When On Time Isn’t Enough


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Greetings. The Swedish National Railway–known as SJ–is a model of on-time performance. From our house in a small village of Vassviken on the west coast we can drive 20 kilometers to a train station in the village of Dingle (900 residents) to catch the 3:23 p.m. train. Then, twenty-six minutes later, we arrive in the city of Uddevalla (31,000 residents) with seven minutes to spare. Now we simply change tracks to take the hour-long train ride to the town of Herrljunga (3,800 residents) where we change once more for the high speed train to Stockholm (the capital and a metropolis of over 2,000,000 people).

The train arrives in Stockholm on schedule at precisely 7:46 p.m., four hours and twenty-three minutes after we left Dingle for the roughly 500 kilometer trip across Sweden.

Not bad at all–especially if your frame of reference is Amtrak.

Having said this, however, I should also note that it was almost impossible to get on any of these trains. Not because they were already full when we tried to make our reservation. Or because the price was too high. Or because we had no way to get to Dingle. No the set of reasons had nothing to do with the basics of taking a set of very timely trains and everything to do with SJ’s total lack of understanding of customer service. A lack of understanding that began when we tried to make a reservation using our VISA card and then our American Express card and then our other VISA card. All of which were quickly rejected even though we had used them at probably a dozen other businesses in Sweden. And when we finally got through to the customer service agent–after being 39th in the queue–we were told that they were “no longer accepting foreign credit cards” because “they were too big a risk” and “there was nothing they were willing to do to accept ours.” Instead we were given the option of paying in cash at an SJ ticket office. The main challenge with this option was the fact that SJ’s nearest ticket office was almost 100 kilometers away. “That’s just the way it is,” we were told, and if we couldn’t make this work we’d have to find another way to get to Stockholm.

Fortunately, we ended up using a relative’s credit card to purchase the tickets a few hours later but by that time the price had increased ten percent and in a follow-up call to SJ to request the earlier price we were told that it was not possible because “that’s just the way it is.”


We win in business and in life when our trains run on time. And when we make it easy for customers to buy a ticket when and how they want to.

Cheers and have a great week ahead!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Gregerman
Alan Gregerman is an award-winning author, consultant and keynote speaker who has been called "one of the most original thinkers in business today" and "the Robin Williams of business consulting." His work focuses on helping companies and organizations to unlock the genius in all of their people in order to deliver the most compelling value to their customers.


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