Don’t shoot the messenger – Exposing a challenge for Airbnb

Delivering bad news or feedback is not something any of us like to do.  It’s freaking uncomfortable.  If done incorrectly it creates conflict.  It requires preparation if you want to deliver with any true empathy.   Not to mention it requires the facts to be lined up, appropriate timing of message delivery, keeping emotions out it, and ideally offering up some for form of next step, and more.

Being in the uncomfortable position of delivering bad news is not new.  Discomfort goes back centuries.  “Back then” it was a bit worse, the bearer of bad news might himself lost an eye or perhaps their head.  We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Well that phrase has origins back to Shakespeare (1598 AD), and is all about being the person delivering the feedback or message.

This leads me to Airbnb.   I am a raving supportive fan of the travel accommodation service, as many of you know.   I can’t say enough about the unique and/or practical destinations offered by Airbnb home and apartment sharing platform.  If you haven’t used Airbnb, it is an online service whereby fellow consumers put their home or apartment up for rent during times they are not staying in it.  The inventory of destinations is growing daily.  You can stay at an Airbnb accommodation just about anywhere in the world.  Whether you stay in a treehouse, a lighthouse, an Airstream, or just a condo in San Francisco…there is truly a destination for everyone IMO.   To find your dream destination you are able to view pictures, learn about the Host, check the calendar for availability and price, and read reviews/feedback, .

This past week, I attempted to log yet another Airbnb visit during a short vacation to Los Angeles.  Only this time my Airbnb stay was not good, and it raised some concerns I have about the Airbnb service going forward.  Specifically as it relates to the accuracy of reviews given by fellow travelers…reviews that most of us use to decide whether we select a specific accommodation or not.

The particular property I chose for my stay was represented with nice photos and 22 reviews on Airbnb.  Of the 22 reviews , only one hinted at a slight negative for the property.  That negative was a busy street with accompanying traffic noise.  Well it turns out that overlooking that negative (it was a true one by the way), was just the beginning of a terrible night’s sleep and morning.

Upon arrival at the accommodation it took only moments to realize that the # of beds was not the same as the pictures on the Airbnb site…there were actually fewer.   In addition:

  • Different interior furniture (less than in photos)
  • Decor was different from depicted in Airbnb photos (couldn’t recognize the rooms from what I had seen in the photos)

I actually wondered if I was at the right place!   None of these striking differences impacting my stay were mentioned in any of the 22 reviews.   It didn’t stop with just these discrepancies.  There were other things just fundamentally wrong with the home, from the heating system smelling like gas and no shower curtain in the bathroom.  And I have to get my daily dig in and say that #Caltrain is no longer the only place where this is no wifi.   Let’s just sum it up by saying this accomodation was not as described.

Dating back to Shakespeare, I’m sure that there have always been products that do not perform as advertised, right?   Yes, but in this situation, how could 22 of my fellow travelers not have mentioned a list of things that were terribly wrong with this particular accommodation?

Was this random bad luck for my getaway?  Was I the only one who had noticed these things, or experienced a disappointment with my stay at this location?  Clearly the reviewer who mentioned the noisy street (and she was right btw), couldn’t have been the first, and I only the second to have an issue?  I couldn’t understand how all 22 reviewers had gotten it wrong.   Then I thought more about the process of giving feedback, and what I mentioned above.

“Delivering bad news or feedback is not something any of us like to do.  It’s freaking uncomfortable.  If done incorrectly it creates conflict.  It requires preparation if you want to deliver with any true empathy.   Not to mention it requires the facts to be lined up, appropriate timing of message delivery, keeping emotions out it, and ideally offering up some for form of next step, etc. etc.”

Think about it.  Your stay has ended and you’ve “checked out” of your accommodation.  You now have all the above social and psychological things going on related to giving feedback.  Then it gets worse… Who wants to rock the boat for themselves?  What do I mean by this?   Well as a “traveler” to an Airbnb destination, you want the Host to review you in a good way, because receiving a good review helps you the next time you are looking for an accommodation — as that next homeowner is deciding to let you stay at their accommodation.   So imagine me writing a negative (or helpful tip to improve the place while letting others know) review of this place, then only to have the homeowner write a rebuttal back.  As a result, my Airbnb reputation will be tainted.  Therefore as a traveler, it is difficult to say what I feel, as I fear for retaliation in the form of “shooting the messenger” from the Host.

I believe there is a defect in the Airbnb system, and this defect is how they collect and display feedback.  A defect that needs to get fixed.  I will not book an Airbnb stay trusting the feedback given by others on Airbnb, because of what just happened to me.  The door is too wide open for glossy I scratch your back you scratch mine fluffy rainbow and unicorn reviews.

Perhaps Airbnb offers a way for a traveler to not be shot for giving all forms of feedback. What if Airbnb makes it easy to contact previous reviewers of a property directly to see how they liked it or ask specific questions…without involving the Host?  Perhaps give reviewers a way to thumbs up or thumbs down the reviews of others?  At least if one reviewer sticks his/her neck out, others can vote they agree or disagree.   I’m sure there are things that can be further learned by looking at eBay’s feedback model or Amazon.   I just want Airbnb to fix this for me, because I love their service, and I don’t want to be embarrassed on a family trip when those with me wonder how in the world I picked the location I picked.

To wrap it up, I want to say that Airbnb helped fix my situation by assisting me in getting my money refunded.  They also gave me a credit for a future stay since they would not return the Airbnb transaction fee.

Finally, to answer your question, no I didn’t leave a review.

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