The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all industries. Under government orders, restaurants shut down inside service and pivoted to kerbside collection. Colleges and schools nixed in-person learning and adopted distance teaching methods. But few sectors faced the same magnitude of challenge as travel.
With plummeting passenger numbers, sporadic travel bans, and ever-changing regulations, the travel industry faced almost two years of persistent chaos. At the heart of the maelstrom is Raghav Gupta, Senior Manager of CX and Customer Journey at Expedia Group. Since the pandemic first struck, the customer experience leader has worked on helping travelers manage their plans as per the latest travel guidelines, supporting their efforts through flexible travel options and assistance via self-service.
We recently caught up with Raghav to learn about his journey to Expedia Group, the foundation for his work, and what he’s most proud of achieving during his four-year tenure.
What drew you to the field of customer experience?
Once upon a time, customer experience was a function within operations. We used to associate customer experience with improving service. But more and more, especially with COVID, folks are realizing that customer experience is about the full journey. Looking at customer experience from an end-to-end perspective has really changed things.
Most organizations have two critical objectives: How can we acquire more customers? How can we retain more customers? I found the entire world of customer experience so fascinating because it’s about meeting those two goals. It’s an interesting space. It’s evolving, it’s new, and it’s changing as we speak.
As a relatively new function, do you have to fight for respect, authority, and budget?
Customer experience leaders always face headwinds. You need to nudge stakeholders from a transactional mindset to a customer-centric mindset. It’s a pivotal shift, to be honest.
For me, I’m in the tech space, which is generally ahead of the curve compared to general industry standards. When I arrived at Expedia Group several years ago, they were already thinking big: How can we build things around the traveler? How can we develop a more traveler-centered culture? It all starts with that mindset shift.
I joined the customer experience team, which sits across various functions. You had CX in operations. You had CX in marketing. I worked with the product team. We were ahead of the curve in bringing a CX stakeholder to product. It’s been a great journey.
How do you define and describe what you do?
I’m part of the product organization and my job broadly is to instill customer-centricity across various product teams in the organization with the end goal of improving the quality of experience for our travelers and making sure that they have a seamless journey – from browsing one of our many travel sites and completing a booking, all the way through their journey.
What kinds of problems and challenges do you help Expedia Group overcome?
One part of it is keeping tabs on the “voice of the customer.” As an organization, we have various opportunities for travelers to leave feedback. That might be while they’re on our site shopping, through a post-trip survey, or via a comment on social media. Our first step is to identify the themes – both good and bad – by listening to that voice.
The second is making sure we can also identify travelers’ behaviors because so many people say one thing and do something else. That’s just human nature. We say something because that’s what we desire. But when we are doing it, we’re subconsciously doing something else. It’s super important to back up what the travelers are saying with what they’re actually doing.
It comes back to our continuous discovery and continuous improvements. We discover problems across that traveler’s journey. Then it’s up to us for how we prioritize and channel the right opportunities for repair and improvement.
What metrics and stats do you look at daily?
For a lot of CX organizations, especially those in marketing or operations, I know they monitor critical metrics as their first and last thing in the day. In my opinion, you can do that for site-related and transactional metrics, but CX metrics are more long-term in nature. For example, NPS will not change overnight—unless you experience something like COVID, where something happens and there’s suddenly a tsunami of cancellations.
After four years at Expedia Group, what are you most proud of achieving?
For any CX professional, there are days when you ask, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I in this field?’ Whenever I feel like that, I remind myself that I’m working to keep our travelers’ interest at the heart of the conversation. They are the biggest stakeholders. Being part of the CX organization, we are acting as their advocates.
At the end of the day, if I can help keep our travelers’ needs at the top of the agenda, leading to better – maybe even delightful – experiences, I feel super fulfilled. It’s a broad answer, but that’s something that really keeps me going.
Is it difficult to maintain that level of advocacy indefinitely?
It is about developing a narrative that resonates with various stakeholders we collaborate with. With finance, I talk about the cost associated with an experience, with the product team I try to better assess the needs and wants of the traveler at a particular point in their journey and with the analytics team I try to understand the relevant metrics associated. Having a strong storyline, by keeping the traveler’s needs at the center of the story, helps us be better customer advocates.
What teams, departments, or groups do you work most closely with?
Being part of a customer experience team in a Product organization, product managers are my key stakeholders. In addition to them, data and insights folks! Data analytics and Insights teams are super critical to source the right data and help us understand what travelers are saying and also understand their behaviors on the platform. Lastly, customer operations and service teams play a critical role in better understanding the service side of things to gain a holistic view.
Ultimately, the job of a CX professional is to understand the feedback and signals to know where we are meeting traveler needs and where we have opportunities to improve.
What piece of advice would you give to somebody who’s looking to champion customer experience in their business?
Listen to your customers. You’ll never figure out what your customers want unless you listen to them and watch how they’re behaving. So, it starts with keeping your ear to the ground, listening on a regular basis until you get a sense of what they want.
Then, it’s about building the case for customer experience investment. Your leadership and larger organization need to understand the positive impact their work can have. Having some critical metrics is key; because, when you lack metrics, you’ll have a tough time influencing people, penetrating into their roadmaps, or getting things done.
Identify the customer’s needs first. Then align those with the key metrics and larger objectives. Finally, rally folks around you. From there, things get easier.