Guests in a hotel are, hopefully, blissfully unaware of all the planning, organisation, evaluation and adjustments required to meet and exceed their expectations. At every touchpoint along the customer journey, from checkin to check-out, there is one primary goal for every hotelier: to ensure the guest has an exceptional experience. Whether it is ensuring that dietary needs are met at breakfast or the valet brings the car around in a timely manner, every interaction is a potential ripple in the ocean of customer service.

As hospitality is one of the most customer-centric industries out there, keeping the customer happy is a skill and an art form applied on a global and local basis. From independent boutique hotels to multinational hotel chains, this need for a ‘glocalised’ approach provides the perfect opportunity for creative thinking when it comes to problem-solving.

Emotional engagement and authentic interactions between the hotel, staff and guests need to become the new benchmark.

Grand design

Design thinking has recently been introduced to meet this need. Once traditionally reserved for designers aiming to improve the user experience of a product, design thinking is not just a process, it is a discipline that solves problems and redesigns tasks from a customer’s viewpoint. By using a fresh approach to address common problems, it ensures the focus embraces the core identity of the brand while empathising with the user.

But what does design thinking truly involve? Teams are encouraged to concentrate not only on demographics, but also to place themselves in the role of the customer, understanding their needs, frustrations and emotions. This provides a variety of tools, such as personas and empathy maps, to frame the challenge presented.

Another aspect involves ‘ideating’, an updated version of brainstorming, generating ideas and then re-examining them from multiple angles. By honing in on the problem, and evaluating and re-evaluating it from multiple angles, it allows room for growth, innovation and solutions.

Hospitality is not alone in the implementation of design thinking. In the past few years, it has been introduced to the boardroom of many major corporations to open up minds and conversations. Design-thinking companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, have outperformed the S&P 500 between 2005-15 by an extraordinary 211%, according to a study by the Design Management Institute.

Big ideas

IHTTI School of Hotel Management, a hospitality management school in Switzerland, is the first of its kind to offer undergraduate and postgraduate studies in hospitality and design management. At IHTTI, design thinking has been fully incorporated into students’ studies.

Jaco von Wielligh, the school’s academic director, explains further. "Emotional engagement and authentic interactions between the hotel, staff and guests need to become the new benchmark," he says.

"We are seeing more of the hospitality industry blending design into its strategies, as hoteliers recognise that change. Adapting to new approaches and methods of thinking is no longer an option; it has instead become a necessity. Using design thinking to reboot their strategies is precisely where hoteliers need to start."

The school has also recently been accredited by the Chartered Society of Designers, an internationally recognised body within the design profession. Alongside partnerships with hospitality leaders, including HBA Hirsch Bedner Associates and the luxury concierge company John Paul, IHTTI graduates are fully prepared for this new era of hospitality.