"I follow my motto in life: Stay curious, be in motion."
Mirjam Reber worked as marketing project manager at SBB and played an important role in the development of customer-focused products such as the SBB Green Class, Smartway, and the SwissPass.
Today, Mirjam Reber is working as a consultant at couniq.
Mirjam Reber, 46, is today a coach and consultant specialized in organizational development and agility at couniq (www.couniq.com).
In 2009, she started her career at SBB Passenger Traffic as campaign manager for Halbtax and GA. From 2011 onwards, as project manager, she developed new business models and innovation projects such as the SwissPass and SBB Green Class.
Since 2020, Mirjam works as a coach in agile leadership at couniq. She follows a master program MAS in change management and organizational dynamics.
couniq is an IT consulting company based in Bern. Consulting, Agile Leadership and Engineering are the main pillars of the company, which was founded in 2001.
"An opportunity opens up and you slip into shoe numbers that are big, but just right to grow into."
"We hit a nerve with SBB Green Class. That was
"You understand the craft of extracting the essence from the customer interviews and making it available as a basis for decision-making."
"With you, one can feel the passion for what you are doing. Even if there are concerns and resistance."
Mirjam Reber, today it's about you and your growth successes.
Who are you?
I am 46 years old, have a lot of courage, love of life and go through the world with open eyes and an alert mind. Since my childhood I mostly do what I like to do. With all the ups and downs, but always in the direction in which I want to go and develop myself.
What do you like to do?
I follow my motto in life: Stay curious, be in motion. This means that I am very eager for knowledge. I read practically everything I can get my hands on, talk to people and educate myself. I also like the fresh air and being out in nature.
How did you live according to your motto during your professional stations?
A first important station was the apprenticeship as an optician. At the age of 16, I stood in the store for the first time and served customers. When I sold my first pair of glasses for CHF 1500, that was a defining moment for me... wow! I will never forget that. At some point, I became curious about another world. I wanted to get out of the optical industry. Which wasn't so easy, because you have a stamp. First I changed to customer services at Reize Optik AG, a manufacturer of eyeglass lenses. This routine work was not much fun for me. So I continued to develop within Reize Optik in the direction of marketing.
The next formative moment was a career counseling session. They told me: "Open up your perspectives! You are very broadly interested, why don't you study business administration?" I was 29 years old and decided to study business administration. It paid off. As soon as I finished, the doors opened and I was at SBB. That's where we met.
Exactly. What did you do at SBB?
It was the next growth step for me. I started in customer management and had no experience. My boss recognized that I was someone who wanted to develop and grow. She entrusted me with a mix of challenging tasks and gave me a lot of freedom to implement my own ideas. I was responsible for the customer campaigns for the Half-Fare and General Abonnements, two strategically extremely important products. Suddenly, I was responsible for a million swiss franc budget. In the optical industry it was more like 5000. I had great respect for the dimensions. But it gave me wings. It strengthened me and I realized that I wanted to take on this responsibility.
Quite a daring move!
Yes, but I had to seize the opportunity. That's the only way to grow. An opportunity opens up and you slip into shoe numbers that are big, but just big enough to grow into. The decisive factor for me was the initiative to increase added value for customers. For example, linking the SwissPass with the ski pass. My task was to develop the right business model for this. I grew with it and thus slid more and more into innovation and customer orientation, which totally suits me.
When I was working on classic projects and in campaign management, I missed the customer contact
a bit. Whenever I was at a customer event or conducted customer interviews, I realized that my heart was with the people and their problems. And that's why I went into innovation. That's closer to the customer, because innovations have to solve real problems.
How did you experience this?
We were a high performance team. Within three months, we got the concept up and running and launched a prototype. We didn't know the business model yet. The core promise of the product also emerged only after the fact. Nothing was digitized. Hours after the launch – with 127 pilot customers – we said, now our Excel list is bursting. We can't do it anymore. We were simply overwhelmed by the rush of customers during the pilot phase.
Why did this reaction surprise you?
We could not estimate the need and willingness to pay in advance. The real innovation, and we only realized this after the fact, was the total package at a fixed price, something between leasing and renting.
After that, I moved to SwissPass as marketing project manager. SwissPass was a new product for loading public transport tickets onto a card or smartphone. I had previously done a master's degree in CRM. In the last module we looked at psychological factors and that's how I got into market research. The title of my master's thesis was "The customer journey of the SwissPass". Based on the findings, we developed solutions that were implemented step by step. For example, despite major reservations on the part of management, it was possible to cancel subscriptions without any hurdles.
We worked with you when you were at SBB Green Class. How did radical innovation come about?
SBB Green Class was something completely new. And the pilot really hit the nail. The concept was an annual pass with a General Abonnement, a BMW I3 and a parking space at the station. And even more services. And all that at a good pilot price. We did a lot of things right, and I'm proud that the concept was carried forward. The moment was also very good, because the environment and the culture were right. From the customer's point of view, we hit a nerve with SBB Green Class. That was gigantic.
