NS International

Working with an international rail operator to find new commercial opportunities and improve customers' experiences.

Project:  Innovation programme, End-to-end customer journey
Role:  Service Design Lead

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NS International is a branch of Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch national rail company, operating international train connections from The Netherlands to more than 3000 destinations in Europe. Across three separate engagements over 2018 and 2019, I led service design projects for Nordkapp, looking for new ways to improve experiences for rail travellers.


Working directly with NSI's internal teams, we used design thinking methodologies and worked hands-on to find opportunities aligned with different parts of the business strategy. Our work involved customer research, ideation, persona creation, value proposition design, workshops and lean experiments to test the viability of different solutions.

Defining the problem

Finding the right solution

The 'double diamond' formed the basis of our approach to each project wave. Starting with a single area of investigation, we expanded our knowledge and understanding of the problem area, then focused in on a particular opportunity.

We then explored ways of addressing the opportunity or problem. Through experimentation and testing of prototypes we settled on solutions and built proofs of concept.

Finding focus

Initiatives needed to be aligned to business strategies for the quarter, so our first step was to decide as a team where to start looking for the right opportunities.

Prioritisation of customer groups based on potential value, along with assumption mapping and reviewing existing research helped us to find our focus for the first investigations.

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Using a prioritisation matrix to select customer groups to focus on.

Generative research

Along with 1-1 customer interviews on the train and at stations and lounges, we designed a co-creation workshop with a group of travellers to help us draw out insights about their travel habits, motivations, pain points and suggestions for improvements.

Making sense of the data

We used affinity mapping to collate our insights, help build consensus across the team and to share our findings with others. Writing down and grouping related insights allowed the team to clearly see the most common patterns in behaviours and pain-points.

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Using swarming and affinity mapping to find patterns in our data.

Developing value propositions

Using value proposition canvases we focused on the best opportunities for our customer groups based on the insights we had found. This process helped us to link pain points to possible solution routes.

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Finding solution ideas collaboratively

Using the Crazy 8s technique, we were able to consider a lot of potential solutions very quickly. Dot voting then helped us narrow down the options, and prioritisation matrices were used to identify the most viable ones to test.

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Customer experience planning

We used ideal customer journey mapping to identify the touchpoints our customers were likely customers to use, and to communicate to stakeholders where in the journey we expected the new ideas to feature.

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By sketching out touch-points using cut paper we were able to easily move items around to resolve the ideal journey.

Experiment design, testing and iteration

Experimentation and rapid prototyping helped us to define proof of concept for the most promising ideas. In addition we used tools such as the Business Model Canvas helped us to estimate viability and to present the case for investment.

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Building support inside the business

A simplified, illustrated customer journey map was used as an asset in our presentations to the business. Along with evidence from our research and testing, the map helped communicate to stakeholders where in the journey we expected the new ideas to feature.

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The journey as a presentation tool to help communicate our ideas to the business.

Lasting change

NSI continues to run discovery processes using lean and design thinking techniques that our team helped develop and foster.

Two of the concepts we helped develop in 2019 are now in pilot phase while they are tested and refined in readiness for full launch.