Big data isn’t just for large corporations. Smaller organizations, too, are gaining valuable insights from data analytics at increasing rates. After all, companies that employ big data analytics tools enjoy 15% more sales than those that don’t, according to the Georgia Small Business Development Center.
Northern California’s Capitol Corridor is an intercity passenger train system that provides commuters and travelers an alternative to traveling the area’s congested freeways. Like so many businesses, Capitol Corridor faced challenges since the onset of the global pandemic as both business and leisure traffic stalled. It has relied on data analytics tools from Zoho to improve its customer engagement, marketing efforts and even safety. We spoke with the organization’s principal marketing representative, Marques Cook, about the company’s story.
What Does Capitol Corridor Do?
Capitol Corridor is an intercity passenger rail line that runs through eight northern California counties. The organization provides day-to-day management services for the train line, which is operated by Amtrak. Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority is a partnership among six local transit agencies that share the administration and management of the corridor.
What is the Business Niche?
Cook explained that Capitol Corridor’s business niche is transportation with about 30 trains a day operating to support its ridership.
“(Before the pandemic) we were heavily used by commuters that were coming in and out of the San Francisco Bay area, and we had at one point about 1.7 million riders,” Cook said.
How Did the Business Start?
“Back in 1998, a bill was passed. So, we were actually voted in as a need for the area because there was so much traffic along the 80 corridor,” Cook said, explaining that the idea was to give people options so they wouldn’t have to either live in the specific area or drive. “Capitol Corridor came about to be able to take over the management of the service. And since then we’ve been able to expand it, we’ve been able to provide additional connections… all up and down California.”
What Zoho Product Are You Using?
When Cook arrived at Capitol Corridor a few years ago, he noticed that the company didn’t use any type of CRM, and a lot of the business records were kept on Excel spreadsheets and the like. He wanted a way to organize the business and personal contacts to maximize efficiencies, and Zoho provided a solution. In fact, the company now uses multiple Zoho products, including Zoho CRM and Zoho Desk.
“How do you account for all that activity and these reports that were very manual and time-consuming?” Cook pondered. “I knew, having had experience with other CMS in the past, that there were solutions out there. It was just a matter of finding a solution at that time.”
Cook continued: “We are a little bit more of a subsidiary, so we have a lot more flexibility and we can be nimble. And that meant we needed something that we could have day-to-day control over and not have to necessarily rely on an engineer or developer to come in and do the work for us. There are just about 20 of us, and that’s everything from marketing to engineering and mechanical. So, we don’t have our own dedicated service or department. Having Zoho set up to first manage the group travel program just resolved a lot of issues that we had with a very cumbersome and time-consuming process, which benefited us as well as our customers.”
“We started out with just CRM,” Cook said. “The interesting thing about the way that we do our business is because we outsource everything to Amtrak, everything filters through them, then back to us. So, we don’t necessarily have that one-to-one relationship with their customers. However, we get a lot of data from them, but it’s coming in Excel documents.”
“So, the next thing that we decided to take on was our customer service side of things,” Cook continued. “But we didn’t have a good tool to really be able to collaborate, and so resolution time for… handling customer complaints or comments spanned days because someone had to listen to these voicemails and transcribe them. That meant stepping back and looking at other tools and doing some comparative analysis. I decided to go with the Zoho Desk, and it just took everything to the next level because now we had automation and the ability to do some self-servicing with our customers… It helped us to be able to then take care of a large portion of (tickets) through automation without having to have any human engagement.”
Automation wasn’t the only win Zoho tools provided Capitol Corridor.
“The other thing that it allowed us to do was to create more evergreen content and information for our passengers,” Cook explained. “One of the hallmarks of any transportation agency is the schedule. People need to be able to get that in as many easy formats as possible. We had a situation where we have a call center. They’re available Monday through Friday, 8 to 6. What about nights and weekends? So, we procured an IVR system to be able to give information to our passengers. That information that will reach our passengers lives within Zoho Desk. Anytime a customer is calling us, they’re getting information straight through Zoho Desk, and they can have those articles read to them or sent to them via text.”
Zoho provided access to integrated data that hugely benefited Capitol Corridor’s business operations. The company would receive regular reports from Amtrak with thousands of rows of data, and it had no way to easily analyze the figures before the data changed.
“We wanted to be able to look at a snapshot and understand what’s happening in a specific use case, and then it’s gone. It’s really of no value after that point because the data isn’t integrated. Zoho One has allowed us to integrate that data with all our other data sources within the analytics. So, now we’re talking about being able to understand all aspects of our business in ways that we haven’t before. For example, we can look at something like our call volume and see how it relates to our ridership. We’re able to then start doing some projections on what kind of activity we’re going to see.”
Analyzing integrated data also impacted safety measures. Capitol Corridor had experienced issues with trespasser strikes, which occur when someone enters a restricted area and is injured by a train. Zoho Analytics allowed the organization to analyze its data to understand where the issues were originating.
“We found that about 50% of our trespasses were from the homeless population,” Cook explained. “That allowed us to be able to pinpoint where along our routes we have issues by using a heat map… Then being able to work with those local cities and counties to be able to provide more education and explain the importance of outreach to be able to keep that area safe.”
One of Capitol Corridor’s greatest challenges was a lack of meaningful data.
“One of the biggest challenges is that as a brand that doesn’t have a one-to-one relationship with their customers, we don’t get to just do outreach and grow based on basic data,” Cook said. ”We have to build around that, so we have to tell the story backwards… Where is that growth happening? Now that we’re getting a little bit more data, we can see what’s happening down to the ZIP code. So, then we’re able to use that from a marketing standpoint and know where to target… What’s our best strategy?”
How did Zoho Help?
“We knew that we needed a way for (customers) to engage with us,” Cook said. “We decided to go ahead and launch our own loyalty program in January of this year. We wanted to be able to find out who these riders are and who is part of the Capitol Corridor community and be able to engage with them. So, we started that in January with zero members in our group. Now, we’re over a thousand and this is with our ridership still, being at just 35% of what it was prior to Covid. So, we really are starting from a small group, but we are starting to get that ridership.
“Then… we released an offer just for this audience. It performed very well because people had to sign up for the loyalty program. They were then able to take advantage of this exclusive 50%-off offer. I’m happy to say that we had about 30% of our users actually taking advantage of this discount right away.”
“To be able to manage this, we use Zoho CRM – because now we have a relationship with them – to be able to understand who our riders are… What kind of offers can we give them based on their usage? And of course, through (Zoho) Analytics, we’re able to see what kind of trips. Because this was specifically a weekend offer, we’re now able to see where our riders are going on the weekend.”
“Like most businesses, we want to get back to where we were (pre-pandemic), and that’s rebuilding our ridership,” Cook said. “The interesting thing is that we realized that it’s not just going to be a direct approach of increasing our service levels. A lot of people are working remotely currently. Some may not come back to working in the office or come back on a (hybrid) schedule. We’re looking at ways to optimize our schedule to be able to really adjust… and look at what’s happening.”
“The interesting thing that we’re seeing is that we see a lot more ridership happening on Fridays, which means that our riders are now considering Friday for the weekend, and we need to be able to adjust our offers, adjust our schedules to really fit that rider profile. We’re also looking at being able to do some offers for them. So, we are looking at all that data that we have access to, putting it all together and seeing what opportunities lie ahead for us.”
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