Call Center Travels to the Heartland

In August 2010, Expedia, the largest Internet travel site in the cyber world, announced the expansion of its Springfield, Mo. location, already 270-strong. Just a few months later, that seems to have been a move in the right direction.

Expedia serves 25 million customers each month. The Washington-based company books and sells tickets for multiple airline vendors and ensures a wide variety of choices at competitive rates, some of them guaranteed to be the best on the Web. Other familiar holdings of the company include: Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Worldwide Travel Exchange, Classic Vacations, Expedia Corporate Travel, and TripAdvisor.  
With the help of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and regional economic development groups, the company leased a wing of the Springfield-Branson National Airport, renovating 59,000 square feet to house its growing staff. In the fourth quarter of 2010, employees of the center serviced more than 350,000 calls, compared to 262,000 in the same quarter the year before.
The expansion in Springfield was a result of the relocation of multiple groups to the area to maximize efficiencies and address scalability opportunities for the company. The strategic decision to move other functional groups from the Dallas Metroplex ensured that all who were working on projects, including the product offering to elite travelers called "Five Star," would be housed together. These functional work groups included additional call center personnel, accounting, financial operations, collections, and information technology. It is estimated that within 18 months there will be 800 employees on site.
Many factors contributed to the move and made Missouri an easy, logical choice, especially in the areas of marketing and customer service. Considering Missouri has more than 2 million high-speed lines, including fiber, cable modem, mobile wireless and satellite. The new location fits the needs of the company. Springfield alone has four fiber optic rings, which enable cost-effective transmission of information over longer distances.
But good technology only goes so far. A company needs good people to make things run smoothly.

People make the difference

The state of Missouri has more than 3 million highly-educated workers - more than the entire populations of 20 states, including four of Missouri's surrounding states. And that's important to a Web-based business like Expedia. Missouri can offer not only the quantity, but the quality, of workers the company needs, because it ranks above the national average for bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees conferred per year. Recruiters found that those applying for positions in all the functional areas had current, marketable skills in their area of expertise.  

Expedia's philosophy is to treat employees the way they treat customers. So the wages, which were well above the county average, combined with the company culture, has created quite a buzz in the surrounding community. Expedia's management has been more than satisfied with the quality of people, their passion, their work ethic and their productivity.

Environment makes a difference too

Aside from the ideal location, many other factors contributed to the case for Expedia's expansion in Missouri, including low business costs, the fifth lowest in the nation, and tax incentives.
During the last three decades, low state and local taxes have been instrumental in keeping costs down for Missouri businesses. The state also has the third lowest business energy rate, according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, and the fourth lowest commercial electricity rate. As a result, doing business in Missouri is easy and profitable.

In Expedia's case, it was access to these low operating costs, turn-key telecommunications infrastructure and low risk of natural disasters that were the deciding factors in choosing Missouri. These factors will help maintain the company's high standard of exceptional customer service.

An added benefit of the expansion is the formation of new business relationships. According to Steve Smith, general manager of Global Customer Operations for Expedia, Springfield's Chamber of Commerce is one of the best in the state to work with. From his perspective, it's the people who have made the difference to the company's move, and that gets reflected to customers.
Expedia's original goal was to find a new place to house functional work groups. In the end, they found a perfect place to do business for an overarching goal of creating a world-class experience for their customers. The Springfield office is now the second largest office for Expedia. Clearly, the move to Missouri has been a step in the right direction for the company and the customers it serves.

David Kerr was named director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development by Governor Jay Nixon in 2009. Kerr previously served as secretary to the Kansas Department of Commerce under Governor Kathleen Sebelius and president of AT&T Kansas, where he directed public policy and regulatory activities.

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