Understanding customer behavior allows hoteliers to ensure sustainable and continuous growth in travel.
The pandemic is teaching hoteliers about customers’ behavior, and we need to take advantage of this situation to bank our knowledge.
In the past 10 years, having worked mainly in boutique luxury hotels, I have made a commitment to be a lot closer to guests, be able to welcome and bid farewell to all or most of them and look for signs.
We all know how challenging and time-consuming this can be, and few know how much the return on the investment is. Personalized, bespoke service also includes the personal touch of senior leadership.
One of my very first mentors, an Italian gentleman, manager of an Italian restaurant in the United Kingdom, would stop everything he was doing (including taking an order at a guest’s table) to welcome or bid farewell to his guests. I thought he was crazy and, in a way, also unpolite to leave other guests waiting. But the grace he was doing it with was setting an expectation that “I too will get such attention.”
He and many other mentors have showed me the reasons why this was a worthy investment, regardless of the age/generation.
There are many ways to read or even anticipate customers’ behavior. One of them is body language.
The reason I love to meet and greet and bid farewell to guests is exactly for that. Reading their body language helps me understand if they are potentially difficult guests, if they are calm and have a positive attitude, or with a ‘’hostile’’ behavior, have defensive posture and a cold approach.
One can do this by studying the eyes. For example, analyzing the movement, establishing eye contact or even the blinking rate.
Gazing the face helps to establish if the person is happy (smile), worried (frowning) or sad (sealed lips pointing down). Covering the mouth or touching the lips can also be a sign of lying.
Proximity or distance tells you if the person is overconfident or overpowering, shy or reserved.
Body distance is extremely important to understand as invading someone’s space can be dangerous both ways.
Head movements indicate the level of patience the person you are dealing with has. For example, fast nodding indicates the person has heard enough and wants you to finish speaking or give him or her a turn to speak. Tilting the head sideways during conversation can be a sign of interest in what the other person is saying. Tilting the head backward can be a sign of suspicion or uncertainty.
Feet and hands are also body parts that reveal important nonverbal information. As an Italian myself, we talk a lot with our hands, for example. Besides jokes, important clues can be read by observing these body parts. For example, look at where the feet are pointing. If towards you, it means that the person agrees with you; otherwise, you may want to review your conversation. Arms can provide signs of confidence (crossed arms) or dominance (hands on the hips).
Verbal language is easier to analyze. Engaging in a quick, first conversation can provide you with a lot of information about the origin of the guest, ease of communication and willingness to engage.
It can take years to master this observation skill and the understanding of the involuntary communication. While there are books, videos and training on this subject, one must observe everyone they come across.
In hospitality, we are so lucky that we are in the people business where human interaction happens all the time.
We must take advantage of honing this skill during interviews of potential candidates, when interacting with friends or family, while at a reception or party, at a conference, with guests at the hotel and during daily work interactions.
For example, how I learn from guests is by inviting them for a cocktail or coffee during their stay. Spending quality time with them will provide me with more information about their profile, status and willingness to know more about the brand. Even watching what they wear is very helpful, from the jewellery to accessories to clothing. You can make up a lot from how ‘’fashionable’’ a person is and their willingness to spend.
This time for me is essential as I have the opportunity to get them in love with our property and the brand. I can sell services and activities (with a lot of discretion and tact of course), tell my story (yes, people are truly interested to know what a GM’s life looks like) and learn more about them to understand their purpose of coming to stay with us.
The GM’s job is not to spend too many hours in closed-doors meetings but to read the customers’ minds. Of course, there are so many tools modern technology can provide to help us do our job better, but I am still a little nostalgic of the true personal touch of a host.
It’s an obvious choice for those like me who work in small hotels where the number of check-ins and check-outs are small.
My intention here is not to push guests to become loyal but to become ambassadors, not to spend money but to invest in the brand because they believe in it. An ambassador goes way above and beyond a loyal guest in my opinion.
By taking the necessary measures, we can still meet, greet and entertain our guests and continue to be great hosts.
Rocco Bova is GM of Chable' Resort & SPA, a luxury wellness resort set in the Yucatan jungle of Mexico.
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