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NS International
Coaching Customer Centricity and Innovation for a Dutch Railway Operator
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NS International




Matti Mölsä, Alex Charlton, Joost van der Kuil

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Coaching Customer Centricity and Innovation for a Dutch Railway Operator

The Dutch NS International operates all international train traffic from the Netherlands. The company chose to join forces with Nordkapp in 2018 to amplify their transformation towards  a customer centric organisation and start thinking like travellers. The transformation included finding ways to make the customer a part of the service development process and adapting lean and agile methods.

Together with NS International, Nordkapp created an innovation coaching program to discover how to raise the customer to the centre of the service development process, adapt lean and agile methods, and build capabilities for rapid innovation. Our on-site coaches demonstrated the use of design methods, shared practices how to involve customers in the service development process and supported the cultural change.


  1. NS International incorporated Design Thinking and agile methods into their way of working.
  2. Growth Teams participating in the 7-week innovation coaching program identified new business opportunities across the organisation.
  3. NS International kick-started a cultural change towards a more customer centric organisation.

Nordkapp x NS International

The Dutch public transport operator NS brought its customers to the very core of its business already in 2016 with a customer centric strategy. Today, NS states that travellers are a priority in all their activities. NS International, which operates all international train traffic from the Netherlands and is a part of NS, leaped towards a more customer-centric culture and service development as well as found agile ways of working in 2018 together with Nordkapp.


A customer-centric approach to development

The business environment of rail traffic was going through a transformation due to the low-cost airlines attracting growing passenger volumes. This together with the impressive customer centric strategy of NS International was the key driver for the railway operator to seek change in both its development process and culture. NS International had two ambitious goals for the collaboration with Nordkapp.

  • Firstly, in addition to holistically enhancing its customer experience, NS International wanted to find growth in both existing and new business areas.
  • Secondly, NS International set a target of organizational learning throughout the project: the methods and tools utilized should live on in the NS International future way of working.

NS International had a history of utilizing data effectively in service development. Design methods, which by nature are customer centric and agile, were chosen to be the next organization-wide tool to be adapted. Nordkapp has collaborated with companies to find winning approaches by merging customer insight, foresight, and strategy with design methods. The project with NS International combined customer centricity, cultural change and finding new growth and design methods. All of these are at the heart of Nordkapp’s know-how making the collaboration a perfect match.


Growing innovation and culture

Together with the NS International core team, Nordkapp set to plan an approach which would drive change in two key areas:

  • Enabling the NS International Growth Teams to find new opportunities and make knowledge-based decisions in their everyday work by introducing service and experiment design.
  • Creating a customer centric culture. Coaching the organization to listen to the customers at every stage of the product and service development process.

The goal was equally to bring the customer to the centre of service development as to change the way of working and culture at NS International. To succeed in both goals, an innovation coaching program was tailored for NS International. The program was designed to fit NS International’s existing sprint model, so the participants could easily join without taking time off their day-to-day work. Nordkapp's coaches were on-site during the program and as well as demonstrating the use of design methods, they shared practices on how to involve customers in the service development process and supported the cultural change.

The innovation coaching program ran for 7 weeks and was built on elements from Design Thinking and Lean Startup and Agile methodology. In addition, existing practices already used in NS International, like the Business Model Canvas, were also part of the program. Each of NS International Growth Teams chose an actual business challenge to work with during the program. With coaching from Nordkapp’s specialists, the teams followed the design process from discovery to customer insights, product to market fit, and finally to scaling.

“The coaching was concrete and to the point. This allowed our teams to create a great collaborative dynamic, working together to solve our actual business problems while adopting new methods for innovation and customer-centricity.”

Success on both fronts

The innovation coaching program succeeded in both goals set. New business opportunities and ideas were generated during the program, whilst the NS International professionals adapted design and agile methods into their everyday work. The fact that Nordkapp’s team was on-site catalysing the change in both methods and culture meant any questions or concerns could be addressed immediately. As an organization, NS International was able to bring the customer to the centre of the development processes. Also, the adaptation of new ways of working was speedy thanks to the program participants acting as change agents.

“Nordkapp tailored the coaching to fit our specific needs, making the learning process quick and fully compatible with our then-new agile processes. I believe that’s a benefit of working with an agency like Nordkapp, who closely adapt their coaching to fit each client”