Genies Are Standing By
And that brings us back to the real appeal of a service like Circles: It’s a source, or an extension, of power—and power is always in fashion, the demand for it uniquely immune to economic downturn. For many, Circles is the "my people" that all of us think we should have, but which only an elite few of us do. "Ultimately," says Josh, "everything we do, they could do themselves. We don’t do anything fancy; we just do it for them."
Not surprisingly, Circles workers can end up feeling like indentured servants, especially when they try to, but just can’t, deliver Tiger Woods for your dad’s birthday golf game. "Clients can be very demanding. They think we can do anything, and that they’ll get things for free, too," says Gwen, a two-year Circles vet (and who also spoke with me on the condition that I change her name). "No" isn’t supposed to be part of the upper-crust vernacular, and so it goes at Circles, though "no" is often unavoidable. That’s when the fangs of self-importance really come out. "The clients think they’re the only client, so they’re always shocked when things are sold out, or booked, or impossible," Gwen adds. "Clients are given these overly high expectations. The company pretty much tells them, ‘You can have anything’—like how you can call in the middle of the night from some random-ass place in Iowa and expect to have food delivered to you—and we’re stuck dealing with the screamers on the other end of the line."
As disgruntled employees tend to do, many Circles staffers have taken to anonymously airing their dirty laundry—and some of their employer’s, too—on the Internet. A comment posted on Productivity 501, a well-trafficked business blog, by someone claiming to work in Circles’ Canadian office reiterates: "What I dislike is how the company hypes everything up so much, to just disappoint. And I have to take the crap for it." For each complaint traced back to a concierge screwup, he goes on to say, that employee sees his or her hard-earned bonus docked $25 (a claim Circles denies). All phone calls are taped "for quality assurance," further tamping the urge to tell annoying callers to go screw their rich selves, should Top Dog not provide adequate incentive.
"All the things that are great about this job are also what make it hard," says Sherbrooke. "You pick up the phone and you never know what a client is going to ask for. So for the right person, it’s really exciting."
And for those call-center workers who aren’t quite cut out for the gig, well, Circles wasn’t founded with them in mind anyway. It’s in the business of self-indulgence; of catering to the whims of the desirous; of agreeing that, yes, you’re important and, no, you shouldn’t have to do that yourself. Circles is in the business of making it happen, and that’s a business without gray areas. You either satisfy the client or you don’t. Most times, the concierges do. In return, clients buy into the illusion that Circles is selling—that it’s a company staffed with language experts and trivia buffs and well-traveled prep schoolers armed with the family Rolodex—when in reality many of its employees are frustrated call-center jockey
s who rarely last long because, at the end of the day, playing fetch isn’t fun. Which, of course, is why people will continue to pay the Circles concierges—to the tune of $76 million—to do just that.