by: Mary-Anne Bowring
Around 23% of apartment blocks in central London boast a concierge, and at the moment there are pretty much just two types of blocks of flats, those that have concierge and those that don't. However, that is now changing. The future, says Mary-Anne Bowring, MD of the Ringley Group, is three types of blocks; those with concierge, those with a Virtual Concierge and those with none. To understand what a Virtual Concierge is it is first worth reflecting on how a concierge adds value. Naturally, there's the hello in the morning, there's the key holding, the ability to update on what's happening around the block during the day, there's the feeling of added security. In fact, the service level agreement that Ringley expects of the various concierge it has on-site at blocks around London is stand up, smile, service, security. As the reader you are probably wondering how can you do some of this virtually and how can you add value.
Ringley's Virtual Concierge product was conceived as a result of a complete re-think about how you could add value to a block; this meant a study of some hotel features and trying to capture some the dream that a developer sells a new buyer when they buy an apartment in a new block. It was then agreed that the product had to capture the essence of this special feeling and keep it alive. Perhaps a little like the way a hotel does when it reminds you just how fine their dining and their facilities are and why every penny you are about to spend is well spent. Then, even if all of this was achieved the Ringley task group still felt that something would be missing - the ability to capture a little of the neighbourly society that David Cameron keeps harking on about. So its job was to think about how it could reach out to those people who pass by in the lift but don't really ever say hello, or would feel awkward borrowing tea or coffee; those people who want a personal trainer or yoga in the garden but don't know there is a yoga instructor resident.
It is also estimated that around 80% of new build apartment blocks adopt an RMC structure (Residents Management Company) whereby leaseholders or owners are members of the RMC and some act as directors or committee members, thereby giving up significant amounts of their time and getting too little appreciation. Inviting all to participate more actively was another vital ingredient. So what is a Virtual Concierge? Put simply, it is a Ringley hosted web driven plasma screen that is put in high traffic common parts areas. It can complement employed concierge and bring concierge services to blocks that perhaps would otherwise have none.
Contributors to virtual Concierge will be the managing agent, any employed concierge, the directors/committee members and any leaseholders in the block. So how does it work? Basically there are two levels: Virtual Concierge is designed for blocks that have no on-site concierge. The 32" plasma screen is usually ceiling hung and connects to the product via a broadband line. If there is a lift in reception with a phone, the easiest possibility is to convert this to a broadband line which should only marginally increase the monthly rental. But before the product is installed Ringley will send their film crew to shoot an ambience video, to capture and enhance the lifestyle the development offers; river views, Japanese gardens etc. This film footage is combined with the web hosted components to build the lifestyle. Then the slides are tailored to the block, i.e., photos of the committee members, contact details, photos of the regular cleaners and gardeners, together with days they attend, photos of the managing agents team and other relevant persons to personalize the role of running a quality development. Other slides communicate community events via news boards: committee news, concierge news, managing agents news.
Group email addresses for the block can be communicated, volunteers requested and those rules that letting agents just seem to forget to tell new renters can be stated for all to see; for example, the rubbish arrangements/rubbish days, the pets clause in the lease etc. Block community activities can be encouraged, yoga in the garden, annual summer event, in fact, any owner in the development can post news so long as it abides with the appropriate news rules, stated on the post news page. All leaseholders or owners can log into the Virtual Concierge through the Ringley GatewayTM and are reminded how to do so on every service charge demand. Leaseholders can then become friendly neighbours, by clicking on the smiling coffee pot. This signals to other owners who log in that they don't mind lending coffee, and individuals can input their email address or telephone number for others in the block to see.
It would be nice to think that owners might get together for a dinner party or feel easy about asking to borrow some milk, says Mary-Anne, Ringley's MD. Apartment owners who don't use their parking space can offer spare car parking spaces to others in the block*, and advertise their property to rent or to sell on the Virtual Concierge*.The way to get answers to the most commonly asked questions are signposted. Virtual Concierge with HR module offers all the above but has extras to enhance the existing concierge because it includes HR management (shift rotas, timesheets, holidays/absence reporting) and learning tools: these are known as competency tests. The learning materials for each competency test are also on-line and the tests are multi-guess tests, also on-line, which are instantly marked. Once the user gets more than 70% they are awarded a competency certificate, that sits on their home page every time they log on.
There is also a standard building manual, that the concierge is encouraged to adapt and evolve to fit their building. For example, this could include the emergency lift release procedure and decision trees on what to do for all the usual problems. When Premium Virtual Concierge is installed a webcam is installed to the concierge PC enabling contractors on-site to be captured for security reasons. Visitors can then see Dave Abseiler on site today, and a picture of Dave, which naturally enhances security. For developers, the Ringley Group claims that the product adds up to 1% to the sales prices because it enhances the development specification. All developers sell the dream of the show flat and their customers buy the perceived lifestyle. The products clearly enhance this lifestyle and instead of the ambience film footage, developers 3D models can be used in the early days for the launch.
The sales office can also post news of events. What does it cost? The price to install depends upon the commitment. Ringley don't really recommend the product where there are less than 30 flats/apartments on a single entrance. For appropriate blocks for both block management clients and developers the first 32" plasma installation is FREE. All the client needs to do is provide the broadband line. For cost price of the equipment, Ringley will upgrade the plasma screen to 42" or 50" and is happy to talk to clients where there are a number of entrances they would like covered. Ringley has not ruled out putting the system into smaller luxury blocks and, for example, has just been commissioned to set up a system for a quality church development of only 17 flats in Highgate.
For smaller sites the client will need to contribute towards the filming and installation costs*. Following prototype installations in E14 and final testing, the product will be generally available from 1st November. Ringley has set up a communications team to deal with initial set up and uploading contractors, committee and agents details, and the screening of appropriate news. *costs and demo system are at www.ringley.co.uk/virtual Concierge *small admin charge applies
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