You too could be caught on Camera… Celebrate Responsibly
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Yes, Uber Drivers Are Rating You. Welcome to the Future of Reviews.
As I exit the W hotel in Union Square, I scan Park Avenue for an available cab; unfortunately, the doorman of the hotel is nowhere to be found. It’s now 3:30 and I realize that if I don’t get a cab soon, I’ll be stuck between shift change (when cab drivers go notoriously off duty as they begin their trip home) and the dreaded rush-hour traffic that can turn a 35-minute ride to JFK into a ride that could stretch over an hour.
I make the decision to use Uber, one of my new favorite smartphone applications, which provides on-demand Lincoln Town Car service. The app notifies me that my driver is just around the corner, and within three minutes, a black car pulls up at the front door of the hotel. I also notice that, according to Uber, Robert, my driver, has a 4.8 star rating.
I ask Robert about his experience with Uber. He tells me that 100 percent of his business comes from Uber, it keeps him busy, and he’s happy with the service. When I mention his 4.8-star rating and the book I’m working on, Robert becomes concerned and tells me that if his rating were to fall below 4 stars, he’d be kicked off the Uber system. I’m fascinated by how the system works, and Robert tells me that he can choose from requests that are close to him, but he also has the choice to turn down a fare.
“Why would you turn down a fare?” I ask.
“We’re not the only ones that are reviewed,” he replies.
For a minute I’m lost, then it hits me. “Wait, I have an Uber rating?” Robert nods his head.
He has nine seconds to decide whether to reply to my request for a car; if he doesn’t answer, or if he turns me down because my rating isn’t high enough, my request goes on to the next driver. When I get out of his car, the Uber app automatically pulls up a review page, with a picture of my driver and five empty stars. Tap on the last star and you’ve given the driver a top rating; tapping any star below that results in a lower rating. The system rating for drivers to rate their riders is very similar.
Today everything is reviewable: the article that you’re reading right now, what you had for lunch yesterday, the cafe that you frequent most mornings, your dry cleaner, your doctor, your dentist, your blender, your professor, your favorite music, your date (or escort), even you.
Eighty percent of consumers now consult online reviews before making a purchase. These days a disgruntled but ignorant customer on Yelp might have more clout than any expert guidebook, magazine article or newspaper critic.
But my prediction is that, going forward, reviews will become even more like Uber’s: (mostly) bilateral. There are already a number of review-driven businesses that function based on reviews from both parties. Airbnb, the San Francisco vacation rental start-up, is a great example of a marketplace that is driven by bilateral reviews. I can’t think of a case where reviews become more critical than when renting out a property you own, in some cases your own house.
In June 2011, a property owner and Airbnb renter with the handle “EJ” detailed her horror story of a renter who had ransacked her apartment while she was away on a weeklong business trip. Beyond completely trashing her apartment, the Airbnb renter stole material items and potentially EJ’s identity.
They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals … my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied-using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use.
A few days after the incident, Airbnb responded with an apology to EJ as well as instituting a $50,000 guarantee for any damages sustained during an Airbnb stay. While this is a substantial reward, there still must be a great deal of concern when anyone considers opening his or her home to a complete stranger. Perhaps nothing will completely assuage the fear that EJ’s experience evokes, but verified reviews must help.
Bilateral reviews can serve the critical function of providing a sense of trust. In the case of eBay, Airbnb, Uber, and others that provide reviews in both directions, the parties are on equal footing. This concept of reviews for both parties should also be considered within the context of the deep‑rooted social norm “The customer is always right.” Imagine a restaurant being able to review its diners: “cheap diner, didn’t leave a tip”; or a hotel reviewing its guests: “this slob left the room a mess and ate everything in the mini‑bar without let‑ ting us know when he checked out.” Such a free flow of information on both sides of the equation might seem ridiculously far‑fetched, but is it?
OpenTable has a VIP status for diners who have made and kept twelve reservations within a year. While providing insight into only one aspect of the quality of a restaurant patron, in today’s age of missed dining reservations (in major cities like New York, the percentage of no‑shows can reach as high as 20 percent), the knowledge that a potential patron has a track record for keeping his commitment to dine at a restaurant has significant value. OpenTable’s VIP program might not appear to be a bilateral review, but when considering that the status is determined via an electronic confirmation from the restaurant that a diner showed up, the feedback loop, at least on reliability, is complete.
