Railway Preservation News

Data Mining
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Author:  hotbox [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:16 am ]
Post subject:  Data Mining

How much and what kind of information do we gather from our patrons?

You can hardly do anything without receiving some sort of survey these days. From customer service phone calls to checking out at the grocery store, every place seems to want to know what the consumers think about their establishment, but I don't see this with railroad museums or tourist railroads (except a very few.)

It seems like within the railroad preservation community we don't always take into account what the people who pay the bills want to see or experience. Or more specifically we ignore the untapped potential of appealing to a broader group than just just those who already love trains. Many times a museum or an operation becomes a playground for people that love trains. Yeah, that's great but, people that love trains aren't always so great at giving out lots of money to save trains and train stuff. In fact its often pointed out in the forum that a lot of railfans don't contribute as much as they complain about imperfection and "acquire" items for their own collections.

So, are we listening to "Mom and the kids" that show up to wander through a museum or ride a train on a Saturday?

For instance...

At museums - Are we asking:

Which displays, artifacts, or rolling stock do they find the most interesting?

What we can do to get them to volunteer or donate?

What wasn't interesting/ what did they dislike?

What we can do that will get them to return?

What did you learn today?


At for-profit heritage railroads - Are we asking:

How can we make your trip more comfortable?

What events would you like to see here in the future?

Did your ride meet with your expectations?

Did you receive a good value for the money?


Or do a lot of places even want to know the answer? Are we too afraid of getting our feelings hurt?

We have both for-profit and non-for-profit operators that read here frequently. I realize the answers will/ should be different between those two but the answers within each group should trend together.

Author:  Evan [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 8:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

Whether you monitor it or not, reviews of your attraction are posted to sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor and Google, just to name three of many such review sites. It might be wise for you to register a login to them so you can manage the reviews to some degree. Most review sites at least let you respond to poor reviews.

Author:  John Risley [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 3:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

I for one think it a good idea and strike when the iron is hot and ask them while they are on the property. Hand me a pc of paper with a link to leave my thoughts or to your facebook page is going to be tossed. Of course so will many of the short to the point survey questions. But in the depot when selling tickets it would be a real hands "on" approach to ask your patrons what they think. If I have to pay $75 to take my wife and 2.5 kids on a 45 minute train ride I would jump at the chance to tell you that the ride was not worth the money, the bathrooms need some maintenance and my wife liked the flower bed along the platform. Yes I am being cynical but the idea is a good one and I too would like to know how many organizations are asking. Obviously I am an old fart and I do not do facebook unless necessary or enjoy "online life" {social media} as much as some younger people do. I prefer to be asked. So when you sell a ticket ask people if they would be so kind as to fill out the 5 question survey as "we need to know" what you liked and where we can improve. Most of the time the visitor does have time to do this. And you asked them personally to do it. Asking someone to communicate like this is different from junk mail, telemarketers and a brochure with a link on it. Of course then someone who cares is going to have to read the result and probably keep a basic record to see the trend but it isn't rocket science nor that time consuming that most GM or even depot staff or employees couldn't handle. Just thoughts. Maybe put a time limit on for one month in middle of summer? We all have enough work to do.

At Mid Continent we have a younger member who has been our brakeman on our daily trains for the last few years. He is above and beyond most employees. He asks questions and observes what the visitors are doing, saying and asking. Gives unpaid tours with knowledgeable explanations. He is very interactive and this is where he shines. The paying public talks to him. Like one human being to another. His feedback from this is priceless. I doubt anybody in charge pays much attention to him or what he reports in his feedback. Most complaints are not fixable and some may just be whining hoping for a free ticket for next time. Think the topic is a good idea and hope others will discuss what has worked or not in their experiences. "Railfan" types {hate the term} do not pay the bills, John Q Public and his family does. So we need to listen to the occasional pc of feedback that can make theirs and others visit a good one and have them come back. next year. Regards, John.

