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Do concierge services save you time?

(MoneyWatch) This past weekend, The New York Times ran a story on "Corporate concierges for your personal to-do list." A number of companies now offer concierge services as a benefit to employees. The idea is that, rather than spend work time planning your vacation or your kid's birthday party, you call up the concierge. They get bids or find flights. You focus on work.

But does it, well, work? I'm quoted in the article pointing out that conveying your preferences to a concierge takes a fair amount of time in its own right. Full knowledge of one's preferences is something a good assistant (or your spouse) will learn in time, but if you're only putting in requests occasionally, it's hard to achieve economies of scale.

I realized this once in trying to get help planning a party. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted the party to consist of, so the concierge-desk employee assigned to help me was flying blind. All the options she came up with weren't going to work for reasons I had been completely unable to articulate. That's my fault, but obviously the assistance didn't save me any time. The tasks a concierge might be best equipped to do -- straightforward things like booking a restaurant, finding a doctor, getting a flight and a hotel -- are pretty easy in the era of OpenTable, ZocDoc, Travelocity, and other online reservation services.

Nonetheless, if you've got some guidelines and a research-intensive project, and you don't spend your work day near a computer, then a concierge service such as Circles or Red Butler can help. If you know you want to go to Jamaica the first week in June, then a concierge could help you find available packages. If you know you want a clown for your kid's party on April 14, a concierge service could find options and prices. That can save you time.

But as Hannah Seligson, the author of the Times piece points out, sometimes a little cyber-loafing at work is fun. If you're in the middle of an intense project, taking 20 minutes out to look at resorts in Jamaica isn't really an inconvenience. It's a welcome break (even if your employer doesn't think so).

Have you ever used a concierge service?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Willy D
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