When Expedia.com first launched in 1996, it was a division of Microsoft focused on providing internet-savvy individuals with an easier way to book travel. It remained part of the organization for only three years before Microsoft spun it out as its own public company.
Today, Expedia.com is one of many travel brands that operate under the Expedia Group heading, alongside Hotels.com, Trivago, Travelocity, HomeAway, and others. Several of these brands were brought into Expedia Group from the outside; the organization has acquired a total of 24 brands throughout its existence.
Looking outside the organization is core to David Krieger’s role at Expedia Group. As Sr. Director of Strategy and Business Development for Expedia.com, Krieger is “primarily focused on how we learn from and import new ideas and innovations from the external space.” This includes meeting with startups and other partners to get a feel for what’s changing in travel tech. Krieger’s team then brings that knowledge back into the organization, helping product teams create roadmaps and make better decisions.
We sat down with Krieger to learn more about his key pieces of advice for making innovation happen inside large organizations, and the trends his team is keeping an eye on.
Culture, Structure, and Direction
According to Krieger, there are three things all organizations require in order to be successful in innovation:
Culture: “[Corporations need a] culture built around an appetite to try new things and to innovate. One of the things that Expedia Group is very strong at is cultivating a learning mindset, which means it’s important to try things, and learning from that is more important than being right. … We have a very strong culture around test-and-learn where, for us, the worst thing possible when we do run a test is for the test to be inconclusive, because that means we didn’t learn anything. It’s so much better to have a test that fails and doesn’t work than it is to have something that is inconclusive.”
Incentives and metrics: “[You must have] incentives built out to try new things. [Don’t be] afraid to have key performance indicators (KPIs) or objectives and key results built around innovation, and around the ability to try and test things.”
Direction and purpose: “[There should be] a reason to be innovative and to try new things — a general strategic reason to do things. For Expedia Group, one of our key strategic imperatives focuses on being customer-centric. The reason that we innovate and the reason that we would try new things, whether it be testing out a new technology, or an application of a technology, or a business model, is to solve a customer problem and to do something that is ultimately going to help people go places and help the customer meet their travel objectives.”
How will you know if you’ve been successful with a new concept? “The most important measurement of success is that the customer actually likes what you’re doing,” says Krieger.
Those three elements guide what Krieger and his team work on at Expedia Group, with a special focus on the customer. Before investing time or money into a new technology or innovation, Krieger says Expedia Group’s research team plays a big role.
“Another way that we approach innovation internally is by starting with our research team…to really get a good sense of what our customers’ pain points are, what their expectations are, and what we can do to make travel easier,” says Krieger. “Once we’ve identified the need, my team is a lot more effective at identifying different opportunities, whether it’s building something internally, or partnering with a startup that has a great solution to test out and run proof-of-concepts with.”
Some of the trends Krieger’s team has identified include:
Chatbots and voice. “Things like chatbots and voice technologies are a new way that customers are expecting to interface with companies and have a conversation. This is something that is leading in markets outside the US, like Asia, where it’s very common to have chat conversations and interact with companies [that way.] We’re taking those learnings and being experimental with chatbots for customer service, for instance, to provide hotel information around the clock. We’ve also done a lot with interactive voice technologies like Alexa and Google Assistant to help customers get information faster. Customers can ask their smart devices about upcoming trips, to get packing suggestions about their destinations and other helpful information.”
Augmented reality. “We’re experimenting with augmented reality experiences to help customers virtually measure their carry-on baggage and make sure their bags will fit on a particular flight. It all starts with looking at what customer pain points or customer use cases we can help make better.”
Personalization. “Machine learning helps us filter customer experiences by what’s most interesting to the customer in the moment. Things like showcasing deals for customers who are actively shopping, or [sending] trip notifications to people about to leave on a flight. Recently, we started using machine learning and personalization to recommend flights based on a customer’s previous activities — highlighting routes they’ve taken before and suggesting smart alternatives where necessary.”