Reviews have become a big part of the peer to peer services world over the past ten years. Airbnb hosts obsess over them; bad reviews = fewer bookings. For Uber drivers, ratings can impact their livelihood; drivers with average ratings below 4.6 risk being deactivated. Even Uber passengers all have a star rating which can impact your ability to get a ride.
Reviews are useful but not always trustworthy
Peer reviews are a great way to get a feel for a product or service. And in peer to peer services, where there isn’t a company in the middle of your transactions, reviews can be very helpful. They provide important additional information about products or services that are not standardized.
But we can’t trust all reviews. Some people are vindictive. Others have ridiculous standards and give bad reviews without good reason. Some people feel bad for mentioning negative things, and give overly positive reviews. And some people scam the system, paying people to write fake reviews.
What happens when it’s really personal?
In sharing economy transactions, where no money changes hands, peer reviews become especially tricky. In these situations it’s pretty close to a direct agreement between two people. And these interactions are often highly personal. We got to know and trust each other. I stayed in your home, and welcomed you into mine. I thought we were friends. And then you left me a mediocre review. That can be devastating. What did I do wrong?
I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who are genuinely confused about why they were given only 3 out of 5 stars for cleanliness. Or 4 out of 5 for communication. Sometimes they reach out to their reviewer to ask for more information. But I think often this is just a question of different expectations. Some people see 5 stars as over the top amazing, and 3 stars as really good. Regardless, these conversations can be awkward. Perhaps the reviewer just has a higher standard of cleanliness and found the home a bit dingy. While the host cleaned for days just to achieve that level of dinginess.
Is there recourse for unfair reviews?
Reviews present a problem for peer to peer platforms when there is controversy. You left me a bad review but I don’t think it’s deserved. So I appeal to the platform and they have to mediate. Some platforms let the reviewed party respond publicly. Others only publish reviews with approval from the reviewed party. While still others try to mediate when there’s a disagreement.
It’s good to have some sort of recourse to dispute unfair or untrue reviews. But it’s also potentially a lot of resources for whoever runs the platform.
What’s the ideal review system?
I think there are a few key features to a reliable system of reviews:
- Reviews should be validated. They must be coming from someone who really experienced the service they are reviewing.
- Reviews should focus on text, not star ratings. Having people describe their experience is more useful and comparable than assuming every has the same standards for star ratings.
- Reviews should not be visible to people until they also submit a review of the other party. That’s the only way to ensure there will be no retribution.
- There must be a way to appeal or at least comment on disagreements. But this appeal shouldn’t automatically lead to removal of a bad review.
That’s my list, but I’m sure it’s not perfect or comprehensive.
If you have an issue with a dirty house or yours is left in appalling condition, take photos. I have never heard of anyone who has gotten monetary recompense from a home exchange website, and it does not pay to give someone a bad review or complain to the website. No website vets its homes and, as someone who has exchanged for 30 years, my experience is that about 10-15% of exchanges will have these problems. I still remember the house in Germany where I was given a broken down car that was too run down to drive and slobs in Toulouse, France, and Kalispell; Montana. When I get a deal like that, it is disappointing, but I have occasionally stayed in crappy hotels and my airbnb stays have had problems as well.
The bottom line is that whether you arrange a swap or book a hotel, you can look at reviews but you really do not know until you get there. No system of vacation is perfect.
Home exchange has allowed me to go farther and for longer periods of time than I ever could had I had to pay for hotels. I am still doing it, so that must say something.
Thanks for the information Lauren! You suggest taking photos of bad conditions left in your home but I’m wondering what you do with these if you have no luck appealing to the networks for compensation and you’re not a fan of leaving bad reviews?
Another great article. At People Like Us, we have text-based reviews with no ratings. The way I’ve set it up, each party to an exchange can review the other after the exchange has completed. In the case of a non-simultaneous exchange, you have to wait until you have travelled. Sometimes people would quite like to review the other member as a guest but I thought that was the simplest and fairest way to set it up. You can’t yet reply to a review, although that is on the to-do list,
We haven’t been around so long so I’m very happy to say that we don’t have any negative reviews. I’ve never had to mediate! I’m sure that’s coming, of course, and I’m aware that it could take up a lot of my highly-limited time. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but your article will be helpful.
I’ve always thought that I would mediate it much like I do our Facebook group: criticism can be helpful if it is kind but not vindictive. Just like if I was talking to someone to whom I needed to be critical, I would likely find something that was also positive to bring into the conversation. You do need to be honest in a review though, so that the integrity of the review system is maintained. The community depends on it.
I’m going to introduce a new review-like feature over the Christmas period, something I haven’t seen elsewhere. More about that coming on the site …. ?
Any site that requires approval by the reviewee is suspect. Which share sites allow that?
The old HomeExchange.com network used to do this. That policy was removed when they were integrated with GuestToGuest this year