It was also only later that we learned where the real problems were in the implementation. On the one hand, this was the pricing, because the used cars came back after the contract expired. Secondly, it was the number of people in Switzerland who actually wanted to use an ecological door-to-door mobility package.
You mentioned that you also did a few things really right. What was that?
One success factor was certainly: We solved a customer problem and we had a small cross-functional team with people who are ready to deliver. You have to have people in the team who have their own initiative and can get things done, and don't either use an agency for everything or wait for an order. You need people who can make contracts themselves, fill in the Excel or talk to customers on the
What happened next with Green Class?
I was promoted to co-leader of SBB Green Class. A next leap. SBB wanted to seize the opportunity and develop SBB Green Class into a scalable product. I grew from that once again – but with a lot of bruises at the end. That's where I reached my limits. These leadership and organizational topics once again piqued my curiosity. I said to myself: Okay, now you have to take a leap, this is another important moment. I now want to take a new path in the direction of organizational development and coaching.
We then collaborated on SmartWay, an innovative multimodal travel companion app. What was
your role in this project?
I built the agile organization. We were very innovative at this level as well. Collegial leadership plus a scalable, agile development organization. We transformed the classic line organization into a self organized structure. Including IT development and in parallel with an external partner.
On the one hand, I had a coaching role for the team and on the other hand, co-leading was a big challenge – we were different types and came from different areas of SBB. In addition, I didn't understand how to get the team out of the hamster wheel. We worked in an agile way and were constantly running in the red. We wanted to try out all the ideas. All at the same time and with a lot of commitment. You can do that for six or nine months, but at some point it's not healthy for people and collaboration is not optimal. So I realized that I wanted to better understand how we work together as a team in an agile way.
How did you perceive Vendbridge during SmartWay?
As extremely competent. You understand the craft of extracting the essence from the customer interviews and making it available as a basis for decision-making. With a stringent and quantitative method. Your approach helped us to flip the switch. From solution thinking to needs thinking. You brought a whole new perspective. Some of the team didn't understand it. They didn't believe that you should understand customers better before you build features.
What's different about Vendbridge?
You have a different way of thinking. You are not simply market researchers. Your way of thinking, not talking about solutions, not talking about opinions, but just getting to the bottom of the customer's needs via Jobs-to-be-done, that's really demanding. You really have to want to get to grips with it.
What has stayed with you the most? How did you feel about it?
I found solving the customer problem of "real-time customer information in the event of a malfunction" meaningful and value-added. What we found out with the Jobs-to-be-done study I would still support today. The development of the app as a travel companion has unfortunately been stopped due to a change in strategy, but would have been spot on. What we uncovered together was not technically easy. However, it would have been fully in line with customer needs. In hindsight, all the energy should have been put into a value-added focus.
Perhaps it is often like this: You uncover insights that can't be addressed via the easy way. And then you don't do it because you let resistance slow you down or you are overwhelmed by the complexity. With you, one can feel the passion for what you are doing. Even if there are concerns and resistance. I think that's really great. It does something to the other person. You supported us when it wasn't easy. There was a basic interest in the innovative solution. The doors always remained open. You brought this empathy and your experience. I had noticed that at the Spin Workshop.
You then left SBB and joined couniq?
Yes, exactly. Off into the computer science world – as a non-IT person. It's now often a matter of recognizing and noticing where things are stuck and what the best – not the easiest – way is. Growing step by step together with the customer and the teams. This is my third profession and I will soon finish a master program MAS in change management and organizational dynamics.
What is growth for you anyway?
I understand the term to mean above all personal growth. You only realize in retrospect that you have now taken a developmental step. The personal environment is crucial here, i.e., partners, family and friends. It enables you to believe in yourself and to get through the moments that are not so fun. For example, you have to show more, assert yourself internally. You have to be brave to grow into the bigger shoe.
Personal growth cannot be forced. But you can plant the seed, give the breeding ground, be patient, and pursue your goals and vision. Not jumping back and forth, but knowing where the sun is, where it should go. I always have the image in my mind that the grass does not grow faster when you pull on it. Sometimes it moves forward, then it just comes to a standstill again. That is growth for me. I carry a photo around with me that symbolizes this view.
Vendbridge understands growth as development and change. Something new emerges and something also dies sometimes. Do you see it similarly?
Yes exactly, it's about development. Even the bruises that occur. They make development possible. When I see other people in difficult situations, I always have the confidence that they can draw strength from it again. Maybe they don't see it themselves yet or they need some help. I want to give them my attitude that the door will eventually open again. You just have to push it open when the opportunity fits.
What would you pass on to the next generation of growth architects?
Follow your own voice. Following one's strengths. For me, it's always when I'm in flow. In flow, what I do comes easy to me. There is knowledge and knowledge that I can train, but that is only 20% of success. I feel sorry when I see people who are somehow not in the right place and not in flow. That's kind of a shame. I wish them to discover their inner voice and follow it.
Mirjam, thank you so much for your personal perspective on growth.