October 18, 2019

Service in the Digital Age: Is a Virtual Concierge a Good Investment?

In a world in which AI and automation are being introduced into people’s homes, self-checkouts are replacing cashiers, driverless cars are making their way onto our roads, and a large percentage of business meetings are being conducted over Skype, it’s natural to be excited about new digital innovations that promise to simplify our lives or make our businesses more efficient. Many new technologies really are improvements on traditional ways of doing things–for example, being able to work and conduct meetings remotely has opened up the job market in some pretty far-reaching ways. 


But when it comes to certain service jobs, maintaining that personal touch is far more valuable than a slight increase in efficiency.

What is a Virtual Concierge?

The virtual concierge is a concept that’s taken a few different forms, ranging from simple to sophisticated. The most basic example is an Amazon Echo or Google Home device set up to provide vacation rental guests with information ranging from nearby museums and restaurant recommendations to a personalized welcome and check-out information. While arguably useful for a short-term stay at a beach house or a weekend apartment rental, this type of virtual concierge is impractical when it comes to dealing with the day-to-day needs of condo residents, particularly those residing in luxury communities.


Other systems, often referred to as digital concierge systems, involve interactive, on-site information boards or mobile apps that can answer common questions or find information online — not bad if you need a weather forecast or the location of the nearest bookstore, but useless in terms of providing security, dealing with maintenance concerns, or taking care of mail distribution.


A more sophisticated type of virtual concierge was introduced to Canada in 2012. With two-way communication ability, access to security cameras, and the ability to lock and unlock doors and delivery boxes, this system is a step up from the Amazon Echo, but has failed to take the condo world by storm. And there are a few good reasons for that.

Why choose real over virtual?

A virtual concierge may be adequate for buildings that lack the budget to provide security or an in-person concierge. But the only real draw of the virtual concierge is its affordability, and what a real concierge service offers can be priceless.


Forbes, BusinessWire, and The Washington Post have reported that people overwhelmingly prefer face-to-face interactions over virtual ones. Speaking to people face-to-face builds trust, connection, and rapport, which are vital for a successful concierge service. Residents want to feel comfortable with their concierge! When it comes to premium concierge services in upscale rentals and luxury condo communites, this comfort is even more important. Many prospective buyers may balk at the idea of giving up the real concierge service that they’re accustomed to — particularly if they are not comfortable using technology. 


A virtual concierge is unable to offer many of the daily services that an in-person concierge provides each day, including mail distribution, for example. The discreet and convenient in-room delivery that a bespoke concierge service may offer is impossible for the virtual concierge (at least, until they invent teleportation).

The virtual concierge also lacks the luxury and elegance of an in-person concierge. Being greeted by a large screen when you enter your condo, rather than a real person, is more Star Trek than stylish. An in-person concierge is part of a long tradition of lavish hospitality and high-class service, enjoyed by royalty and the aristocracy. And don’t your residents deserve the very best?