If there’s one thing I love about the boom of virtual service industries, it’s the emergence of services like Airbnb. I love being able to rent a room in somebody’s home instead of staying in a hotel room. To me, it just feels a lot more personal and it allows me to get a better feel for the city I’m visiting. Sometimes I want to see more than a row of chain hotels, accompanied by a row of chain restaurants.
A quick note if you’re not familiar with Airbnb: This is an online service in which hosts rent out lodging (homes, apartments, tents, treehouses, RVs) and guests book directly with the hosts online.
I used Airbnb twice this summer and had great experiences both times. The reason it has worked for me, and why I think it’s growing in popularity, is that guests have an opportunity to read detailed user reviews and to see the host ratings. I will go out of my way to stay at a home in which the host has a â€œSuperhostâ€ rating, even if it’s a little more expensive.
In both cases this summer, I enjoyed rating the experience. It was great to compliment a host who I interacted with and to point out specific things they did to make my stay special. At the first place I stayed, the apartment was amazingly clean and smelled like eucalyptus. At the second place I stayed, the guest had a nice selection of coffees and bottled water and provided big, fluffy towels.
Good hostsâ€”that is, those who get great ratings and frequent bookingsâ€”stand to do very well with this kind of side business, particularly in popular destinations like Austin. But, as with any business, there is a lot of competition. Hosts must compete based on value and service. Any host who doesn’t communicate well with their guests, who cancels at the last minute, or who has a dirty room is not going to have an easy go of it. Even a single bad review, when there are few other reviews to compare to, will discourage subsequent bookings.
At the second place I stayed, I did have a few minor issues that I wanted to bring to my host’s attention, without making it part of the review. Fortunately, the feedback form allowed for private messages to both the host and to Airbnb. I think this is a great way to bring constructive criticism or advice without damaging the host’s reputation.
My Airbnb experience made me wonder how well businesses capitalize on personal feedback and reviews that affect their reputation. Companies that are smart (that is, who realize that they are not the only game in town) will do whatever they can to protect their reputation, just as an Airbnb host must do. Smart companies do things like offer incentives for completing online surveys after a transaction and make sure that the reviewer knows the name of the person with whom they were dealing. I have yet to win a gift card for completing a review, but just having that chance has led me to take the time to go online and complete a positive review (if it were negative, I wouldn’t need an incentive).
And then you have â€œthe other guys.â€ Just today, I read a scathing account of a person’s experience on a major airline. The review was shared on Facebook through a mutual friend who has 3,976 friends (and who used this as a chance to share her bad experiences of the airline as well). And then there were the many other people who chimed in sharing their (mostly negative) experiences with the airline. That is a lot of negative attentionâ€”and all because of the actions of one flight attendant who told a customer to â€œshut up.â€
Maybe if more customers had a chance to immediately review the flight attendants, by nameâ€”calling out the good, the bad, and the uglyâ€”there would be fewer customer service disasters. But then again, with social media and nametags, customers do have that ability for personal feedback and they’re not shy about using it.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s just a reminder to any size business that reputation is everything and whether you purposely provide a forum for customer feedback, or whether customers take to Twitter and Facebook to provide feedback, your reputation (great or not) is out there for the world to see.
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