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Hotel Staff Taught to Read Guests' Body Language

by Patti Wood MA – Body Language Expert

Forget calling the front desk. If you're a guest at an Affinia hotel, the staff will try to figure out what you need just by looking at you.

"You can't always tell from the first sentence whether someone is in a good mood or bad mood," says body language expert Patti Wood.

By Anne Ryan, USA TODAY file

"Starting this month, the boutique chain is bumping up personal service in its five hotels in New York City and one each in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Everyone from housekeeping to management will be tailoring his interaction with guests based on body language.

A body language expert trained employees over the summer on what cues to look for. A guest who makes eye contact while walking down the hall, for instance, may be open to conversation. A corporate trekker constantly tugging on an ear is probably stressed and may be interested in a yoga kit — or perhaps a therapeutic pillow from the hotel's pillow menu.

"So many companies, when they talk about service, they program it to how many rings till you answer the phone," says John Moser, chief brand and marketing officer for Affinia. "That sounds very scripted. Let's give (staffers) some tools they can use to help identify what's the right way to address somebody at a particular moment."

Employees were taught to mirror a guest's volume and rhythm of speech to put him at ease, Moser says. They learned that if guests are constantly touching their faces, it's a likely sign they're anxious after a long day of meetings or travel. "They'll grab their chin or pull on their ear," Moser says. "Those are cues that maybe I should be doing something to get them to their room quick or make them feel comfortable."

Patti Wood, a body language expert who conducted the Affinia training, says she has never seen such instruction given to all hotel employees. "All of this training is so every single guest is treated as special," she says.

Staff questions about a guest's day won't disappear, Moser says. But, he says, small talk isn't always enough to get a reading of a guest's needs.
"You can't always tell from the first sentence whether someone is in a good mood or bad mood," he says. "Measuring some of the things they're showing, with the way they're talking to you, can help our associates deliver a service that's more customized to them."

Jan Freitag, senior vice president of Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotels, says of the effort, "Anything that ultimately gives better customer service is to be applauded."

"The question," Freitag says, "is could this be achieved with a different vehicle? It will be interesting to see if the additional expense for staff training will ultimately result in higher guest-satisfaction scores and revenue."