Affinia Hotels Launches Tender Loving Comfort Movement

Employees Read Body Language to Boost Service

Men and women like to be communicated with differently. Women like face to face, while men prefer side to side.

That makes a difference in providing customer service, says Christina Denihan, chief comfort officer for Affinia Hotels, a boutique hotel company with seven properties in midtown Manhattan, Chicago and Washington, D.C. For example, during a recent issue at the Affinia Chicago an associate walked out from behind the front desk, stood next to a man and addressed the problem successfully. Meanwhile, a woman would have preferred face-to-face interaction to resolve the concern.

How does Denihan know? It’s part of a body language training program for Affinia. Conducted by body language expert Patti Wood training for all hotel employees — from front office managers and guest service agents to bellmen and doormen — explains how to understand body language and “comfort cues” from guests. The goal was to make guests more comfortable by giving them space, a simple smile or expediting the check-in process, depending on their needs.

Among other things Denihan and her employees learned in the training launched last October was to assess the way a person is standing. “A lot of people don’t know that’s one of the biggest signs. Feet are a telltale sign to know if someone is engaged and interested,” she says. “If their feet are positioned straight at you, they’re interested in your conversation. If they’re angled away they’re ready to move more quickly through the conversation,” she notes.

“One of my favorites is the kick stand,” says Denihan. “When a guest is extremely comfortable, their foot is propped up, like half a curtsey. It’s usually done when someone is leaning against something. It means they are extremely relaxed and comfortable. A guest in this position would want to hear more about comfort hour and unique offerings. You can talk to them about whatever may come up.”

“A lot of people think body language can only be face to face, but can also be used on the phone,” she says. “If a guest calls and is upset or a reservation is lost it’s important to mirror the sound of their voice, not if they’re irate, but it’s important to have the same sense of urgency so they know you’re empathetic to whatever their issue might be.”

And that’s just part of the two-hour, interactive body language training that more than 600 employees have participated in as part of the company’s new Tender Loving Comfort (TLC) movement. The movement is rooted in exceptional customer service, reading guests’ body language and delivering what makes each guest’s stay most enjoyable and comfortable, says Denihan.

The company has also rolled out a Comfort Hour from 5 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. There guests can socialize with the TLC crew and general managers. During this time, guests learn about the MyAffinia menu, which contains items from different pillows to a guitar, golf putter, yoga DVDs, multi 12-in-1 connector cable and Nintendo Wii Fit. Some comfort items — a cupcake and a rubber ducky, for example — are available for a small fee.

Among the most commonly requested item is a hair diffuser for the blow-dryer. And, naturally the hotel offers contact solution, toothpaste and commonly forgotten items.

All guests can customize their stay through MyAffinia, a branded online customization program. Everyone who signs up for the free program can choose from amenities such as:

•  Walking Tour Kit featuring iPod loaded with an Affinia Walking Tour, City Walks deck of cards, city guidebook featuring popular walking tours, StreetWise city map, pedometer and towel.

•  StayFit Kit featuring yoga mat, stretching blocks, workout DVDs (yoga, Pilates and boot camp), workout bands, wrist/ankle weights and StreetWise city map.

•  BYOB Kit featuring Neoprene wine carrier with wine key, BYOB guidebook, Little Black Book of Wine and picnic blanket.

TLC isn’t just a train-and-forget-about-it movement. Each hotel has a TLC team leader. They meet weekly with Denihan, by conference call, to share stories.

“It’s a way for us to talk about what’s going on and how things are working on property and work on different requests,” she says.

Denihan is currently planning the next sessions of body language training. “We have a lot in the pipeline for the TLC movement,” she says. “It’s really bringing our brand to the next level.”

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