A Conversation with Expedia Leadership

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A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Instead of collecting VHS tapes we now have a queue for movies in Netflix and Amazon. America Online was once the most popular website around and people “logged in” by plugging into a phone jack.

Technology is rapidly shifting, which means businesses have to be able to respond to the change. That’s something online travel company Expedia has managed to do since its inception in 1996. The Seattle based business started out as an online travel booking site owned —not surprisingly —by Microsoft. Today, Expedia commands 10 additional online travel sites including: Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire, HomeAway and Hotels.com. The company has positioned itself as a trailblazer for online travel booking. Expedia became an accredited business with Better Business Bureau in 2000 and despite its exponential growth, has managed to maintain that status for more than 15 years.

This month John Morrey, Vice President and General Manager and Nick Curry, Global Customer Operations talked about the company’s past, present and what’s happening in the future.

When you look at where Expedia started 20 years-ago, how has it changed?

John Morrey:

Expedia was founded at Microsoft, with technology at its core and very much a PC-first business. But we were also among the first established legacy players in the industry to recognize the opportunity created in travel with the rise of mobile devices. And so Expedia has undergone a complete overhaul, as it relates to technology. One thing powering this shift is the fact that Expedia essentially has more data than anyone in the industry at its disposal: who wants to travel where, when, how, with whom. By leveraging the company’s tech roots and our test-and-learn approach to product development, we’ve tapped into and scaled that vast trove of data to generate smart tools and insights for travelers and partners.

How has it stayed the same?

John Morrey:

Expedia is as much a technology company as we are a travel provider. We’ve invested heavily in new technology, and are making huge strides in utilizing data to improve the experience for travelers at every stage – before, during and even after they return home. We continually build and ship new services to pass knowledge onto our customers around the world. Despite the many changing variables in the travel industry, our mission is fixed: to power the best travel brands in the world to deliver best-in-class customer experiences.

How is Expedia growing in terms of business and investments?

John Morrey:

We remain focused on the test-and-learn method and using it to optimize and innovate. Obviously, 2015 was a busy year for the Expedia, Inc. portfolio as we brought on a number of exciting brands like Travelocity, Orbitz and most recently, HomeAway. We’re excited about the opportunities these new brands present. We feel very well-positioned in the global travel market.

What projects are you currently most excited about?

John Morrey:

We’ve been busy adding new platforms to our mobile app since it was first introduced. The Expedia app saves time and money when booking travel and the interface is easy to navigate and requires fewer than a dozen taps to select a flight. But I think what travelers enjoy most are the notifications and ease of use, all necessary information is at your fingertips and if your flight is cancelled, your hotel is overbooked, or you need to speed up the time to book a car, we update you immediately. These seemingly small notifications and features help save time, but also help establish peace of mind that Expedia is operating on your behalf no matter where you are or what device you’re on.

How has the travel industry changed in the past decade?

John Morrey:

For one, transparency. For travelers, being able to see real customer photos and reviews instills confidence when you’re scrolling through hotel and flight options online. And when sites like Expedia require Verified Reviews, the fear of being misled fades. Another change is tied to technology. Twenty years ago, planning a trip involved little to no technology, often nothing more than phone conversations with travel agents. Expedia changed that dynamic, putting the booking power into consumer hands. Our tech platform, and the people who make it run, is what has allowed us to integrate other travel brands onto the Expedia platform. It powers our ability to continue investing heavily in technology so our customers get tools they need and our suppliers can trust we have the best data.

Another change is tied to price. Recently debuted on Expedia.com, Upgrade Options help airlines compete on more than just price, empowering customers to make the airfare choice that’s right for their travel occasion. The ability to have more control over what, exactly, you’re paying for has been a big change, and win, for customers.

What trends are you seeing in the travel industry?

John Morrey:

The importance of data has never been lost on us. We’re a data-driven company. Customers now arm themselves with as much data as possible when making travel choices. Our research shows that travelers search nearly 50 times across the web before they feel confident enough to book air travel. Insights on price changes, the best time to book and where to get the best deals are all critical data points these days.

These days, we also understand that the experience of moving back and forth between mobile and desktop should be seamless for consumers. They’re getting smarter every day, with more data at their fingertips. Planning trips is also becoming increasingly complex, however, as more options are added. We spotted the mobile trend early and have been tightly focused on it. From iOS and Android to Windows Phone and even Apple Watch, Expedia’s apps are designed to be the ideal travel assistant. Together, our collection of Expedia travel apps enable customers to browse and book everything from hotels and flights to rental cars and local activities on the go and access up-to-the-minute trip details and alerts in a simple, efficient way.

Expedia became an accredited business in 2000. Why do you feel it is important to retain accreditation status?

Nick Curry:

We want to provide transparency to our customers so they feel confident that Expedia is a business they can trust.

It is natural for larger companies, such as Expedia, to receive a high volume of complaints. Despite this fact, Expedia has managed an A+ rating with BBB. What do you credit that success too?

