Railinc Tracks Blog

Railinc tracks are everywhere although you don't always see them. The Railinc Tracks blog reveals them one at a time and shows you how we help to keep railroads, railcars and rail shipments moving across America. The blog is staffed by the Railinc Corporate Communication team and will give you news and insights about our company, our people and our products.

Entries with tag net promoter score .

Railinc Releases 2017 Annual Report

Last year, Railinc continued working to deliver value to customers through innovative technologies that help to address some of the freight rail industry’s most pressing challenges. Leveraging our people, processes and technology, we completed critical industry projects, advanced important initiatives, upgraded systems and developed solutions that addressed rail safety, asset maintenance and utilization, and traffic management.

We’re proud of our purpose-driven work, serving the freight rail industry and creating value for people and business across North America. Our 2017 Railinc annual reportDelivering Innovation—highlights that work and our accomplishments from the past year.

Links to our 2017 annual report and past reports are available on our Annual Report page.

Found on a Sticky Note

The sticky notes you find around Railinc tell stories about our culture and how we develop our products; how we learn from and work with our customers; and how we meet the technology needs of the freight rail industry. A regular feature on the Railinc Tracks blog, Found on a Sticky Note takes a look at an individual sticky note and provides insights into who we are and what we do.

We deal with big data all the time at Railinc. But one challenge of working with massive data sets is pulling only the information our customers need. When it comes to big data, more isn't always better.

And searching big data sets isn't easy, either. It requires query processes that enable the parsing of billions, or even trillions, of data records quickly to deliver exactly what the customer requests.

Until recently, our Car Hire Rate Negotiation Self-Service (CHRNSS, pronounced "churns") application was mining too much data as it delivered results to customers. The result: CHRNSS was churning, loading too slowly.

This Found on a Sticky Note looks at work we've done to ensure CHRNSS searches and pulls only what's needed, reducing the time it takes for the application to load and to return data after a query.

CHRNSS Helps Lessees, Car Owners Negotiate

CHRNSS gives users a single access point through which they can participate in negotiations around car hire. Car hire is the compensation paid to the owner of a railcar for its use.

In other words, if I want to "rent" a railcar that you own, we can use CHRNSS to negotiate the rate I pay. CHRNSS helps users better define the car types they need, car owners better segment their cars during the rate negotiation process and bid recipients quickly validate that the offered cars meet expectations.

It's a great tool that makes a complex process less complicated. But CHRNSS was taking up to a minute to load, and that was a problem for our customers.

Why was it taking so long?

CHRNSS provides a real-time feed of railroad data. Before we completed this work, the application pulled a massive amount of data, including information that wasn't necessary, from multiple tables when a user logged in. This led to the long wait time.

Slimming Down the Search

The sticky notes above, taken from the CHRNSS team's Agile task board, outline two steps in the work we did to simplify the data mining process and reduce the time it took for the application to load.

From top to bottom, the sticky notes read:

Update data model for BOT, BOTED

SQL script to push rate data up into bid_offer_transaction

Remove/change references to bid_offer_trans_equipment_detail

The top note, User Story 27619, tells the development team, in general terms, about the activities detailed in the two notes below it.

We updated the data model for a table called bid_offer_transaction (BOT). To do this, the project's lead developer created an SQL script that pushes relevant car hire rate data into the BOT table.

Now, the application doesn't have to search so many tables for the relevant car hire rate data. The data is already where it needs to be, in the BOT table.

We also removed references to a table called bid_offer_trans_equip_detail (BOTED). These references complicated the query process and slowed CHRNSS.

"There was a lot of unnecessary activity going on in CHRNSS, which was degrading the customer experience," said Rob Hannah, the project's lead developer.

Cutting Load Time to Less Than Two Seconds

Without references to these tables, CHRNSS now can make a beeline to the relevant car hire rate data. The updates to the application also enable users to see changes to offers as they occur.

Because we're mining only the relevant data sets, CHRNSS now loads in less than two seconds.

"This process involved refactoring a lot of code, and it was a huge testing effort that collected input from a group of CHRNSS users," said Meghan Finnie, a business analyst on the CHRNSS team. "But we wanted to get it right, and the feedback helped us make sure we gave customers what they wanted and make it easier for them to use the application."

