Travelers are often asked to review their hotel, restaurant and car service. But increasingly, it goes both ways.
Drivers for Uber and Lyft, for example, rate their passengers from one to five stars at the end of each ride. If a rider receives three stars or fewer, the driver and passenger will not be paired up again. And at OpenTable, the restaurant booking system, customers are banned if they do not show for a reservation too many times.
These are among the ways that sophisticated rating systems can turn on the customer, identifying the best and worst among them.
Photo: Bloomberg/Chris Ratcliffe
Harry Campbell, an Uber driver in Orange County, California, says he reserves his lowest rating only for the most egregious cases.
He recalled picking up two young women who “didn’t seem that drunk,” only to have one of them vomit in his car. “I was done for the night,” he said. He gave her the lowest rating and charged her for the cleaning fees.
Another time, Campbell said, a passenger asked him to go to an ATM to withdraw money, drive to another part of town and wait five minutes while the passenger disappeared briefly into a run-down house, and then take him to a final destination. “That looked like a drug buy, and I didn’t want to drive that guy again so I gave him a low score,” he said.
The low rating is not just for Campbell’s use. Consolidated ratings on each passenger are visible to other Uber drivers, and drivers can choose not to pick up passengers with low ratings.
Katie Dally, a spokeswoman for Lyft, said the service was meant to replicate “having a friend with a car,” and a two-way rating system was part of equalizing the equation between the driver and the passenger.
Uber did not respond to requests for comment.
The rating systems are allowing businesses to formalize a longstanding practice — focusing on their best customers.
The worst customers “demand too much, complain too much and cost too much,” said Christopher Muller, professor of hospitality management at Boston University.
Beyond that, he said, bad clients make employees unhappy. Companies, he said, do better by spending time on their best and most profitable patrons. “It sounds draconian, but not all customers are created equal,” he said.
Hotels are well known for tracking their guests’ preferences.
“If a customer complains the room was not cleaned early enough in the day, we note that in their file and will schedule housekeeping to change that,” said David Teich, general manager of the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans.
But they may also record when the customer goes astray. “If they’ve smoked in the room, we note if we had to charge them for the extra cleaning,” Teich said. “If we’ve had to ask them to be quiet because neighboring rooms complained, we might note that so next time we can put them in a room at the end of the hall.”
While guest-tracking systems are generally for internal use only, guests who use the Airbnb online booking service to find lodging may find themselves publicly reviewed.
This allows potential hosts to see how a guest was perceived by previous ones before agreeing to allow that person to stay in their home.
Donna Persico rents out a second apartment she owns in Portland, Oregon, through Airbnb and said she always checked the reviews of the guests who request to stay there. “It gives me peace of mind to know a little about who is coming in,” she said.
Shauna Blue also pays close attention to a guest’s reviews before she welcomes them to stay in a room of her Chicago apartment, which she has been renting for two years through Airbnb.
Most reviews she reads are positive, she said, with phrases like “would welcome them back anytime” or “like family.” But when she comes across more ambiguous reviews, like one that says, “We had a struggle at the beginning but things worked out fine,” she understands it to mean that the guest was probably very demanding.
“I would likely choose someone else to stay with me,” she said.
Two-way reviews have been part of Airbnb since its inception. The Web site notes that the company’s community “relies on honest, transparent reviews.” A spokeswoman, Amanda Smith, said that the “human element is key for building trust, and lets others in the Airbnb community get a better sense of what to expect.”
Restaurant systems to track customers are not as widespread as hotel management systems, Muller said, if only because a customer presents a credit card after a meal, rather than when they arrive.
But as in the lodging and car service industries, technology is helping this change. The online dining reservation system OpenTable allows a restaurant to identify guests who booked through the system.
Using OpenTable, each restaurant can make private notes about the guests, like indicating table location preference or if they often send their food back. Those notes are not shared with other restaurants.
“Overwhelmingly restaurants use the notes feature to enhance the hospitality experience for their guests,” said a spokeswoman, Tiffany Fox.
She added that it will ban a customer who fails to show up for a reservation four times in a 12-month period.
Customers may become concerned with privacy as more information is collected and shared about them, Muller said, and it would be easy for a hospitality chain to cross the line between good customer service and being too intrusive.
“If a hotel knows I like a foam pillow, that’s fine,” he said, “but if I tell a server I am lactose-intolerant, I don’t want her entering that into some database where every employee nationwide has access to that health fact.”
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