Nick Curry:

Without a doubt, our reputation is built by our agents who work tirelessly to provide thoughtful and helpful resolutions to customer cases. Booking travel with Expedia not only saves money but also connects you with customer service representatives who are there for you when issues arise. They are intelligent, resourceful and most of all, dedicated to ensuring service issues are resolved.

Why is it important to address complaints or concerns from customers?

Nick Curry:

We are passionate about travel and want everyone to have a great end-to-end experience with Expedia. When that doesn’t happen, we want to hear about it so we can understand what went wrong and use that insight to make the experience even better for the next customer.

Expedia has been honored with a number of awards and accolades, which award stands out to you most? Why?

Nick Curry:

We recently were awarded the 2016 People’s Voice Webby Award for Best Mobile Site & App in the Travel Category. Our efforts to exceed our customers’ needs have led us to invest significantly in our mobile offerings. As new technologies emerge, we want our users to be among the first to utilize them. We’re very proud that our app delivers such a welcome experience to our customers.

Did you know? Expedia offers a business rewards program. Business travelers can earn rewards through the Expedia+business program. Registration is free. Learn more at expedia.com/business.

Say Hello to Generation Z

If your business is working hard to attract Millennials, then prepare yourself for another demographic to consider.

Meet Generation Z. Generation Z refers to anyone born between 1995 and 2010.

Millennials may be running the workforce now, but soon they’ll be doing their best to market to a new generation. If you really want to plan for the future, you should start looking at how you’re going to make customers, or even potential employees, out of kids still in high school.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when targeting Gen Z.

They Want to Be the Boss

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According to a survey conducted by the research firm Universum 55 percent of Gen Z-ers have considered starting their own company. They are following in the footsteps of Millennials who have been successful with startups such as Uber, Airbnb and Facebook. They’ve seen the generation before them build empires and they want desperately to do the same. So you should ask yourself “How can my business be of service to these budding entrepreneurs?”

Technology is Second Nature

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Forget second nature, for these kids technology is quickly becoming “human nature.”

A study conducted by the Center for Generational Kinetics found that the Gen Z group is four times more likely than millennials or baby boomers to think it’s appropriate to get your first cell phone at age 13. What’s more, a study conducted by the J. Walter Thompson Intelligence company in 2012 found kids between the ages of 13 – 17 valued their internet connection more than going to the movies or having cable TV. This reveals just how much this generation relies on being virtually connected. When they communicate it is typically with text message or messaging apps that delete the conversation. Think Snapchat. They love Snapchat and they know how to use it better than anyone else. If your business is looking to recruit this demographic early Snapchat is a great place to start.

How They Spend Their Money

Or, how they spend their parent’s money. Whether they are working an after school job or given an allowance, Gen Z is spending a lot of money. And they are doing most of it online. These young adults aren’t afraid of making purchases with their cell phones or even doing shopping on social networking sites. If your business hasn’t already gone mobile —you should start now.

They Have a Heart

If millennials are “Generation Me,” then consider this age group “Generation We.” Research has shown them to be an altruistic bunch, believing they have what it takes to change the world for the better.  What’s more, studies show they are more likely to support businesses that give back to the community. According to the JWT study, they are interested in global social changes such as poverty reduction, clean water and racial/gender inequity. It seems they want to align themselves with companies that have a moral standpoint.

So as you can see, if your business has its own ethical standards, like BBB Accredited Businesses are required to, you are more likely to appeal to Generation Z.

Learn more about this fascinating group by reading this study conducted by Robert Half.

Preparing Your Business for the New Year

Is your business ready for 2016? From security to social media, our infographic will help your business prepare for the coming year!

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Don’t Be Fooled by ‘Tech Support’ Scams

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Trojan | © Berishafjolla / Wikimedia Commons /CC-BY-SA-3.0

One of the most common ways in which people unknowingly fall victim to cyber-crime is through computer-related phone scams. According to the most recently available United States Census Bureau data, 75.6 percent of Americans had household computers in 2011. With the population of the U.S. approaching 319 million, there are approximately 241 million potential victims of illegitimate offers to restore and fix computer software issues.

During my time answering public phones at Better Business Bureau I have heard a plethora of stories involving the infamous “tech support” scam, where various technology “support groups” claim to offer fixes for computer malware problems. Don’t be someone who takes the bait!

Reports to BBB indicate that the unsolicited callers mostly claim to be affiliated with Microsoft, while others claim affiliation with Windows Corporation or similar well-known technology companies. However, the callers are not associated with any corporation and they are simply seeking remote access to computers in the hopes of obtaining personal information for identity theft purposes; sometimes, callers require “fees” for their services and ask for prepaid money cards or money transfers. One Washington State man lost more than $10,000 to an illegitimate Microsoft Tech Support offer in 2013.

Of course, the obvious question is: How does a random caller know that my computer has a virus? That question leads to an obvious answer: He doesn’t!

Unfortunately, anti-virus software is no guarantee and it is relatively easy for viruses and malware to end up on computers. BBB recommends having computers checked by legitimate companies if problems arise.

Microsoft is aware of this ongoing scam and is working to notify the public on recognizing fake calls. So, if you do receive a call from tech support, hang up and report it.