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Business As Usual

CEO talks about concierge in Philippines and how it should be accessed by more Filipinos

Gerald Dizon - Philstar.com
CEO talks about concierge in Philippines and how it should be accessed by more Filipinos
Matthew Squires, CEO of Aspire Lifestyles, APAC MEA, has always believed in the potential of concierge service in the Philippines.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — “You know the saying, two heads are better than one? Well, in this case, 650 heads are better than one, when you have a particular request. Because that’s how we handle concierge requests that are unique in nature,” shared Matthew Squires, CEO of Aspire Lifestyles, APAC MEA, in an exclusive interview with Philstar.com.

Squires, also recently appointed CEO of APAC and MEA under Aspire Lifestyles, has always believed in the potential of concierge services in the Philippines. He speaks from experience, having lived in the country for 15 years.

From humble beginnings

Squires first came to the Philippines in 1994, right when the country was ripe for engaging in the BPO industry. He was then working for a US company based out of the UK. Fast forward to 2000, he moved to Thailand and worked there for the next 10 years, during which he launched a company in the Philippines—a subsidiary of his Thailand company, dealing with pharmaceutical and consumer distribution.

But it was in 2012 that he joined International SOS, the affiliated company of Aspires Lifestyles. He stayed with them ever since, eventually taking up the mantle as Regional General Manager of the APAC region for Aspire Lifestyles in 2018.

That same year saw a sharp upswing in concierge services in the Philippines, following the rise of concierge services access on chat platforms, particularly Facebook Messenger.

“This became the basis for one of the strategies. We were the first to implement it on the chat platform and saw huge success—request volumes and engagements increased, only because of the convenience of chat as opposed to the traditional telephone call,” Squires shared.

“With that upswing, we focused on our strategy regionally. Now we’re on Viber, WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, Line, and so on, all in the name of accessing concierge services across our customers' preferred channels,” he added.

What is concierge service?

CEO talks about concierge in Philippines and how it should be accessed by more Filipinos
Aspire Lifestyles CEO Matthew Squires with Aspire Lifestyles Philippines Country Head Joanne Yee
Philstar.com/EC Toledo

Merriam-Webster defines concierge as "a person or service that provides assistance with personal business, such as making travel arrangements, scheduling appointments or running errands."

Today, concierge service has evolved to include bespoke experiences that are specific and localized, catering to every demographic. For Squires, these services are specific to the businesses or individuals Aspire works with.

“Our clients are the businesses: banks, insurance companies, local telcos, anybody that sees loyalty of their client base as being a key element to their growth and business success,” he said.

“I think it’s interesting to see when we talk about how the market has matured in terms of their appreciation of concierge, at least in the Philippines—we’re still unique in the sense that we’re able to cater to the affluent market and the mass market,” Joanne Yee, country head of Aspire Lifestyles in the Philippines.

“If, for example, you’re a traveler or a backpacker, usually you’re traveling within a certain budget. They would call concierge and say, “This is my working budget. What is the best place to go?” We make those kinds of arrangements—we will furnish an itinerary for you with specific recommendations that can meet all budget and travel preferences,” Yee added.

Depending on who their client is, being a white label service, Aspire Lifestyles provides guides that feature restaurants to go to, bars that are new as well some of the new hotels. With these establishments come promotions and perks.

For example, Aspire Lifestyles is the Official Concierge Sponsor of the World’s 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Through their connections, they’re able to meet chefs and restaurant owners, building relationships that allow, say, dining privileges or priority access—instead of being part of a 3-month long waiting list.

“As the end-user, you just pay for the experience. It’s a misnomer from people that have access to concierge—it’s not that you pay for the transaction—it’s the bank or the insurance company or the telco that offers this to you as a service. The service is done completely free,” Squires noted.

Online leads vs. on-the-ground

What makes Aspire’s concierge service stand out, despite free information available on the internet, is its exclusive knowledge base and insider tips by experts in each local market.

“You can only Google what you know. You can’t search for what you don’t know. And one of the powers of Aspire Lifestyle is—and I always stress this—we have feet on the ground in all of the countries we operate in that can provide us with their localized, specialist knowledge that you cannot get through generic reviews,” Squires explained.

“The people who understand how to use concierge properly, actually save not only time but also money. Because someone else is already doing the leg work. When you travel, you want to know the unique elements of that country,” he added.

Building numbers, diversifying service

During the height of the pandemic, Squires admits they took some significant hits, but ones that didn’t last very long. They went down across the entire region by 50% to 70%, but they were quick to pivot to changing market needs and come up with guides and experiences that could be secured from home.

Having come out of the worst of the pandemic, request volumes are now exceeding expectations.

“Our job is to fulfill requests. What we are now in the process of doing is looking at those requests and taking the information that we have. Through the COVID period, we invested heavily in our business intelligence tools in order to track trends and then try and predict where the next big thing is going to be to ensure promotional opportunities and discounts for people to avail,” shared Squires.

“We’re moving to the area where we have concierge lifestyle consultants, moving even more now in some markets to the area of having specialists. Specialist in terms of shopping and sourcing things like luxury watches and handbags, limited-edition collectibles that we are frequently getting asked to source, having access to hard-to-book restaurants and unique experiences,” he added.

Room for growth

CEO talks about concierge in Philippines and how it should be accessed by more Filipinos
Having lived in the country for 15 years, Squires admits that it is his trust in the Filipinos make the job worthwhile.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo

Aspire Lifestyles is always on the lookout for relevant and intelligent services for the ever-changing market.

The increase in engagements for the affluent is increasing compared to when they started, forming about 20% of the transactions. On a day-to-day basis, it is the mass market that uses concierge in the most creative ways.

“There are working professionals who have packed schedules needing, for example, a tutor for their kids. They just chat with concierge to source out this tutor, given their working budget. They pay through GCash or credit card, etc.,” Yee said.

Some of the innovative ways that Aspire Lifestyles is transforming its services is by creating concierge platforms for OFWs and BPO employees, which are some of the most underserviced markets.

“An OFW concierge platform where people can make sure that their money is being spent where they want it to be spent: arrange birthday parties for their kids, have medicines messengered to their moms and dads—that’s something specific that we want to see put in place,” Squires shared.

“There’s also the ‘employee’ concierge which is more BPO based. While they’re working through the night and asleep during the day, they can arrange with home assistants to provide them with things like aircon cleaning or grocery shopping,” he added.

With multiple segments on the market, there are infinite creative possibilities that concierge services can offer. But ultimately, it is Squires’ trust in the Filipinos that truly makes the job worthwhile.

“I’ve lived here for a long time, my children are half Filipino. The Philippines like any country isn’t perfect. But the people undoubtedly make the country. It’s a joy to work here. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Squires concluded.

 

To know more about Aspire Lifestyles’ concierge services, visit https://www.aspirelifestyles.com.

CONCIERGE

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