PS maybe a link or two posted on the your little survey for your Facebook page or other site would be best of both worlds? The customer can then choose where to respond.

Author:  JimBoylan [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 4:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

Is your organization trying to be historically correct with the experience it gives its visitors? I'm often reminded that railroads and transit companies were in business to make money for their owners, not to please the public. Giving a false experience to the visitors could cause a loss of the museum's Accreditation.

Author:  Dave [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

We all give false experiences to our visitors. We can't help it. Our visitors dress in modern clothes, carry cel phones, some use digital cameras, etc. This is uncontrollable context. Most of us don't provide transportation but entertainment and education. We're storytelling anachronisms in a different time and world - we can only do the best we can within our real context to share the context of the world that's our mission.

Author:  John Risley [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 8:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

Whether the experience is true or false is a tough concept for me to wrangle with? The point of any business or museum is to make the experience a positive one. Having clean bathrooms to me isn't about any mission statement or have any hysterical provenance. It is nuts and bolts simple. I am not suggesting we need to lay down the red carpet or reinvent outlaw train robberies but keeping in touch with your customers is just a good idea period. Even if that means keeping your facebook page up to date despite my not caring about facebook or whether some one checked on the bathroom situation in the public restrooms. These last two things mean nothing to me personally as I seldom use either. But a customer might. Most of us think more like "railfans". Most of us do not think like parents on a limited budget with kids {unless you are one}. There is nothing complicated about understanding the need to keep in touch with your paying customers whether your Chucky Cheese or a non profit RR museum. Your accreditation should remain intact without to much trouble. Regards, John

Author:  wesp [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 8:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

We have been struggling with the data mining question at National Capital Trolley Museum. Yelp and Trip Advisor have been helpful on a somewhat superficial level.

At the theatre where I work we have an advantage of data collection through online ticket sales. After you see a performance you receive a survey monkey survey with a combination of questions about your experience at the performance and some general demographic information. (Patrons can opt out of emails.)

At the Museum we sell tickets on a walkup basis and so we lack direct access to contact information. We have tried a simple zip code survey to determine where our audience comes from but have found patrons do not want to share emails, etc.

I would welcome suggestions on how to collect hard useful data without annoying our visitors.

What have you do that works to collect information under similar circumstances?


Author:  MargaretSPfan [ Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

This is very important to do -- learn what your visitors like and don't like. But, yes, it is often hard to do.

I think it is probably easiest to read what people say on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and it is important to respond quickly to negative comments.

hotbox --
Please change the title of this thread. Please. "Data-mining" means collecting every single bit of personal info and them selling that info to advertisers. That is a very, very repugnant practice, and is not at all what this thread is about FaceBook and Yahoo and Google, etc., do this 24/7 to make money, instead of requiring people to pay to use their sites. Advertisers pay a lot for good info on us, so they can better market to us. Most of us absolutely detest this practice as a huge violation of our privacy, and for other very good reasons. And "bots"from those big tech companies troll many websites -- including this one! -- to gather information on users.

Author:  hotbox [ Thu Nov 09, 2017 10:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

MargaretSPfan... I'm not sure how, but you're right.

JimBoylan Your statement about Railroad and transit companies making money for their owners. The only way a company continues to make money is by keeping its customers happy. ... No one is asking for a false experience. Museums should be asking questions to figure out which exhibits people like or want to see refurbished or how to improve displays and exhibits. If people love the "green engine" then keep the thing painted and looking good so people will return. If people don't understand the flanger, work on explaining it. If the people don't care about seeing the steam engine run the quit spending money on it (yes that pains me to say.) Unfortunately there are groups spending gobs of money on exhibits and ultimately the group have little if any real evidence of how much interest there is there is in the item outside of the actual members, meanwhile the patrons want to see the rusting heap out back fixed up.

Author:  JimBoylan [ Fri Nov 10, 2017 11:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

What do you do when data mining discloses that the paying customers and donors want what they like instead of what's historically important?

