German Company Learns Tough Lesson About Importance of Customer Experience

German Railway Company Deutsche Bahn recently discovered the importance of customer experience when a passenger expressed her frustrations in a novel way. Claudia Weber quite literally mapped out her frustration with her "commuter journey" into a tangible reality. She knitted a color-coded scarf representing the frequent train delays she experienced on her daily commute. The story made headlines around the world when the item sold on EBay for €7,550 ($8,593.66 US). You can read it here.


Grey wool means less than five minutes delayed, pink signifies five to 30 minutes and red more than 30 minutes. Photograph: Twitter/Sara Weber

Customer Experience Measurement and Visualization


In reflection of her experience, she knitted two rows a day with each color reflecting the amount of time her journey had been delayed. I wonder what the internal train delay reports looked like in comparison? Would they be as visually expressive of the impact to the customer? I think this is a wonderful lesson for every company to illustrate the importance of how companies understand, measure, and respond to their customers’ outside-in experiences.


Journey Mapping is the Bridge


Some of you may know that we facilitate and provide journey mapping coaching to companies. A customer journey map is a visual illustration of the customer’s outside-in experience, and we use customer journey maps to align the organization around their customer’s goals, interactions, and perceptions.


Post-It notes build a picture of customer interactions and backstage people processes and systems that support that experience.

Journeys can be split by various focus areas (e.g. into a new buyer’s journey from the very start of the relationship with you or an existing customer one year into their experience).


First we collect all of the customer data that is already available. Then we invite (front-leaning) cross-functional team members to collaborate and use colorful Post-It-Notes to map the experience step-by-step. We identify “pain points” (the experiences that drive your customer’s crazy) and “moments of delight” (experiences that make them happy to do business with you).


We validate these findings with customers and most importantly, apply brand & customer success impact score to prioritize the pain-point findings and recommendations.


And...It's Fun!


I love journey mapping for many reasons but here are my top two:


1) I believe if companies know how they make their customers feel in relation to their product or service, and can share the end-to-end view of that experience across the organization, they can motivate employees and make better decisions about how to prioritize investments in people, processes, and systems to protect and elevate the brand.


2) Journey mapping reduces the distance to your customer. By including customers in the co-design of your products or services they will innovate with you to deliver amazing experiences. Mapping the customer’s experience ensures that don’t stray from your brand promise and continue to create life-long advocates, as you scale and grow.


Root Cause?


Deutsche Bahn unfortunately had to make a difficult choice between saving money and risking their brand, or investing in infrastructure. The result of this choice resulted in a very public display of embarrassment and an enormous public relations nightmare.


So my questions are these: When was the last time you talked to your customers? Would you be willing to bet your entire reputation on your current-state? And finally, are you accurately assessing emerging issues and trends before they arrive?


There’s no substitute for getting to know your customer’s on a personal level. Customer surveys aren’t enough. Human interaction gives you a rich understanding of your customers’ aspirations and challenges, and I’d argue that it helps to play your's back to them. I think sometimes we’d all be surprised by how much humans desire to help each other.



Journey mapping shows rich data and insights into customer behaviors and how you're meeting their needs.

In short, design your customer experience from the outside-in by implementing personal customer feedback and keeping your customers close. Create in-depth journey maps (and remember to keep them up-to-date), and track your customer's experience - before they do it for you!

Gut Erwischt (Good catch) Deutsche Bahn!


The railway giant was the winning bidder of the customer experience “rail delay scarf” on EBay and all proceeds have been donated to charity. DB has recently announced the hiring of 22,000 additional staff members, and appointed Ronald Pofalla, current Head of Infrastructure and former Chief of Staff in the German chancellery, as Crisis Manager. One more note: In 2016 Deutsche Bahn started a digital ventures investment arm to foster massive innovation, focusing on new technology partners, startups, and implementing business ideas from their employees. We wish Deutsche Bahn success and we will be watching from here to see how they improve their customers’ journey.

Charlie Colquhoun is a Customer Experience Consultant & Journey Mapping Practice Leader. Charlie has held global program leadership roles at ADP, Sage, Yahoo, Verisign, and Charles Schwab. His approach infuses customer journey mapping, customer-driven design, and customer success data to prioritize improvements that drive measurable growth. Charlie founded SimplyCX in 2016.



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