Jeanne Mills: Chef Concierge, Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel

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Bio:

Jeanne Mills was born to be a concierge. Now, she practically breeds them. As Chef Concierge of Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills (A Four Seasons Hotel), Mills heads a concierge team of 14 including eight members of Les Clefs d’Or – literally, “keys of gold” – a professional organization for the cream of hotel concierges around the world. There are more members of Les Clefs d’Or on the concierge desk at Beverly Wilshire than at any other hotel in California – you can spot them by the crossed gold keys displayed proudly their lapels. After serving for more than a decade on the Board of Directors of Les Clefs d’Or, Mills was bumped upstairs in early 2014 to become Zone Director of the Americas with the opportunity to develop the profession and recruit top-of-the-line members in North, South and Central America. Her organizational and expansion efforts will be beneficial as Four Seasons continues to build and open hotels, she says. “I’ll personally come to know the most talented concierges representing each country and will of course help to recruit them join our newest hotels being developed.”

How did you get into the industry?

I grew up in the halls of the classic hotels of Las Vegas, where my father worked as a bell captain at the illustrious Dunes Hotel for over 37 years. During the 1960s and 1970s it was the bell captain who handled all of the miscellaneous guest requests, in addition to handling guest luggage. I was always so excited when I had the chance to visit my father in action at the hotel – a place I believed to be the most glamorous place in the world to work. Watching my father and mentor, I naturally acquired a passion to serve that would later lead me to a lifelong career in hospitality.

After studying vocal performance on scholarship at the University of Nevada-Reno, I returned to Sin City in the late 80’s just as the first mega-resort was rising up from the desert on The Strip. A friend of my father’s, an executive at The Mirage Resort, recognized me as being a “people person” and offered me a position to join the opening team of this game-changing resort in the position of Guest Relations. My role was to greet arrivals and provide site tours to investors and prospective guests. I was frequently approached by guests asking for the ‘Concierge,’ but I had no clue what they were talking about. The term concierge was unknown and not commonly used in Vegas at the time. I decided to look up the title of Concierge (at the library) and thought to myself; this sounds much like what I was doing. Over time, the Guest Relations position evolved into a proper Concierge department.

Following my entree into hospitality at the Mirage, I later accepted a Concierge position at the Desert Inn Hotel, once owned by the recluse Howard Hughes. I had the honor and privilege of serving every member of the Rat Pack including the Chairman of the Board himself, Mr. Frank Sinatra. It was an era of elegance when evening gowns and tuxedos were common attire in Vegas.  A time when the hotels were independently owned and operated.

Close to 30 years later, and now the Chef Concierge of the iconic Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills (A Four Seasons Hotel), I now lead a concierge team of 13 including eight members of Les Clefs d’Or – literally translated to mean, “keys of gold” – the elite and only professional organization of hotel concierges around the world. You can spot us wearing the crossed gold keys displayed proudly on our lapels.

“I was born to be a concierge. I feel so fortunate to be in the unique and privileged position to impact so many lives, creating lasting memories that will often be remembered for a lifetime”.

Any emerging industry trends?

Often people look to technology when thinking about emerging trends. In the role of the Concierge, innovation is all about using these technologies to provide better, more personalized customer service.

The role of the Concierge was much different when I first started. Our contacts were all kept in a double-wide rolodex and we had no internet as a source of research. Guests were solely dependent upon the Concierge for any desired information and recommendations; as social media, blogs and apps were still tools of the future and did not yet exist.  

Modern day demands and technologies really haven’t changed the role of our centuries old profession; these changes have only added a new dimension to our responsibilities. Travelers have become inundated with information, and the concierge has in turn become a filter of this funnel. It is imperative that as a Concierge, I stay abreast of what is trending and what our guests are reading on sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp in order to decipher all of this information and to assist guests in making the best choices for their individual desired experiences.

Another trend that is increasingly more prevalent is Customization. Every guest has his or her own requirements and preferences when traveling away from home. Capturing these important details prior to arrival is how we at Beverly Wilshire differentiate ourselves from the rest. Advancing technologies have provided us with various tools designed for our guests to share as much, or as little, as they wish regarding their desired experience. New technologies have also provided us with efficient tools to manage these preferences and then use them to exceed our guest’s expectations and ultimately gain their loyalty.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Technology and Apps have enhanced the services offered by the hotel concierge, however; the essence of the concierge profession is still very much unchanged. A professional hotel concierge should always base their recommendations on actual experiences rather than on postings from nonprofessionals or paid advertising on the Internet. A professional Concierge also offers insider access via personal connections for experiences that guests may not even be aware were possible, much less be in a position to do on their own.

