Every day, a busy PA could be juggling jobs regarding travel, dining, home, motor and retail – as well as the weird and the wonderful. Gemma McIntosh explains how to deal with a varied workload and tackle challenging requests
What are the most challenging types of request to deal with as a concierge?
The research jobs are among the most challenging, as there isn’t a specific end point. They can last for days – sometimes even weeks – and require a mix of internet research, on-the-ground investigation and a lot of intuition. It could be a luxury item, destination, or very niche topic of interest you are not familiar with, so often there is a lot of swatting up to do before you begin to tackle the request. However, once you’ve found exactly what the member is looking for, it’s hugely satisfying and you’ve picked up yet another chunk of knowledge. I know a lot about some very random things, from gardening tools to the best surfing beaches in Mexico – which I’m sure will come in handy one day.
Another challenging aspect of the job is dealing with such a wide variety of requests at one time. One minute we could be asked to source an exclusive Mulberry handbag and the next we’ll be hunting down an iPad that’s been left at Dubai International Airport. It’s this variation that keeps the job interesting but you really must be on the ball and organised at all times.
What steps do you take to ensure that challenging requests are fulfilled and the member is satisfied with the outcome?
From the outset, strong communication is paramount. I always make sure that I update the member with my progress within the first few hours of receiving the request and then once or twice every day while the job is ongoing. Setting expectations at the beginning is key and it’s amazing how much keeping the member in the loop helps – it keeps them at ease, meaning you are left to get on with the work at hand and often they are surprised at how efficiently you’ve completed the task.
When it comes to carrying out a difficult request such as a securing a last-minute table booking at a top restaurant, this is all about contacts and negotiation. We’ve built a huge network of contacts across London and the wider world who can help us out, but even without this it’s always possible to negotiate the impossible. Once you have struck up a relationship with a contact, staying in touch is essential, as you never know when you’ll need another favour in the future. Very soon you’ll have a network of your own that’ll grow and strengthen over time.
How do you ensure you know exactly what your members want and what their tastes and expectations are?
We always ensure that we meet with our members as soon as possible to determine exactly what they expect from the service and to get as much information about their business, home and social life as possible – without invading their privacy. From here, we quickly build a picture of what types of things they’ll be asking us to fulfil and we can start to determine trends and patterns in their briefing behaviour. Having this knowledge helps you to anticipate challenging requests.
What do you do if you are really struggling with fulfilling a member’s request?
We never go back to the member and say, “I’m sorry, we couldn’t get you a table at Fat Duck”. We always ensure that we offer the next best thing, so we’ll provisionally book a table at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, for example, and have a couple of other back-ups at the ready. This works across the board, whether it’s organising a travel itinerary or sourcing a rare handbag.
And finally, what’s the most extraordinary request you’ve dealt with lately?
Well, a member called in and asked us to source a very specific type of doughnut to be delivered to his daughter in Cambridge. I found many bakeries that made a similar doughnut but none were quite to the specification, so we eventually found an outlet that would bake a dozen especially. I then had to find a courier who would pay for the doughnuts in cash on the member’s behalf and deliver them to the daughter’s university college. This one took a lot of negotiating with new suppliers that we had never used before but, needless to say, it all went to plan and we had one very happy member (and daughter) at the end of it. It goes to show that if you never give up, you’ll get there in the end.
Gemma McIntosh is VIP Lifestyle Manager at Ten Lifestyle Concierge, the world’s leading lifestyle concierge provider, with lifestyle managers based in the UK, USA, Australia and most major cities across the globe – including teams of travel, restaurant and event ticket specialists on hand 24/7 to help you get the most out of life by taking on anything you don’t have the time, expertise, or contacts to do yourself. Find out more at tenlifestyle.com