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Concierge Services Now Moving From Hotel To Mainstream

by Alf Nucifora

In years past, the word "concierge" conjured up images of helpful but haughty attendants at posh hotels, dressed somberly in conservative dark suits, ministering to the needs of well-heeled travelers seeking the best seats at sold-out theatre performances or reservations at the latest "in" restaurant. Today it's a different matter. Trend data clearly indicates that concierge service is moving into the mainstream as consumers demand more in the way of information and assistance in their buying transactions.

In the luxury segment, concierge support is de rigueur. Personal assistants to the wealthy, many of them ex-military officers accustomed to taking orders and executing with discipline, are now no longer the sole province of celebrities, movie personalities and rock stars. Jeeves, the once formidable English butler or head of the "downstairs" housekeeping unit has now been replaced by school-trained professionals with six figure salaries who manage and supervise all the aspects of a busy plutocrat's life including the maintenance and supervision of multiple residences, private aircraft, wine cellars and all the other attendant accoutrements of the super-rich.

In the corporate sector, national concierge services such as LesConcierges and Circles provide employees with a variety of services that ameliorate the stress and difficulties of life thereby releasing the employee to devote more time and focus to company matters. Assistance is now available for a variety of needs including relocation, dining, gifts and shopping, healthcare, travel, entertainment, home repairs, etc.

It's happening everywhere

In a variety of business sectors and industries there is an obvious stirring on the concierge front. Successful real estate agents advise that the closing of the sale has now become but one element in a successful residential real estate transaction. Buyers immediately seek traditional concierge help in the form of referrals for home remodeling contractors, assistance with municipal zoning authorities and even help with school admissions.

The hide-bound world of healthcare seems to have embraced concierge services in order to boost revenues and profitability in an increasingly competitive environment. At the superficial level, the better hospitals have morphed into quasi-hotels offering valet check-in, high-end, in-room toiletries and even food menus that defy the unappetizing hospital stereotype. Affluent consumers can also now employ the services of concierge doctors, unattached to medical plans or insurance coverage, who are available 24/7 to address every ailment from an infected hang-nail to a life-threatening event. The catch… patients pay an annual concierge retainer that guarantees immediate access and undivided attention.

On the retail front, the concierge concept has received a certain degree of lip service by way of personal shopper services and even valet parking at shopping centers. Department store chain, Nordstrom, instructs its counter staff to lead customers by the hand on a department-to-department search. Sold out Items unavailable at one store are shipped within days to the customer from another location. In some instances, upscale specialty stores will now remain open after regular shopping hours but close their doors to the general public in order to accommodate the shopping needs of private parties and select shopping groups.

Why the sudden surge?

Many of the current consumers buying trends are tied to time pressures and an overly-competitive brand environment. Consumers have too little time to invest in making choices, whether it's shopping for frozen dinners in the supermarket aisle, selecting cosmetics at a department store counter or choosing a hotel for business travel. The notion of simplified marketing as espoused by authors Cristol and Sealey in their book Simplicity Marketing remains particularly pertinent to marketers attempting to interpret the concierge mindset. Demanding times call for interactions between consumer and brand that make the brand choice and interaction user-friendly, quick-acting, flawlessly-transacted and imminently satisfying.

When we talk about communicating information, the trend is even more distinct. The internet, fast becoming the primary source of consumer buying information in key categories such as automotive, electronics, travel, etc., is nothing more than an information concierge, delivering extensive data, opinion and comparative information in a faster, more reliable mode than advertising, with its questionable credibility, or the badly-trained front-counter assistant at retail, whose product ignorance is obvious to consumers in the bulk of retail transactions.

For the average marketer, the lessons are clear. Infuse your online marketing communications with as much relevant information as possible. Make your website an "electronic concierge" delivering all the information that the consumer needs to make an accurate assessment and choice, presumably in your favor. And think carefully about proactive marketing. With their permission, take the initiative and correspond with customers and prospects on a consistent and repetitive basis. Send them relevant and timely news, and compelling offers and deals. Make it easy for them to respond to the communication and press the "buy" button. I still maintain that Whole Foods should not wait for me to walk into the store by accident or whim. If they emailed me each week with news of a new shipment of scarce heirloom tomatoes, that special batch of hard-to-find olive oil, or those limited-season peaches, I can guarantee that they'll make a sale. And if they were to deliver as well, at a reasonable price… be still my heart!

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