Putting the customer first (Pyramid of customer needs)

This tool is a methodological approach to customer orientation in interchanges. An interchange planned and designed in line with travellers’ emotions can prompt the additional effect of a modal shift from the car to more sustainable modes of transport. It will also allow the infrastructure manager and operators to obtain a more positive image of the public transport and interchanges they are using. Put the customer first.

An important aspect when planning, designing and/or upgrading an interchange is to satisfy people’s emotional needs. Also on trips where public transport should be favoured over going by car, operators have to compete with the qualities of the car.  In general, travellers opt for the trips that are the cheapest, fastest and easiest way to travel. The car is seen as a door-to-door mode even if parking is often a true issue. Yet travellers also wish to experience pleasure and convenience during the trip.  Although most operators have a sound perspective on the basic qualities of the public transport journey, such as safety, reliability, cleanliness and speed, research among other operators carried out by Netherlands Railways shows us that these are not enough to create “happy” customers. Once the basic facilities are in place, customers want to experience a pleasant and relaxing journey. Netherlands Railways (NS) came up with ten basic rules for becoming a customer-driven railway operator (Source: Van Hagen et al., ECT, Glasgow, 2012).

  1. Put the customer first.
  2. Find the investment-value equilibrium. Customers are prepared to invest money, time and effort for the right value. These create a balance that works both ways: customers are prepared to invest more (money, time and/or effort) for a more highly valued experience, just as they expect more value when their investment is higher.
  3. Define a hierarchy of quality needs. Define all quality dimensions and the hierarchy of importance for the customer, such as safety, reliability, speed, ease, convenience and experience. Distinguish the needs as dissatisfiers or satisfiers.
  4. Distinguish three management dimensions. Quality requirements consist of three factors that make up the customer experience: the service processes, the people and the service environment. A public transport company can influence these factors.
  5. Manage customer expectations. The customer’s chosen means of transport is based on the expected investment and value.
  6. Measure the actual quality. Measure the quality experience of your service for the entire journey. How well do you perform according to your customers?
  7. Stop once it is good enough. Stop investing in basic qualities once they reach an acceptable level. There is no linear relationship between investments and customer satisfaction.
  8. Make customers happy. Once basic qualities are at an acceptable level, start investing in experience. This makes it possible to exceed expectations and make customers happy.
  9. Focus on the total experience. Customer satisfaction is based on the total customer experience. Take care of the customer from start to finish and make the finish a peak experience.
  10. Learn from experiments. You only learn what works best by experimenting. The customer is unable to imagine and articulate abstract improvements. Investigate the customer’s experiences holistically, then copy successful measures to other areas of your service and reap the benefits.

Whether on a train or at a station, it is important that a passenger can move quickly and easily and feel comfortable. However, it is also important to realise that the totally satisfied passenger does not exist. The requirements of passengers are diverse and depend on personal preferences and the purpose of the journey. It makes quite a difference whether a passenger is travelling for business or pleasure, and whether (s)he is in a hurry or not. Also crowding (or the absence thereof) influences the travel experience. Taking these differences into consideration enables us to map the various wishes and requirements of passengers and address them with customer-driven measures. Measures that increase passenger satisfaction and even make them so enthusiastic about the train journey that they travel more and consume more.

NODES strategic objectiveContribution
Enhance accessibility and integration 0
Enhance intermodality 0
Enhance liveability ++
Increase safety and security conditions +
Increase economic viability and costs efficiency 0
Stimulate local economy +
Increase environmental efficiency 0
Increase energy efficiency 0

Good practice

Leiden station can be considered as a good practice. It was the so-called “experimental station” where a number of experiments were implemented as the result of “Pyramid of customer needs”. Since 2008, all kinds of experiments have been implemented to materialise this vision. For example, various shops and amenities in the so-called “seven worlds” have been clustered and several pilots carried out about signage, flow and new furniture on the platforms. In relation to the atmosphere at the station, experiments have been undertaken to meet the needs of travellers more closely at various times and at various places within the station. Examples here were the planting of trees and the placement of heat columns and experimenting with infotainment, music, colour and light intensity on the platform (Van Hagen, 2011). In the station central area, experiments have been carried out with smell and new, while spacious toilets were installed following a design competition.

At the same time as when these experiments were introduced, passengers were regularly asked about their opinion of the station experience.

Potential interchange performance improvement

The application of this method, together with real changes in the design and sense-related stimuli at the stations will allow you to increase customer appreciation of the station. This will allow you to better maintain present users and gain new passengers. It will also enable the station operator to increase the profitability of its stations by offering more commercial services to customers. Finally, it allows management to focus better on what is really important, i.e. the traveller.


The costs of the application of this method, together with the measurements of change (i.e. using the station experience monitor), are relatively low. The material changes as a result may involve some costs, yet are considered relatively low compared to the high costs generated by major infrastructure changes.


Van Hagen, M., de Bruyn, M. “The ten commandments of how to become a customer driven railway operator”, European Transport Conference, Glasgow, October 2012.

Van Hagen, M., Heiligers, M. “Effects of station improvement measures on customer satisfaction”, European Transport Conference; Glasgow, October 2011.