Man on a Dutch Railways platform

Listening to customers molds Dutch Railways’ digital experience

A Dutch Railways train passing a house

When your company has been around longer than the internet, building a digital customer experience can require a bit of a transformation of the way you do business.

The Dutch Railways (formally Nederlandse Spoorwegen) has faced this transition head on — taking an 180-year-old company and infusing it with digital initiatives that makes the lives of its 1.2 million daily passengers a little easier every day.

I sat down with Fokko van der Schans, product owner online at the Dutch Railways, for a Q&A about the recent digital push it has been making — and how travelers across the Netherlands have responded.

Q: The Dutch Railways has a customer journey where the online and offline experiences are very interwoven, how do you bridge the two to create a 360-degree view of your customer?

A: We’re not the only company tackling this problem, and also not the only one to run into the challenge of combining the online and offline while being very mindful of users’ privacy. So the way we get the data to make that well-rounded view of our customer is by asking them and motivating them to share by offering handy services in return.

For example, through our loyalty program, NS Extra. All our travelers check-in and check-out of our train stations with a personal card, which generates enormous amounts of useful data. Unfortunately, we are only allowed to use these data on an aggregate level. Through NS Extra we incentivize our customers to share their travel data with us, so we can service them back in return.

For example, if we notice they forgot to check-out we’ll send an email that makes it easy to remedy this and avoid any unnecessary journey fees. The more benefits like this that we can offer our users, the more they understand how sharing the right data is a win-win. Especially through our journey planner app where we can deliver very personalized services.

Q: You’ve had great user feedback on the Dutch Railway digital experience this past year. Are there key initiatives or aspects that your customers have responded to?

Fokko van der Schans at BloomReach Connect

  • Dutch Railways’ Fokko van der Schans will be among a line up of experts in artificial intelligence, e-commerce, content, venture capital and technology speaking at BloomReach Connect in New York on May 4.
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A: Yes, a lot of response and a lot we’ve learned from the feedback. In December 2015, we went live with the redesign of our new website, which also included a redesign of our online journey planner. We had put that journey planner through many focus groups and we’re excited to put it out in the world, but when users got their hands on it — they just didn’t like it. It wasn’t as intuitive as they needed, and the new horizontal interface was simply not the way our travelers wanted to use it while on-the-go.

So we listened, we learned and we improved. And we had to do this quickly. We redesigned the journey planner in eight weeks, incorporating the feedback of our users — including returning to a vertical interface. And over the past year we’ve seen very positive results in our feedback score. It was a very successful turnaround of a critical user service.

Q: What advice would you give to more traditional industries who want to focus on creating an exceptional digital experience?

A: Keep it small. Or at least, start small. I think this applies to everyone looking to focus on new digital projects, but especially in more traditional industries which tend to be larger.

One of the main pitfalls of big companies is the rush to do it all at once, with everyone wanting a piece of the cake. On one end, this is great, because everyone is positive about digitization but with everyone wanting to add in their opinions … it gets muddled.

So start small, with one focus at a time. And finding the first step to focus on is usually pretty easy. It is what urgently needs to change. For us, this was our website. It wasn’t responsive and, honestly, we just couldn’t get away with that anymore. The world around had changed and we had to change with it.

Q: What’s next for the Dutch Railways? What upcoming innovations and projects are you excited about?

A: A pretty cool thing about the Dutch Railways is that one of our biggest targets, and a main driver as a whole, is our customer satisfaction score. We use Usabilla to ask our customers how each of our online channels is performing and the feedback they give is the motivator for our digital initiatives.

It’s great because we can see where our score is, gather the comments, identify the pain point, and improve. We’re currently finishing up a pilot of a new initiative that makes it easier for our passengers to give feedback via an app and helps improve and close the feedback loop by contacting them once a week with the improvements we made based on their feedback.

We also just went live with our new personal account program, “MyNS” — a completely renewed account program that includes features such as a new dashboard to track your progress in a gamification project we launched.

Train photo by Rob Dammers published under Creative Commons license. Photo of man on platform with train courtesy of Dutch Railways.

To hear more about the digital transformation of the Dutch Railways, join us May 4th in NYC to see Fokko van der Schans and other innovators take the stage at BloomReach Connect.