You will undoubtedly be aware of the ancient Chinese advice to “know your enemy”. This also applies to your customers, although in this case you won’t strictly be using your knowledge to conquer them. You will, however, be able to employ a better understanding of who your customers are and how they behave in order to tailor your services and your marketing to meet their demands and to attract them in increasing numbers.

Understanding customer behaviour requires data, and you’ll probably have two main sources. For general information you can look at industry reports which describe the latest trends. For example, you can quickly learn that if you want guests to stay for three or more nights, then business travellers are more likely to do so than leisure travellers. Using this knowledge, you may want to focus your strategies on increasing the proportion of business travellers you host, or on finding ways of making longer leisure stays more attractive. Note, however, that the report which produced this insight was published in the UK, and might therefore not be relevant to your own country or market environment.

Your second source of data will therefore be the information that you can collect for yourself at your own hotel. You can then examine your own data to check whether patterns reported elsewhere appear to be valid locally, or to find new local trends which can inform your future strategies.

When you’re looking at large quantities of data it is important to categorize the information in order to isolate the more useful facts. The way you do this might follow a market segmentation approach, combined with a chronological process. That is, you might divide customers by purpose (business v leisure), by origin (domestic v international), by nationality/geographic region (Chinese v Middle Eastern v European), or by age (under 45 v over 45; I’m 44 and I consider myself young for customer data purposes). Then you separate their customer behaviour into the purchase decision phase, the booking phase, the stay itself, and the post-stay phase.

Once you have separated your data along these lines you are now in a position to look specifically at data which, for example, tells you how business travellers under 40 go about choosing a hotel, or how much Chinese visitors spend per day in comparison with Europeans.

If you already use a property management system which offer customer relationship management software, you may have access to a number of features which will help you to gather the data you need in order to take decisions. However, there are two different types of data to consider: information about what customers think and prefer, and information about what customers actually do.

You may be collecting data and feedback from guests which tells you what they think of your services, and how they rate the guest experience you provide. Unfortunately, there is a danger that you can act upon this information without first taking into consideration such factors as which of your customers is expressing a particular opinion. The views of frequent high-value customers should perhaps carry more weight than those of transient one-off guests. It is therefore important to look beyond the opinions to better gauge how any changes you make will affect the bottom line.

This is where behavioural data can be so important. You can see what customers do – how they vote with their feet – rather than relying on what they tell you. When you do take decisions, you can monitor the impact by looking at the behavioural data.

If you’re looking to fine-tune your operations to increase revenues and customer satisfaction, smart use of customer data should be a key component of your overall strategy. Just be sure that you think about the motives behind the numbers, and never look at data from a simple one-dimensional perspective. The stories it can tell you are worth a much deeper look.