When IT was booming in Bangalore and the Bay area of California, companies doled out all sorts of benefits to retain employees. There were people who took your dog for a walk. Others bought movie tickets and cleaned your house and washed your socks while you were at office. Coming back to a spic-and-span bachelor apartment was worth the extra labour you put in at office.
The demands of the customers were sometimes bizarre. One company wanted an elephant to welcome new recruits to office. On its foundation day, another company wanted each employee to be given a flower that started with the first letter of his or her name. Chandrasekhar got a chrysanthemum and Rose a rose.
How quickly things fade away and an entire business is going down the tubes. Most of these concierge services were new. They were not capital intensive and no big investments had been made. It was easy for the promoter to walk away leaving the employees in the lurch.
Everything didn’t collapse. The big boys kept their head above the waters. Some even prospered as the availability of both employees and business increased. “There is a lesson in that,” says Mumbai-based human resource consultant P.N. Singh in an aside “When you are looking for a job, always prefer the market leader. Unless the company is wallowing in complacency, you have the highest probability of survival in a downturn economy.”
The current economic crisis has been handled in many different ways. As mentioned earlier, the big have consolidated and added services. Says Les Concierges, the Bangalore-based “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime” service: “We’ve moved far beyond ‘meet your concierge and get your service done at the desk alone’ — now we have new access and technologies. We needed worthwhile tools to help you enjoy your concierge services more. In a truly post digital world, the only survivors are people, beauty, truth and awareness.”
Others are becoming specialists. No more dog-walking or taking care of the laundry. The companies have moved to domains that need extra skills. One example is medical tourism. Foreigners come to this country for surgeries and stay on to recuperate. “We know nothing about the holiday angle,” says the director of a hospital which has had several medical tourists. “We tied up with a regular travel agency, but they know nothing about patients. They organised a white water rafting trip for a man who had just had hip surgery. The patient didn't ask questions because he assumed the travel agency was part of the hospital and the rafting must be part of the recovery process.”
The concierge services to medical tourists also involve arranging medicines and sickbed facilities. In Indian hospitals you have to replace whatever medical disposables you use. Even if you are willing to pay for it in advance, the hospital won’t buy the stuff for you. India with its large extended families always has a relative hanging around to take care of a patient’s needs.
For foreigners, who often come alone, the concierge service is a godsend. The hospital itself sees this as too far removed from its core activities to waste any effort on setting them up.
Curiously, hotels too have started outsourcing their concierge services. “It is a way of reducing people on their rolls,” says Singh. But isn’t that a core function? “Nothing is core anymore,” replies Singh. Abroad, concierge services are taking two directions. Companies like Gigwalk and TaskRabbit (see box) are ready to do everything. They are nationwide and boast thousands of freelancers. The ubiquitous mobile phone gives a speed that can be an eye-opener.
Then there are the specialist concierges. “The Spot Experience is the first luxury experience of its kind for your dog,” says Spot Dogcare in New York. “We offer the finest facilities, most experienced and certified staff, as well as innovative methods to provide your pup with a quality, positive, safe environment. Our services include daycare, overnights, long-term country boarding, grooming, training, transportation, as well as retail.”
The dog walkers are returning. Will the elephants be far behind?
The odd jobs men in the US market
Gigwalk — "Gigwalk connects businesses with the best people to get work done anywhere."
Delivers various services to companies based on their needs. There are odd jobs which could take just a few minutes to a few hours.
TaskRabbit — "Get just about anything done by safe, reliable, awesome people."
From grocery pick-up to office help, everything is available.
Source: company websites