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How NS can really put travelers on 1, 2 and 3
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How NS can really put travelers on 1, 2 and 3

Kedeng, kedeng… KPI-champion! 

NS has been under fire for years. But with the right KPIs, new technology and customer chains, they can finally silence their criticasters.

For the NS (Dutch Railways), it’s difficult to reap praise. The news hardly ever focuses on their internationally impressive infrastructure operation, but always on unreliable trains. As a result of past incidents, bashing the NS has become a national sport. Citizens and politicians seize every opportunity to complain with both hands.

Seat availability

The commotion surrounding seat availability on the High-Speed Line (HSL) should also be understood. The Dutch Railways (NS) has changed the method of measuring the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for seat availability on high-speed trains. Since 2017, they no longer focus on the chance of finding a seat on the busiest train, but on the average probability of finding a seat across twelve trains. This is measured using check-in and check-out data. They achieved this new KPI in 2017, whereas they had not succeeded in meeting the KPIs in the two previous years. The NS received fines for failing to meet the requirements in 2015 and 2016 and in the event of a third violation, there is a risk of losing the concession for the HSL lines.

Because the new KPI worked out very well for the NS from 2017 onwards, it was portrayed by the Telegraaf as a trick. This led to questions in the Parliament. However, the answers from the responsible State Secretary, Stientje van Veldhoven, revealed that the implementation of the KPI was in full accordance with the pre-established agreements with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. The Dutch Parliament had requested the NS to no longer rely on conductor counts in the busiest train but instead to use digital data from twelve trains. Due to the availability of check-in and check-out data, the new KPI could only be measured in 2017.

Who knows, perhaps the NS will permanently change from being a national scapegoat to a customer champion

Peter Geelen

On the right path

Amidst all the mistrust surrounding the NS, it is overshadowed that they are actually doing quite well. Based on the available information, one can conclude that the organization is making progress. They prioritize the passenger in their strategy, placing them at the forefront of their priorities. They approach their services from customer values such as reliability from door to door, safety, and comfort. And, as evident from the responses to the parliamentary questions regarding the seat availability-KPI, they work with a set of KPIs focused on safety, punctuality, seat availability, connections, and travel information. They measure these factors using both customer opinions and objective data, such as check-in and check-out data, which deserves praise. With their strategy, set of KPIs, and new technology, the NS is laying a promising foundation for consistently improving customer satisfaction. The key now is to continue moving forward!

Perverse incentives

The question is of course how NS can definitively get rid of negative sentiment. It is important that they translate all customer values into the right set of KPIs. Think of indicators for punctuality and trip cancellation (reliable), for number of incidents and atmosphere (safe) and for seat availability and clean trains (comfortable). With the KPI set, it comes down to monitoring coherence and taking cause-and-effect relationships into account. NS must avoid focusing too much on one of the KPIs, for example due to political pressure. Then this can become a perverse incentive. An example: by running fewer trains, they can perform better on the punctuality KPI. But the full carriages or worsened connection that results makes passengers dissatisfied. So you don’t gain anything from that.

Another point to consider is the relationship between customer value and internal value (efficient execution). In the current situation, NS benefits financially from overcrowded trains. That too is a perverse incentive. It would be better if the traveler’s pain is also felt internally in the organization.

Discounts based on data

If NS wants to become a champion in customer satisfaction, they really need to dare to be at the forefront of new technology. Take the seat availability as example. With check-in and check-out data, NS can measure whether there are more passengers than seats. I would recommend not limiting that to a sample of 12 trains, as they do now. That’s old-fashioned. Use technology to reveal the seating probability in all trains. Use the data for predictions in scheduling and to inform passengers. Develop a system that visualizes whether a train still offers seats and in which train compartement. In today’s era of cheap sensors and Internet of Things, that shouldn’t be that difficult. I can imagine that the NS also uses the data for compensating passengers who do not have a comfortable journey from point A to point B. For example, they could compensate travelers for an overcrowded ride with discounts equal to the percentage of people who are forced to stand. That way you make it clear externally and internally that you don’t want to earn from overcrowded trains.

Customer chains

With the right set of KPIs and new technology, NS can make a lot of progress, but it is not enough. They must also succeed in forging the organization – previously known as an island kingdom – into more of a unity. They are working hard on that. Also in their pursuit of improved collaboration, they can achieve a definitive breakthrough. Especially if, as iPM advises, they start working with customer chains and on an encouraging culture in which employees learn to do what really matters to travelers. Who knows, the NS might then definitely change from a national scapegoat to a customer champion.

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