SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - When Paul Schmeja, CEO of workplace concierge services company First Contact, enters any office building, the first thing he looks out for is whether the reception is manned by security staff.
“Typically, the security guard is your first point of contact when you enter an office building. Security has an important role to play but the security staff shouldn’t be the first person who greets you. This does not create a welcoming or positive first impression,” he observes.
Sensing a business opportunity, Schmeja co-founded First Contact in 2006 in Melbourne, Australia, to introduce professional, five-star hotel concierge services to the commercial property segment.
Thirteen years later, First Contact services over 70 locations across Australia. Last month, it officially launched in Singapore and has plans to further expand in the Asia-Pacific region. In Australia, some of its largest clients include ANZ Bank, JLL, Optus, Ernst & Young and span across sectors such as banking and finance to tech companies.
Art of anticipation
Schmeja, who established his career in the hospitality sector, sees staff from this industry as a natural fit for workplace concierge services, so much so that the company exclusively hires people with a background in hospitality. For instance, the company’s operations manager in Singapore was formerly the front office manager at Marina Bay Sands.
First Contact's CEO Paul Schmeja (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
“There’s just something about people who work in hospitality. We derive a buzz from making someone’s day better,” he opines. Translate this experience from a hotel to an office and Schmeja believes First Contact has a winning formula.
The problem with many office buildings with security staff doubling up as receptionists though is that it transforms the visitor’s arrival experience into one that is purely transactional. “You arrive, get your visitor pass and that’s it,” he laments.
However, if the building or office’s reception is staffed with hotel-trained concierge, Schmeja says they will be able to anticipate the needs of visitors and exceed their expectations.
“This extra layer is what we call the art of anticipation – automatically knowing what everyone needs even before being asked,” says Schmeja.
Following its success in Australia, First Contact has expanded its service offerings to include workplace and other ad-hoc services. This is because while its concierge services are largely targeted at building owners and anchor tenants, First Contact is also seeing demand for its workplace services from both start-ups and MNCs.
The range of services now on offer includes handling personal requests from clients, mailroom management, IT support, induction for the client’s new recruits as well as maintenance and cleanliness issues.
And growing start-ups have found this particularly useful. Schmeja recounts how one it is working with saw a 300% increase in headcount in the last six months.
“Companies like that are growing so fast that HR is struggling to accommodate the new hires. When they partner with us, they can get support on running their workplace at a fraction of the cost of engaging a big facilities management company,” he says.
While Schmeja declines to provide the cost of services due to non-disclosure agreements signed with clients, he points out that costs vary according to the scope of services required by each client.
According to him, having a workplace concierge improves the welfare of employees as it provides a single point of contact for all manner of help. This is increasingly important as workplaces evolve from cubicles to open plan and flexible working arrangements are introduced.
First Contact has expanded its service offerings to include workplace and other ad-hoc services (Credit: First Contact)
“Giving people flexible working environments improves productivity, employee engagement and staff retention. But with this comes new office tools and fancy gadgets and helping employees navigate them,” he observes.
Alternative career path
As the needs of each client differ, First Contact provides training for the staff it assigns to the company and also manages them. This applies to all its services.
Typically, Schmeja and his team would first start by understanding the needs of each company and learn more about the brand image they want to convey through their concierge. First Contact can also tailor the uniforms of the concierge based on the requirements of clients.
A team is then assembled and trained accordingly. In order to ensure a high standard of service, First Contact has a customised training checklist and requires the team to complete the training before putting them on the job. In addition, new staff are also partnered with an experience staff to learn on the job. The whole process usually takes two to four weeks depending on the scale of the role.
Even when they are on the job, Schmeja emphasises constant skills upgrading. This can be learning about new office software programs, business writing, email etiquette and leadership. These courses are either delivered in the classroom or via an online platform.
“We believe in upskilling our people so that they can take on other roles and progress when the time is right,” he says.
Schmeja credits First Contact’s ability to hire experienced hospitality staff to the company’s close links with the industry. He previously worked with hospitality brands such as Grand Hyatt Melbourne and boutique hotels such as COMO Melbourne.
Specialising in front office and rooms division management, Schmeja was also involved in the pre-openings of hotels such as The Mansion Hotel at Werribee Park, The Ascott Group Serviced Residences and the Mantra Deep Blue Geothermal Spa Resort on the Great Ocean Road.
He also took on the role of village operations manager for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, where he managed the planning, execution and delivery of accommodation services for the 6,500 bed Athletes Village.
While he continues to be passionate about hospitality, Schmeja notes that most hospitality roles require staff to work on weekends, public holidays and at odd hours.
“I love working in hotels but when you are married, have kids or setting up your own home, the hours are just not very family-friendly. The typical age of our staff is around 30 to 31. By this age, people start thinking about what they want for their future,” he says.
Consequently, with the training First Contact provides, Schmeja sees First Contact as a means to provide an alternative path of career progression for those in the hospitality industry.
“Some of our best people have also gone on to work for our clients. Some have become junior facilities managers or executive assistants with banks so this is a win-win for everyone,” he quips.
“We don’t want to retain people for too long either. We like our people to provide friendly and engaging service but not when they are bored.”
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