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Focus on Customers Delivers Big Results

Railinc is the railroad industry's reliable resource for IT and information services, and our work is 100 percent data-driven. But how do you apply logic and bytes to the human aspects of customer service?

The answer for us was an internal education and advocacy campaign that bolstered the customer service approach of our tech-focused employees. And it’s easy to see that the effort is paying off.

After holding steady for a few years, our product satisfaction scores have improved, and our Net Promoter Score® (NPS) rose 40 percent since 2012, from 45 to 63. That puts Railinc’s NPS in the range of some of the best known brands in the world, including Southwest Airlines (66), Netflix (50) and Google (53), and ahead of many others.*

A bar chart showing that Railinc's Net Promoter Score has increased by 39 percent, from 46 to 63, since 2010.

Looking at Railinc Through Our Customers' Eyes

The NPS survey asks one question: “How likely are you to recommend my company to someone you know?” (You can learn more about the NPS score and how it’s calculated here.) It focuses on the overall, long-term happiness of a customer and not just their latest transaction. We survey our customers every six months to gain insights and perspectives across a wide range of products and into overall company performance.

“We had to look at our applications from the customers’ standpoint,” said Paul Gaglione, Railinc’s director of customer experience. “The key was developing close relationships with our customers and delivering on their expectations.”

That might sound like a simple business philosophy. Simple, maybe, if you’re manufacturing bars of soap and can track customer satisfaction through sales. But Railinc has a unique array of more than 40 products and services, many of which have been railroad industry standards for years. We serve a mix of longtime legacy customers, along with new clients who are experiencing our products for the first time.

We knew our products were popular, but we also wanted to improve the total user experience for customers. We launched our first product-satisfaction survey in 2010 and included the NPS component. We have used the same survey for the past five years to gather information, establish benchmarks and track trends.

Railinc Focuses on Improving Customer Experience

At the same time we began using NPS, we also put together an internal team with experience in customer service. The diversity of their business backgrounds—Gaglione had once managed nightclubs!—helped Railinc develop best practices it could apply to all products and services.

The team realized that internal deadlines or technical solutions often drove product-design decisions. But we needed employees to become more focused on how satisfied customers were with our service.

Railinc kicked off an internal campaign in 2013—supported by the newly created Customer Experience group. The project began by asking employees to focus on:

  1. Developing a relationship with the customer

  2. Understanding the customer's needs and expectations

  3. Delivering on your promise

“In 2013, we were all about changing the mindset of our own people,” Gaglione said. “It’s everything from the way we answer the phone to how we walk customers through our upgrades. A red button on an online dashboard might sound like a great change to us internally, but if customers are used to a blue button, then it could be very disruptive for them.”

Close Customer Contact Drives Results at Railinc

Using a product satisfaction survey helps Railinc quickly respond when changes are needed. In 2012, we saw scores drop for one product following an upgrade. So we reached out to that product's users with additional surveys. Then we assigned technical staff to make quick adjustments that better met customers needs. The scores for that product were on the rise within six months.

“We all saw the benefit of that,” Gaglione said. “I use it as my shining example of what happens when we listen to the customer.”

Railinc also invested in quality assurance to improve overall customer satisfaction. “We want to wipe out problems in the design phase,” Gaglione said. “Our goal is to never have problems reach the customer.”

Product Support has also focused on reducing the time it takes to respond to and resolve customer concerns. Many of these are thorny technical issues, but we’ve succeeded in cutting the resolution time in half. We are also using a new post-incident survey to help us monitor product satisfaction between the semi-annual NPS surveys.

All the customer-service initiatives are delivering results and changing perceptions of the company.

"From 2013 to 2014, our NPS score took a huge leap," Gaglione said. "We're very proud of that, but the work is not finished. We have to continue to educate and advocate for a customer-centric workforce.

“I tell people it’s simple: If you don’t know what the customer needs, just ask.”

—Railinc Corporate Communications

*These comparative scores were published by Satmetrix Systems for 2013.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc. and Fred Reichheld.