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Features

Fight back: customer reviews now cut both ways

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People routinely review services from restaurants and hotels to hairdressers. Now the tables are turned. Companies are rating their customers, shunning those who do not make the grade.

–  David Streitfeld

Hussein Kanji insists he is not a bad Uber passenger. “I’ve asked drivers to turn up or down heat, to not play music loudly, or to roll up windows,” Mr. Kanji, a London venture capitalist, said. “I can’t imagine why they would lower my passenger score.”

They apparently did. The wait for a ride suddenly became interminable. “For about three weeks, Uber was basically unusable,” Mr. Kanji said.

Customer reviews are a new form of credit report, one that measures comportment instead of finances. Although such ratings have been tried before — eBay was a pioneer — the practice has taken off with the rise of the so-called on-demand economy.

Strangers may be eager to drive you places or rent you their house for the weekend, but they require some level of confidence. So companies from Airbnb to the new taxi services use reviews to weed out those they do not wish to serve.

In response, some consumers are becoming more polite and prompt. But the knowledge that they may be rated is also encouraging people to submit more upbeat reviews themselves, even if the experience was less than stellar. When services choose whom to serve, no one wants to be labeled difficult.

“It’s a Barney world,” said Michael Fertik, the chief executive of Reputation.com, referring to the purple dinosaur who sings, “With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you/ Won’t you say you love me too.”

Reviewing customers is also raising questions about who owns the data detailing good and bad behavior, what they can do with it — and whether people even know it is being collected.

“You take a college class and even though you’re paying, you’re going to get a grade,” said Catherine Sandoval, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates cab services. “You know that’s what you signed up for. Now you’ve being graded as a passenger, as a guest, as a customer. The information is stored and shared. There’s little transparency.”

Ms. Sandoval sees a cab ride as a chance to make a phone call or send a message or read a report. But if she is taking Uber, she makes sure her silence won’t be misinterpreted.

“I say, ‘I’m sorry, I have some work to do. Please excuse me,’ ” she said. “If the driver is a tour guide or a philosopher, you don’t want to alienate them.”

EBay pulled back on allowing sellers to review customers in 2008. Buying on eBay is a straightforward transaction with little personal interaction between seller and buyer, and so the reviews got in the way. Now eBay allows sellers to make only positive comments about buyers.

Full story

Source: International New York Times

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