Expedia moves millions of people around the world. It supports a multitude of languages, geographies and brands in more than 20 countries. And yet despite its scale, the company excels at making its customers feel like they know them personally. How do they do it? With their technology.
In this interview, Mikko Ollila, Senior Project Manager at Expedia, explains how they empower agents to meaningfully relate to customers.
By Hannah Hager
In an organization that handles millions of calls annually, the task of ensuring agents are effective, efficient and operating in a meaningful way can feel cumbersome. Agents need to be empowered to relate to customers. The key challenge is to have a scaled operation that can quickly ramp up or down agents based on their peak seasons. To address this issue, Expedia relies on its technology suite.
Mikko Ollila is the Senior Project Manager at Expedia. He manages more than 30 call centers supporting 9,000 agents that field customer service and sales calls who handle roughly up to five million calls per month. Not only do his agents take a lot of calls, but they may struggle with relating to what the caller is experiencing.
Travel is highly stressful. The stakes are really high — Expedia’s customers are often celebrating important life events such as honeymoons, anniversaries, reunions or visiting dear friends. If the company drops the ball, it leaves a negative imprint on the customer that is going to stick around, Mikko says.
Reliance on the correct technology is paramount. It allows agents to see a full picture of what happened and take that context to have an idea of what a customer may be calling about. In essence, it enables them to get to the heart of the matter at a faster rate.
“We have a lot of context about you. We know your itinerary; we know what’s happening to your flight or your hotel reservations. You might be flying into some weather and you don’t yet know it yet, but we do,” he says.
In the future, conversations will continue to swirl around multichannel, Mikkos says. Expedia currently has the ability to see what the customer did on their website, on their mobile and what happened if they called or used the IBR. “That tells a complete, almost like a movie, sort of frame by frame of why you are now on the phone with us and how we can best help you,” he says.
An effective technology suite translates to a competitive advantage, Mikko says. Expedia utilizes a broad stack of technologies to store and understand data from various sources. Expedia is building things on Hadoop, which is the open source data source system, and they’re also using external third-party packages, such as Pegasystems for case management. It also does a lot of its own Java-based development.
But, not all call centers have these luxuries. They may lack time, budget, the back-end ability or support from their executive suite.
“The advice from our experience is; ‘Be nimble, be opportunistic, because you have to be, but also keep it in the back of your mind that there will be a day when you might have to pay a price for if you don’t keep yourself in check, and allow your tools to proliferate in an uncontrolled fashion,” he says.
In the future, technology should continue to allow for better one-on-one communication with the customer. Times have changed. Today’s customer expects their brands to know them from all of the different ways they’ve conversed with the company. Every customer wants to feel special and none want to be treated like the next person.
“That change in customer mindset over the past couple years and going into the future has a huge impact on how we’re allowing ourselves to interact with the customers and make those interactions truly more specialized and tailored,” even while they’re dealing with millions and millions of customers, Mikko says. “All this technology that we’ve been talking about really gives us the capability to do [that].”