Dining with First Contact’s Paul Schmeja
First Contact's CEO Paul Schmeja wants to bring hotel concierge services to the workplace
Photography by Chino Sardea
Frequent travellers will know that one of the joys of staying in a world class luxury accommodation is the access to concierge services that take care of everything from the mundane, like arranging transport around the city, to the more exciting, like booking tickets to a sold-out concert.
“If only we could tap into the rich network of concierge services all the time,” is what Paul Schmeja reasoned when he first started First Contact, a corporate reception and concierge services provider that first started out in Australia and recently expanded into Singapore.
“I was sitting in the lobby of a corporate building and noticed a real lack of engagement and customer service. There were security guards manning the front desk of these prominent company headquarters but other than checking IDs, little else was done with guests who walked in.”
This was a gap in the service industry Paul believed could and should be filled. “First Contact is, as the name suggests, your guest’s first point of contact and last impression of your company when they walk into your office.”
It isn’t just about setting up a proper reception area. Rather, it is creating a front of house that handles all client facing matters, as well as the nitty gritty of setting up meeting rooms and event facilities. First Contact started out with a bank in Australia that wanted someone to handle the front of house for them for the entire building.
“[The bank] wanted a better way to serve their customers that matched their brand values of being customer-oriented. From there, we found that we could transform the way services were done in office buildings to reflect the quality of service one would receive in a five-star hotel.”
In setting up a concierge service for an office, Paul knew that he had to work with very likeminded individuals who could understand the needs of workers. The First Contact team consists of former hotel managers from the luxury end of the hotel business from various five-star establishments. They also usually hire those who have worked in the best standards of the service industry, just so they understand how to operate “under the radar” by anticipating the needs of those around.
This anticipation of needs is what the Japanese call omotenashi, a standard of hospitality found in any Japanese establishment, like in hotels and restaurants. For Paul, this art of anticipation is a sixth sense that some people have. “It is an inherent skill for people that have come up though hospitality as a career. They have this ability to be aware of their environment and what’s happening around them –who’s here and what they’re here for. This acute sense is what enables them to know what potential guests will be asking for before they even ask it. It can be as simple as offering directions to someone who looks lost or even offering a bottle of water to someone who looks nervous about a job interview.”
It reminds me of a scene in the Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Ralph Fiennes’ character, Monsier Gustave H., due to his deep knowledge of the hotel and his guests, fixes issues and addresses problems way before they are even reported to him. Paul agrees with the similarities and draws another parallel to the movie – the Society of Crossed Keys or in Paul’s industry, Les Clef d’Or, also known as the Society of the Golden Keys. Within the First Contact network, there are a number of members from Les Clef d’Or who help with any client request. “As long as they are legal and humanly possible,” Paul annotates.
Paul shares of how one place he worked at had a number of high-end corporate CEOs who were desperately looking for tickets to a children’s concert for Peppa Pig. The request is definitely an unusual one that many of the CEOs’ executive assistants could not secure, but with the help of First Contact’s direct relationship with the owners of the theatre, they managed to get tickets.
But as work culture shifts towards hot-desking and working from home becomes increasingly common, Paul believes there still is a need for concierge services for companies at their base office and even at co-working spaces. “The evolution of our service has changed to become a workplace concierge, which is to connect employees with all of the services, amenities and facilities of the building that are available to them,” he says. “We are seeing more of a shift in demand from being just front in house to helping to checking visitors in and settling them so they get familiarised with the environment quickly so that they can focus on work.”
To me, it does sound like taking on a human resource or welfare function, but Paul assures that First Contact adds much more value than that. “We are a supporting role to HR and even office management where we take care of even the smallest of requests that they may not be able to fulfil.”
Paul again stresses on the function of First Contact aiding with the smooth operation of workplaces. “We had a client who needed a sandwich for the CEO, but the contracted caterer would not make him a sandwich because he hadn’t ordered one. For us, we looked at the bigger picture and fixed the problem right away by approaching a café to get them to make the sandwich.” It sounds like an easy enough fix, but Paul explains that this is the difference First Contact hopes to make in their clients’ lives.
“We are not transaction focused, rather, we want to be customer and outcome focused, just so everyone else gets to breathe a little better and get to what really matters.”
Cook & Brew
The interview with Paul Schmeja was held onsite at Cook & Brew, The Westin Singapore’s level 33 specialty gastro-bar that features raw wooden floors, lavish dark red leather bar stools and a black marble-topped bar. Overlooking the glistening central business district, the contemporary setting is the perfect place to indulge in delectable local and international comfort food paired with a curated selection of craft beers, wines and cocktails. The menu by Executive Chef Aaron Foster brings market-to-table goodness to diners with mouth-watering comfort food for lunch, and lavish tapas-style sharing plates for dinner.
Cook & Brew is located at The Westin Singapore, the first integrated hotel located within an office building. Occupying levels 32 to 46 of Asia Square Tower 2, the hotel is right in the centre of Singapore’s bustling financial district.