happy commuting

Train commuting is one of the least favourite Dutch pastimes. The Dutch Railways decided that instead of focusing on punctuality of their trains, they needed to focus on getting to know their customers. The results? Placing pianos in their stations.

The Challenge

improving the ride

About 95 percent of the Dutch trains are on time, but any delay is a huge inconvenience in a country that is used to strict planning. Avoiding delays is nearly impossible in one of the most dense and intensely used rail networks of the world: any technical or human imperfection makes people miss their meetings and makes the Dutch Railways a public scapegoat.

This made them face a real challenge. How to improve the train experience for their customers, while improving punctuality was nearly impossible?

The approach 

getting to know commuters

To improve their service, the railworks had to empathise with their customers. What do does a commuter expect? Where do they come from and how did they get to the train? Which moments during their journey are the most disappointing and what do they really want? Mapping the journeys step by step, from a to b, enabled the railworks to take a new perspective. 

Punctuality turned out to be only one of the important factors determining customer satisfaction. Getting to the train and from the train to connecting transport, feeling at home in train stations and spending time productively and comfortably are just as important. And focusing on possible satisfiers (happy moments) instead of dissatisfiers (punctuality) provided chances to improve the customer satisfaction in an affordable way.

These insights into the customer journey had enormous impact. The railworks started to invest in many things such as car- and bike-sharing programs (including worlds biggest bicycle parking) to get to and from stations, training their staff to focus on hostmanship instead of control, providing travel information in apps, and placing piano’s in stations.


station pianos

Waiting for your train, time passes slowly. Providing something to do in stations to make people enjoy their time, makes sense and improves the travelling experience. The railworks started placing pianos in stations, with a sign that invited passers-by to play them. The pianos popularised quickly; they are used frequently by talented players, crowds gather to watch and listen, and let their trains pass by.

The public piano idea was not conceived by the Dutch Railworks. One piano-owner in the UK had reportedly left his piano out on the street when he couldn’t fit it into his new house. He left a ‘play me’ sign on it as a joke, and neighbours actually did start to play it frequently. The piano was even replaced when the first one broke down. This example inspired many and the public pianos were popularised around the world. 

Together with the other investments, the results on the customer experience were striking. Even without improving punctuality, customers appreciation spiked. Unexpectedly, investing in pianos makes a lot of sense for a railworks company.

what is your piano?

Are you eager to find an out-of-the-box intervention to improve the experience of your community?