Opinion: Expedia, But Not Expedient

A lesson in (bad) customer service

Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Retail Executive Platform Director, Winsight

NEW YORK -- Please type in your itinerary number.

Press 1 if you want to hold for a customer representative.

5:55 p.m., Tuesday.

I was calling Expedia to change a reservation. Because my trip would now involve multiple destinations, I could no longer make the necessary changes online. I emailed customer support and was instructed to call Expedia Customer Service at 1-800-EXPEDIA.

Being a good student, I obeyed. I had actually called the day before, but after being stuck on hold for 40 minutes, I gave up.

So try again I did. For fun, I told my wife, Leslie, I would take the monastic vow not to eat dinner until I had actually talked to an Expedia rep. I even posted it on my Facebook page. Friends wished me luck. A few cynics prepared an I.V. drip.

I was more hopeful. Once I plugged in all the information, a recorded message cautioned that the wait could last a bit. And why not--we all know, of course, that mid-January is the peak travel period. Forget about Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter.

First was Coldplay. There was Journey, U2, Eagles and other classic bands from the '70s to today. The same tracks played. And played.

Sixty minutes passed, and the same recorded delay message interrupted the songs I had now heard multiple times and grown to loath.

Agitated, I posted on my Facebook the following challenge: OK, let's do the following game show: Excluding airlines, find me a company with worse customer service than Expedia …

The responses were immediate and many. Within minutes, I had more than a dozen responses. Dell was a big hit; so were Comcast, Sprint, Bank of America and a few others.

But why Expedia?

I've been using Expedia.com for more than a decade to handle much of my business and personal travel. For online booking, it's reliable. So reliable that the company claims 99.85% of its customers are satisfied with their experience, according to TravelSiteCritic.com.

Indeed, Expedia is one of the great stories of the digital era. Founded in 1996 by Microsoft as one of the first online travel-booking sites, Expedia became so popular that it was spun off just three years later, becoming a publicly traded company on NASDAQ (symbol EXPE).

Today, Expedia Inc. is the world's largest online travel company, posting more than $29 billion in gross bookings and $3.45 billion in revenues in 2011.

Not only that, but the child born 19 years ago is now the parent company to a global portfolio and employer of nearly 9,500 full-time and part-time workers, according to its website, www.expediainc.com.

“Customer service, may I help you?”

The music stopped. The voice was of a human, a pleasant man name Zak from Las Vegas. He said he was here to help. The time was about 8:10 p.m. Two hours and 15 minutes after I placed the call.

I asked him did Expedia need help.

Have you recently suffered through a nightmarish customer experience? Forward them to CSP group editor Mitch Morrison at [email protected].

Mitch Morrison Winsight CSP By Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Retail Executive Platform Director, Winsight
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