How Expedia Solved a $100 Million Customer Service Nightmare
The dark side of organizational hyperfocus is that you miss expensive problems hiding in plain sight
In 2012, Ryan O’Neill, the head of the customer experience group for the travel website Expedia, had been sifting through some data from the company’s call center. One number he uncovered was so far-fetched as to be almost unbelievable. For every 100 customers who booked travel on Expedia — reserving flights or hotel rooms or rental cars — 58 of them placed a call afterward for help.
The primary appeal of an online travel site, of course, is self-service. No calls necessary. Imagine a gas station that allowed you to swipe a credit card right at the pump — and then, about 60% of the time, something went wrong that forced you to go inside the store for help. That was Expedia.
Traditionally, the call center had been managed for efficiency and customer satisfaction. Reps were trained to make the customer happy — as quickly as possible. Short calls minimized expenses. “The lens we were using was cost,” said O’Neill. “We had been trying to reduce that cost. Instead of a 10-minute call, could we make it a two-minute call? But the real question was: Why two minutes? Why any minutes?”
When you spend years responding to problems, you can sometimes overlook the fact that you could be preventing them. O’Neill shared his findings with his boss, Tucker Moodey, the executive vice president of global customer operations. Together, they dug into a basic but neglected question: Why in the world are so many customers calling us? They compiled a ranking of the top reasons customers sought support.
A “war room” was assembled, where people from different operating groups met on a daily basis, and the group was given a simple mandate: Save customers from needing to call us.
The number one reason customers called? To get a copy of their itinerary. In 2012, roughly 20 million calls were logged for that purpose. Twenty million calls! That’s like everyone in Florida calling Expedia in one year.