business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal this morning has a piece about the "confusion over what constitutes 5-star behavior for certain services, combined with the guilt of potentially hurting someone’s livelihood, has people defaulting to perfect scores. Ratings padding is particularly rampant for services involving personal interactions. 

"Just like the children in the fictional Lake Wobegon, everyone is 'above average' on some apps - way, way above.

"Ride-share ratings are so high that Lyft drivers whose scores dip below 4.8 out of 5 stars are asked to work on boosting their performance. Drivers under 4.6 risk getting deactivated, the company said.

"Customers say some U.S. apps are designed to encourage 5-star ratings. Lyft, for instance, asks passengers what went wrong if they rate drivers 4 stars."

KC's View:

A couple of things here.

First, this reminds me of a column that Michael Sansolo wrote for MNB years ago, pointing out that when he bought a car, the salesman told him that he would be receiving a survey and that he'd appreciate five stars - less than that, he said, would be tantamount to failing an exam.

Which, as Michael, pointed, out is crazy.  The survey becomes all about running up the score and not about seeking legitimate input that would improve the customer experience.  That's not helpful - for anyone.  Not really.

The other thing that I find interesting about this story is an observation made by Michael Luca, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, who says that a reason that some kinds of service providers tend to get higher ratings than others.  “You’re probably not going to feel bad leaving a bad review for Comcast, but your Airbnb host or Uber driver - there’s a greater sense of the potentially negative impact on the person,” he says.

That's an important distinction, because it underlines how important it is to connect service providers to customers in a personal way.  Having those connections both strengthens loyalty and allows to for some level of forgiveness when things go wrong;  if people have a sense that the service provider is a nice person doing his or her best, especially in challenging situations, they'll tend to cut that person and business a little slack.  But businesses have to create cultures in which those connections can thrive.