Watco Companies: Building a Customer-Centric Culture

Business Challenges

Watco Companies, LLC is a privately owned transportation company, and one of the largest short line railroad holding companies in the United States. They serve customers throughout the US, Canada, Australia, and Mexico, managing over 36 Short Line Railroads, 30 Industrial Switching Operations, 70 Terminals, and 2 ports.

With the transportation industry operating at the whim of the economy, competition between service providers is extremely high, and a culture where customer satisfaction is highly valued is crucial.

Turnover is another challenge within transportation, as it has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry. Watco has not been exempt from this norm, and has continually faced the challenges of retaining talented and knowledgeable Team Members.

“The transportation industry regularly leads other industries in the realm of high turnover.”

Watco’s expansion across the US and several other countries has created the need for decentralized decision-making and quality manager training. Managers must be able to independently handle their location’s needs, while simultaneously instilling Watco’s values and culture in their team.

Skill gaps are another very real challenge, as many professionals come to Watco with trade specific skills, but have development needs in the areas of general business and people skills, which are necessary to build Watco’s customer-centric culture from the inside out.

Watco U Online

Instructor-led training with Watco University comprises a large part of Watco’s introductory training for managers, supervisors, and new Team Members, in order to get them up to speed on understanding Watco’s culture and primary business focuses.

Online learning was introduced in 2013 to provide ongoing development, but Team Members found the system cumbersome, and attitudes toward online learning became disdainful.

Watco needed a new learning management system that could accommodate their dispersed workforce and engage users with content relevant to their development needs.

In 2015, Watco University launched a new online learning program, Watco U Online. The new program utilized the mobile-ready BizLibrary LMS and made content from The BizLibrary Collection available to Watco Team Members.

“Watco U Online provides Team Members with on demand training to help them cultivate their soft skills so that they can effectively communicate, manage their time efficiently, develop themselves, and therefore develop others.”


Getting Team Members back on board with online learning after the unsuccessful first approach meant taking implementation step by step. The initial goal of Watco U Online was to focus on mid-level managers and supervisors – to provide ongoing development so they in turn could grow their teams.

Watco U Online was first introduced as a pilot program with under 25 Team Members, from both the corporate and field environments. The participants were given full access to The BizLibrary Collection to complete courses on an elective basis. After one month, their feedback stressed how valuable this program would be for providing ongoing development of their teams.

“As our Team Members develop, it allows them to provide improved services to our customers, which leads to improved customer satisfaction, and that often leads to increased opportunities with our Customer.”

Instructor-led training sessions occur about twice per month, and during those sessions, Watco U Online was promoted and demonstrated live so Team Members could see exactly how simple it would be to login and utilize the system.

An opportunity to improve compliance training arose with the implementation of the BizLibrary LMS as well. One terminal requiring annual OSHA Recertification Training would need 64 work days for all Team Members to complete the training via one computer work station at the terminal.

However, the mobile capability of the new Watco U Online program allowed Team Members to complete the training on smart phones and tablets, significantly reducing the time spent on this mandatory training.

Program Results

Through having the option of utilizing The BizLibrary Collection on an elective basis, Watco U Online has increased participants from 25 in the initial pilot program, to over 490 users just over one year later.

Watco Team Members enrolled in the program are assigned some courses for completion, but the proof of new attitudes toward a learning culture is in the ratio of assigned vs. elective courses completed – 95% of all course completions are elective.

This engagement in ongoing training has directly impacted the challenge of turnover, helping to reduce it by 7% within the first year of the program, creating a cost savings of $3 million. In the program’s 2nd year, Watco is on track to reduce turnover by an additional 6.5%, meaning the company is looking at nearly $6 million in revenue growth since Watco U Online was implemented, due to increased Team Member retention.

The availability of OSHA compliance training within The BizLibrary Collection, and the platform’s mobile capability allowed required training time to be cut by 67%, saving approximately $1600 compared to instructor led training.

Watco attributes their engaged learning environment to increased customer satisfaction and growth opportunities. Through Team Members’ development of technical and soft skills, they are able to better identify and learn how to meet customers’ needs. Watco places high value on retaining well-trained Team Members, as they create the foundation for growing a loyal and highly-satisfied customer base.

“All of our Team Members are dedicated to learning and growing every day, so we all can provide the best customer service in everything we do.”

Watco Companies logo

Employee size: 2501-5000
Industry: Transportation

Watco Companies, LLC, based out of Pittsburg, KS, is a privately owned company providing transportation, terminal and port services, supply chain, and mechanical solutions for Customers throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Mexico.

Watco Companies was founded on a goal of providing the best customer service possible in the transportation industry, and developing long-term relationships with its customers, vendors, and business partners.

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