CX: Are You Speaking The Customer’s Language?

The meeting was due to start at 16:00 and the flight I had taken landed at midday.  Four hours to get to Augsburg.  Take a taxi? Expensive and will get me there three hours too early.  Take a train?  Yes – it will force me to get out of my bubble and my comfort zone. And possibly teach me something about German railways.

I make my way to the train station at Munich airport.  Long line of folks waiting at the ticket office. I walk over to the automated ticket machines.  Fail. “I must have done something wrong. Let’s try again!” Fail. Walk over and join the line for the ticket office.

Ten minutes or so later I am face to face with a German. I don’t speak German. So I speak English: “Return ticket to Augsburg via Munich”.  A helpful friendly voice responds in my language.  Together we determine what type of ticket I need.

Next question. “What trains do I need to take to get to Augsburg”.  The helpful German who speaks fluent English consults his IT system.  I stand there expecting that which is the default: a verbal response.  Surprise!  The German chap prints of the the following document for me:


This German ticket office clerk does not just print the document and hand it to me. He takes the time to explain it to me. Whilst explaining the document he circles the platforms and times. Not just that. He goes on to tell me that when I get off the first train, at Munich’s central station, I have then to go up two floors in order to get to my next train.  Delighted!  So delighted that I thank this chap for his helpfulness and reach to shake his hand.  He is taken aback, relaxes, shakes my hand and smiles.

Due to the helpfulness I have an effortless journey to Augsburg.  Upon getting off the train I make my way to the ticket office.  I look at the woman manning the ticket office.  Will she speak my language? That is the question on my mind.  I make my request for train times – for trains leaving Augsburg for Munch between 17:00 and 18:00.  To my relief she speaks English and tells me that she can help me with my request. She taps into her computer and prints off a one page document.  I look at the document. What a useful document!  It tells me all that I need to know: departure time, arrival time, fast train or slow train, departure platform…  I thank this friendly-helpful woman.

Here’s what strikes me about my interactions with the folks that I have encountered at the ticket offices:

  • Both have flexed to speak my language – English;
  • Both clearly have access to an IT system that gives them easy-quick access to train times irrespective of whether the train is metro/underground, overground, regional, intercity etc.  Which is to say that their IT system joins up the trains.  It provides a 360 view of trains and train timetables;
  • Both went way beyond that which I am used to in England – in England the best that I would expect is to be given the timetables and left alone to figure out how to get from A to B;
  • Both took a certain pride/satisfaction in the work that they were doing – this is what touched me the most.

Here, I invite you to consider that many companies look to generate a 360 degree view of the customer. Yet, few, strive to deliver a 360 degree of the business to the employee is face to face with the customer.  The ticket clerk could only print out that which he printed out (and gave me) because the folks at the German railways have gone to the trouble of providing a 360 degree view of the various trains and train timetables.

I am hungry. I make my way to a smallish cafe serving healthy food. Once again, I wonder if the young woman working the cafe will speak my language.  I make my request. She smiles. She responds in perfect English. I strike up a conversation- she joins in the dance. We learn a little about one another.

After the business meeting is concluded, I find myself on a train headed from Augsburg to Munich.  Do I play it safe and take the route that I took earlier that day?  I resist the temptation. Instead I take the advice of the helpful ticket clerk at Munich. I get off the train at Passing.  From here I should be able to get on a train to Munich airport.

One big problem: Passing is much larger as a rail station then I had imagined – lots of platforms.  Which platform?  Which train?  And I only have so much time to get to the airport or I miss the last plane out to England.  I go to one of the platforms. I look around for a friendly helpful face. I find one – a young woman. I ask her for help: which platform for the train to Munich airport.  She responds in fluent English. And helpfully.  She tells me that she doesn’t know. An older – middle aged – woman speaks to her in German.  The young woman now informed by the older woman directs me to the right platform. I thank them both and make my way to the platform. I catch the right train and arrive at just the right time.  Relief. Delight. Gratitude to the German people.

I’d like you to answer this question through the lens of the customer experience: What is it to speak the customer’s language?  Is it merely to speak English with the customer that speaks English?  If you are of that view then I say that you are short of the mark.

From experience I say that to speak the customer’s language is to ‘give’ the customer exactly what s/he is needing at every interaction:

  • It is to speak in the customer’s native language.
  • It is to be provide the information that the customer is asking for.
  • It involves providing information that the customer needs – in order to arrive at his/her desired outcome – even if the customer has not asked for this information.
  • It is to deal with the customer in a compassionate / empathic manner – a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful for the care he receives at your hands.

I say that you have truly spoken the customer’s language, viewed through a CX lens, when you leave the customer feeling grateful that you exist in the world and it is his/her great fortune that your paths have crossed.  It is to have enriched your customer’s experience of being alive in this world.  This is to say it is to live CX from the heart, not merely strategise about it with the head.

I dedicate this conversation to the German people – especially those who spoke my language during my recent visit to Augsburg.

To you dear reader I extend my thanks – I thank you for listening to my speaking. Until the next time….


Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

2 thoughts on “CX: Are You Speaking The Customer’s Language?”

  1. Maz,

    I regularly get the same level of service on British trains (though I suspect they won’t speak German). But not from every one.

    It strikes me that we like to serve, it is in our nature, but some organisations and bosses have a first class knack of knocking it out of us



  2. Hey Maz, Great post!
    I didn’t had the time to read the all thing, but one thing i can tell you, as a newbie to the UK – you guys got great customer services. I mean, i came from Israel, and the customer service there is really bad..


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