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How Body Language Became a Social Experience.
By Melanie Nayer ~ Exclusive Column
Wednesday, 16th November 2011
 
Most people have no problem venting their concerns, complaints and suggestions via social media networks like Twitter and Facebook.

After all, one of the nice things about social media is its ability to connect, or not connect, with certain people and products. How many times have you noticed a hotel guest vent about a staff member, or beg for an upgrade, via Twitter? What's the probability they'll do either in person while they're at your hotel? Social media takes the body language out of the conversation, making it easier for those who lack the confidence to ask for what they want, actually ask for what they want.

But the thing that separates luxury hotels from the rest of the bunch is their ability to read guests' minds and anticipate the guests needs, before the guest een asks. So when Affinia Hotels announced the launch of their Tender Loving Comfort initiative - a concept that identifies the needs of guests via body language - more than a few eyebrows raised.

The TLC program was conceived by the Affinia team to help boost customer service and respond to guests needs, simply through the age-old art of body language. Affinia, which has seven hotels in Manhattan, Chicago and Washington, DC, partnered with body language Expert Patti Wood to train all front office managers, guest service agents, bellmen, doormen, housekeeping staff and concierges in a little TLC.

What does this mean? It's not as personal space-invasive as it sounds. Wood, with the help of Affinia's Chief Comfort Officer Christina Denihan, took to the lobby floors of the Affinia hotels and consulted with staff how to engage guests when they first arrive.

After all, it is the first impression that makes the most impact at hotels. But that doesn't mean all guests want people fawning over them - this is where the concept of TLC comes into place. Part of the training was to identify when and how to approach a guest, and to understand their body language so the hotel (while likely rooted in customer service traditions) knows when to simply back off.

"A standard operating procedure doesn't make you comfortable," Denihan said. "The TLC Crew and I work together to connect with guests, find out what they want and need, and use that information to make their experience even more enjoyable."

And while some guests won't necessarily feel comfortable talking, many guests do feel comfortable social networking. That's why Denihan says she's monitoring the customer service on Twitter and Facebook of each hotel, and serving as the "comfy content" curator via social media, as a way to introduce future guests to Affinia's TLC concept.

Sure the concept is unique, but so is each individual guest. So is it really possible to cookie-cutter customer service with lessons in body language?

"You can't teach people how to have a natural connection with guests, but tools to read the customer can certainly help," Denihan said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "If they're a tired traveler or have a smile across their face, our associates are able to read their needs and make their stay more exceptional."

Hotels: What do you think? Can reading and responding to body language really make a difference in your guests' stay?

Melanie Nayer is a hotel reviewer and expert on luxury travel around the world. She has covered all aspects of hotels including corporate restructures, re-branding initiatives, historical aspects and the best of the best in luxury hotels around the world.

Melanie writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com
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