally, whether speaking, writing or posting online in social media. Most hotel concierge throughout the world are multilingual and should strive to be so.

5. The perfect handshake

We are meeting and greeting individuals throughout the day — we must do this with perfection. Here are just a few helpful hints for the the proper meet and greet and the perfect handshake:  

  • Always remain a short distance from your guest or customer, never up too close.
  • If you do not know the guest or customer, wait for them to extend their hand. Be mindful of certain cultures in which one would not extend to their hand to a female.  
  • Extend your right arm, bending your elbow so that your hand is slight upright and your thumb is open between your index finger to interlock with the other person’s hand.
  • As you interlock your guest/customer’s hand, look at their face, make eye contact, smile and then shake three times.  
  • We are always led by our guest and customer; if the customer does not let go, we do not let go. If the customer lets go of the hand shake right away, then we do as well.   
  • The hand grip should be not too weak, but nor should it be too firm. It should be just firm just enough to let the other person know that you truly mean to shake their hand.   
  • While walking through your place of business, always keep your hand free so that you may meet and greet and shake someone’s hand as needed. If you have to carry documents, papers, telephone, try to carry them in the opposite hand.

Clarification (Jan. 16, 2019): A previous version of this story stated that certification in Les Clefs d’Or requires recruits to have worked as concierges for 90 days. While that’s true of some Les Clefs d’Or certifications, the time period varies for others. The text has been updated.

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