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

Dan Heath
Published in
7 min readMar 3, 2020


Dara Khosrowshahi. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

InIn 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?”