Author:  Dave [ Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

You disguise real history in the stuff they think they want. If we present history and it's boring, we are at fault given how interesting it really is.

Author:  Frank Hicks [ Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

hotbox wrote:
How much and what kind of information do we gather from our patrons?

The first questions you'll want to ask are the ones with the most actionable data to be derived. Asking what displays or rolling stock visitors find most interesting is only relevant if you're looking at changing those in the near future - and if the changes are liable to make a significant difference (asking "do you prefer GP7s or GP30s" will get you responses but the data may not be very significant). Responses to open-ended questions can be more useful in some cases but can also be harder to quantify.

Questions I would recommend, as a starting point, are "how did you hear about us?" and "how likely are you to recommend us to friends/family?" Responses to the first can be easily classified and compared with your marketing expenses to gauge cost-effectiveness; responses to the second can be quantified and used to gauge overall customer satisfaction. And always, always ask for an e-mail address so you can use it for re-marketing (or for sending follow-up surveys with more questions!). Assuming you have a reasonably good product, your best prospects are going to be customers who have purchased before and e-mail provides an exceedingly cheap way to reach them.

Author:  Overmod [ Fri Nov 10, 2017 1:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

"Is your organization trying to be historically correct with the experience it gives its visitors? I'm often reminded that railroads and transit companies were in business to make money for their owners, not to please the public. Giving a false experience to the visitors could cause a loss of the museum's Accreditation."

One of the funniest pieces of sarcasm I have seen here. Is it possible posters thought he was being serious?

I well remember how sneering and obnoxious conductors on EL in the '70s could be, trying to pick fights with people in order to be able to threaten to throw them off the train for arguing -- and it was no idle threat! I also remember railroad management cutting amenities in order to accomplish trains-off more readily ... automat car food service being one that comes to mind quickly. Sure, these are "historically correct" and could be made part of a museum experience ... if you were interested in accomplishing the equivalent of trains-off for your museum and its operations. Not something any organization that needs to do business with the public to prosper would undertake, "full historical accuracy" or not. Would you demonstrate historical operation in the days before heavy Rule G crackdown by having your volunteers get drunk (or just pretend they were?) or smoke like chimneys, or stay awake odd hours to get authentic-looking red eyesor demonstrate sleep apnea or fall asleep at the throttle?

Meanwhile, 'data mining' has nothing to do with getting information on everybody, it's extraction of meaningful relationships in data by looking at large amounts of collected data in appropriate ways. That can be done just as easily on a small, but relevant, collection of data as on large collections of harvested cross-relationships or sneaky tracking cookie results. And I think it is the restricted sense that's being properly discussed here.

Author:  hotbox [ Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

JimBoylan wrote:
What do you do when data mining discloses that the paying customers and donors want what they like instead of what's historically important?

If you are asking them about things that are already at the museum, how would they not be historically important?

Don't ask open ended questions like, "What color should we paint the train car?" Ask about name recognition for the railroads that the car worked on or present options for previous schemes the car wore in its service life to help the museum figure out how to get more support for a restoration project.

The trick is to ask the right questions and the purpose of this thread is to see what, if anything preservation groups are asking their visitors and patrons.

Survey questions are more than a way to prioritize projects, they are a way to open a dialogue with people that may not otherwise return.

If your museum's mission involves "educating the public" in any way, doesn't it stand to reason that you would want to know how well you're doing this?

There are plenty of ways to gather input from the $penders without ignoring history. On the other hand there are plenty of opportunities to ignore the interest of the patrons and bemoan the fact that the numbers are falling.

Author:  kew [ Fri Nov 10, 2017 4:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Data Mining

Overmod wrote:
Sure, these are "historically correct" and could be made part of a museum experience

I can think of a few museum people (who really should not have anything to do with the paying public) keeping these old traditions alive.

And one thing most museums do really well is their "rotten row" exhibit. You know, all that derelict junk stored on the back sidings, but still in full view.

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