Given the social norm of deferring to the customer, it’s unlikely that restaurants will start reviewing the guests who patronize their establishments. Since online reviews didn’t provide a forum other than in his own comments section, a restaurant owner in Los Angeles decided to cross the line. Noah Ellis, an owner of Red Medicine, became irate when turning down walk-in customers because no-show diner didn’t appear for their appointed reservations. On a busy night in March, Ellis tweeted:
All the nice guests who wonder why restaurants over book and they sometimes have to wait for their res should thank people like those below.
The restaurant’s Twitter account then fired off a second tweet listing the names of seven parties who didn’t show that evening. One user on Twitter responded:
@redmedicinela if more restaurants did this, people might be more respectful. It’s like reverse Yelp.
Not everyone was amused with Red Medicine’s no-show “outing.” Some customers took to Yelp to fight back. David V. wrote:
I love your food and eat there at least once a month but I think it is EXTREMELY tasteless of you to shame your customers. Maybe you should stop taking reservations and just do walk-ins only. A lot of very busy restaurants do that. It might keep you from getting SO upset about no shows. I want to come back to your restaurant but I don’t know if I will, I don’t like all the anger.
While other filtered one‑star reviews mirroring David V.’s sentiment began to appear on Yelp, Red Medicine’s actions garnered significant press coverage for such an unorthodox tactic, and highlighted the popularity of the restaurant evidenced by its need to turn walk‑ins away. I don’t suggest that other businesses follow in Red Medicine’s footsteps, but this bold move by the L.A. eatery exemplifies the growing frustration that some business owners feel for the asynchronous communication that online reviews facilitate.
Excluding changes in social norms, the best option for business owners is to rate reviews themselves. Many review sites, including Amazon, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, ask visitors to their sites to add quality ratings to reviews by voting on whether a review was “helpful,” “useful,” “funny,” or “cool.”
Even if we could solve the challenge of asynchronous information, the problem of perspective still remains. Customers bring their own experiences to an establishment when they choose to review. “It’s not really the business that is being reviewed,” Mohawk Matt points out, “it’s the reviewer’s experience that is being reviewed.” I’ll add a small variation to Matt’s insight. It’s the customer’s perspective of a business that forms the basis for most reviews. If you can get past the phony reviews and vendettas, the problem of perspective is the most vexing for business owners. From McDonald’s to The French Laundry, Motel 6 to the Four Seasons, reviews provide businesses with a constant reminder of the adage that you can’t please everyone all of the time. The 2.0 ending to that sentence should be “There’s an app for that.”
To date, the solution to help find perspective is to leverage social networks to provide people you might know based on the assumption that our “friends” have tastes that are similar to our own. By adding insight to what they like, your friends will help you discover things that you like with greater accuracy. The mash-up of social networks manifests itself in two primary ways. First, within review sites there is the opportunity for visitors and reviewers to form their own networks; and second, several review networks have links to Facebook, which allows visitors to see which of their “friends” also likes a particular hotel, restaurant, or other business. TripAdvisor employs this linkage, so when viewing hotel rankings you can see which of your friends have stayed at that hotel.
For finding perspective based on existing networks, the challenge is the manual nature of selecting who to follow, and that the reason you chose to follow a specific reviewer could be simply because you enjoyed their writing style, liked their humor, or agreed with them on one (but not all) aspects of a particular re view. For Facebook-linked reviews, there is an apparent problem. Take a look at the number of friends you have within the world ‘s largest social network. It’s likely that they are family, friends, work contacts, high school friends, acquaintances, someone you met at a party, or friends of friends (of friends).
Now ask yourself how many of these people have the same taste that you do in books, music, coffee, or pizza. You’ll soon discover that adding this level of information to online reviews adds little to help provide you with perspective.
Adapted and excerpted from Everyone’s a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World by Bill Tancer, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Tancer is also the New York Times bestselling author of Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters and the general manager of global research at Experian Marketing Services.
Copyright (c) William Tancer, 2014. Photos: Getty Images
ROUND ROCK, Texas — Surveillance video led to criminal charges in the burglary of a Round Rock restaurant.
Eric Boutell is charged with burglary. Investigators say he threw a brick though a glass door at Junior’s Grill and Ice House on East Main Street.
According to his arrest affidavit, Boutell worked as a bartender there but was fired in January. The owner, the manager and an ex-girlfriend all identified Boutell in the surveillance video. They say after breaking in, he knew exactly where to find keys to the safe and took approximately $2,300.
Boutell is in the Williamson County Jail.