10 questions with… First Contact
LATTE chats with First Contact, a Melbourne-based Concierge Service Company, and its CEO Paul Schemja and Head Concierge Aaron Rooney about the parallels between concierge services and the premium hotel sector, strange customer requests and coffee.
1. Explain what the role of a Corporate Concierge means to you.
Aaron: To me the role of Corporate Concierge is multi-faceted, one where we strive to exceed our guest’s expectations in every encounter. Sourcing tickets, managing the arrival experience of our guests and booking dinner reservations are all part of the job, however, I feel it is our staff that best encapsulates what we do. We all exist in a world where we are more connected than ever with social media, yet I find more and more people want a personal connection. It is about having the one point of contact, someone that they can come to for recommendations or to help guide them and that is what we provide.
2. When and how did the idea of the ‘Corporate Concierge’ emerge?
Paul: Going back eight or nine years, most corporate buildings and some of Australia’s largest blue chip organisations had the “Concierge” (term used loosely) or reception desk manned by security. Don’t get me wrong, security has an important role to play, usually as a barrier, but why would a billion-dollar organisation want that to be the first person greeting visitors to their office? Alternatively, your typical office receptionist had wild hair, neon nail polish and their half eaten lunch and a lipstick stained mug of coffee on the desk. These were normal observations back then, and coming from a background in five-star hotels, we just knew that there was a much better way for these buildings to be represented.
3. What parallels do you see between the premium hotel sector and your job as a Corporate Concierge?
Aaron: There are more similarities than differences I feel. Ultimately people just want good service delivered in an efficient manner with a big smile. The main difference is that in hotels people are generally from interstate or overseas and really rely on the Concierge to help navigate the city whereas in Corporate Hospitality everyone already knows their favourite restaurants and bars. The key is to convince someone to try your suggestion.
4. What parallels do you see between the premium hotel sector and the ethos of the company?
Paul: First Contact’s rapid success has largely been through taking the essence of a premium hotel arrival experience, using the approach, greet and farewell principles refined for the unique nuances of a corporate office environment. The core values are exactly the same; presentation and grooming, ownership of space, knowledge of your environment and what’s happening are all essential for success. First Contact has developed “non-negotiable standards” borrowed from the world’s best hotel companies and adapted to the unique world in which we operate.
The other thing we’re seeing is that whilst hotels, airlines and commercial buildings are experimenting with check-in kiosks and “portals”, which can be effective tools for busy people, on the other hand we’re experiencing directly that people crave that personalised, human experience. Engaging with a genuine, knowledgeable and efficient person is a vital part of a successful Customer Experience.
Our clients have come to trust us implicitly when it comes to managing the recruitment, process and client experience to be the “faces” of their own brand.
5. What do you most enjoy about working in customer service?
Aaron: I think working with people and interacting with people every day is what I enjoy most. Seeing the smile on someone’s face when you get them the sold out concert ticket or the dinner reservation with the best seat in the house is very rewarding.
6. What is the strangest request you have received so far?
Aaron: We had a request for Peppa Pig’s live show, turns out it was the hottest ticket in town and sold out quicker than Beyoncé. We managed to get the client tickets, but it was trickier than expected.
7. Where do you source your Corporate Concierge team from?
Paul: The majority of First Contact Concierge and Receptionists are sourced directly from five-star hotels, or other premium hospitality roles. We look for people with a great attitude; “spirit to serve”, people who get enjoyment out of enhancing other people’s day. We also look for people who know how to present themselves professionally with exceptional grooming and body language. This comes naturally to people already working in the luxury hotel sector. We’re able to offer them a career change with much better hours and conditions, yet still doing what they love.
8. What are the typical characteristics of a Corporate Concierge recruited through First Contact?
Paul: We practice the “art of anticipation”. FC Concierge have that intuitive ability to be aware of everyone and everything going on in their lobby space, knowing what people want before they ask them. It’s a gift that comes from experience working as a hotel Concierge, and we only want the best. Other than that, for hotel staff to transition to the corporate world, they need to be resilient, efficient and accurate. There isn’t a lot of margin for error when you are representing the Office of the CEO! We can teach the technical skills, so we are really looking for the right attitude when we recruit.
9. Did any of your own first-hand experiences with the premium hotel sector influence the development of the idea of a Corporate Concierge?
Paul: Definitely, I work with an exceptional Executive Team of individuals who have all worked extensively in five-star hotels, but have also directly worked as Concierge managers within FC at our various stages of growth. Because a hotel-born methodology drives our company culture, would-be competitors simply cannot recreate our unique solution, although several have tried and failed. It isn’t as simple as just recruiting the right people… a whole lot of work goes into creating a very unique employee experience and culture, which is the secret to our service.
10. LATTE Signature Question: What’s the best coffee you have ever had?
Aaron: An espresso at Pellegrini’s on Bourke St. A Melbourne institution!
Paul: I’m very lucky in that I get it most mornings when I am not travelling from a gorgeous café across the road from our office in Hardware Lane – Corner n’ Bench. It makes arriving at work a bit like a homecoming… my team know not to ask me the hard questions until I’ve had my strong latte!