New and emerging communication tools have presented the greatest advancements to the traditional role of the Concierge. Guests are now communicating with the concierge through various channels such as SMS text, Messenger, Twitter and Facebook- bygone are the days of just phone calls and emails. These new platforms have provided the modern day concierge with an enhanced and more personalized way to remain engaged, and to also pro-actively engage, with our guests. Concierges now must adapt to the desired method of communication preferred by our guests.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

There are many Apps now which provide great conveniences for travelers.  I strive to stay in the know of new apps being released, downloading them myself, ensuring that they offer correct information (i.e. directional apps) and then introducing the most useful ones to my guests to simplify their travel. In staying with these trends, Four Seasons launched the Four Seasons global app. This app has empowered our guests with the ability to request a multitude of services prior to, during, and after their stays with us, to personalize their own stay with preferences and requests.  

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Our guests are seeking a renewing emotional experience when they travel and we as the hotel Concierge are here to facilitate that experience.  

The opportunity now exists through these new forms of media to tantalise guests before they even walk in the hotel doors about the type of experience they can expect when they check in.  The guest journey can now exist well before their arrival.

The future holds truly innovative and personalized experiences delivered by passionate professionals-  If ever there was a renewed golden age of the Hotel Concierge, this is it!

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

The most valuable Concierge is one who speaks from experience. Learning the ins’ and outs’ of a city including the top restaurants, the art scene, the best ways to get around with both public and private transportation, etc. are all key to the success of any professional Concierge.  It is important to not only know these places intimately, but to also forge relationships with the key managers at these venues and businesses who you will depend upon to not only to care for your guests, but who will help you to make miracles happen.   

My personal commitment as a professional hotel concierge comes with a vast responsibility; a responsibility of integrity, professionalism, honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, fairness, keeping promises, caring for others, accountability, pursuit of excellence, and respect for others. As professional concierge, we must adopt a non-competitive spirit with our colleagues- one that emulates our motto of “In service through friendship”, keeping the interest and safety of our guests as our top priority at all times, while also upholding and protecting the hotel's image, brand, and reputation.  

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

As Concierge, we most often thrive and perform some of our greatest feats in the face of challenge and obstacles. “No” is not an option unless there are laws that prohibit us from aiding with a particular request.

My most difficult experiences have always been in times of crisis. I have been called upon by guests whom while on holiday have been faced with family emergencies. Circumstances have included the loss of family members or guests that have themselves become ill during their travels. Professional Concierge are the calm and compassionate friend ever guest needs in time of crisis. Helping with every aspect from making emergency travel arrangements, changing or cancelling all flights, theater tickets, rental cars or any other plans that must be undone and even assisting with guiding guest to ensure they have any medical resources they require.   

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Utilizing a concierge is like traveling with your own personal assistant, advisor, confidant and often your friend when you are away from home. Remember that before Google....Concierges were the original search engine- except we add the emotional experience that cannot be replicated by any app or booking engine

How do you motivate others?

Concierge rely heavily on each other for inspiration and motivation. As members of Les Clefs d’Or International, we gather together on an annual basis to network and to bridge any differences in services identified. These opportunities allow us to draw on the collective strength of our Les Clefs d’Or colleagues all around the world and to become more able to deliver seamless service without borders.

Ours is a closely knit society with a culture that is founded on support and encouragement of one another. Although our countries, cultures and religions may differ greatly in various parts of the world, there are very few differences in our job descriptions as concierge.  We share many of the same guests who today may be in Beverly Hills, and tomorrow in Dubai. Although the types of requests may vary; global travelers all have the same expectation of prompt, efficient, courteous and insightful service weather on leisure or business.  

Career advice to those in your industry?

Build your Network:

No one concierge can do it all, and if they think they can they’re foolish. The greatest concierge is the one who has built a network of people around themselves who, taken together, know something about everything. Hotel brands may compete with each other, but concierges remain focused on the guest experience and are always willing to help each other out. Many of the magical guest experiences I have orchestrated in my career, I have done so with the aid of fellow concierges and my personal network of contacts throughout the world.  

Be Inquisitive:

Professional Concierges are curious about people, about the world, about travel and tourism. Gain an intimate knowledge of your city, its history, the restaurants, tours, architecture and culture- and stay current by reading newspapers and travel trade journals

Learn something new every day:  

Stay ahead of the curve, read, research travel trends and then get out and experience it! Great concierges have their finger on the pulse of their cities, able to advise guests on restaurants, nightlife, sporting and theater events, sightseeing tours, shopping, etc. They can direct guests to any location, to any product at any time of the day or night.

Be Creative:

Great concierges are innovative. Anticipate guest needs and generate new ideas for every challenge.

Be Flexible:

Concierges must constantly adapt to the marketplace, keep abreast of changing technology as well as the changing preferences of guests. Embrace change and never stop searching for new and better ways to serve your guests.  

Be prudent, patient and kind towards guests and staff alike, self-confident, tenacious, persistent, adaptable, ingenious and disciplined.  

Remain motivated by a genuine desire to serve.

Be the definition of Exceptional Service!

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