The secret to Airbnb's customer service thinking

A comment from Alex Alt, President of Sabre Hospitality, stuck with me last week. He was talking about Airbnb's impact on the industry: "the challenge of Airbnb is not the new inventory, its the innovations in customer experience"

This comment runs contrary to the opinions expressed by a group of Hotel Industry CEOs at IHIF in Berlin last week (see from 41:00).

Christopher Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide: "the core business we're in is the business of hospitality ...
[Airbnb] is more of a lodging business... More of a housing business. Its lodging we're hospitality"

Viewpoints of industry impact aside, I wanted to share the following excellent video featuring Brian Chesky the Founder of Airbnb. The recording is from a series of interviews from perhaps the best ever university course for want-to-be entrepreneurs: CS183c for Stanford computer science undergraduates.

The video is below and worth watching in its entirety. The insights on customer service are from 30:25 and I've also included a rough transcript from Medium:

Brian Chesky: The paradigm with customers today is 5 stars. The problem with 5 stars is you have to be really bad to get 4 stars. Reaching 5 stars is just being nice enough — we wanted to build a product that you loved so much you would tell everyone. 

At Airbnb, we strive to have our customers contact the company and demand a 6th star be added to our 5 star review because the experience was so good. Here’s how we think about service past 5 stars:

  • 5* service — You leave the airport, go to the Airbnb, your hosts are in the house, they let you in. This is 5 star. Worse than this is if your host is late (4 star) and the worst is if your host never showed up (1 star).
  • 6* service — the above + your host picks you up at the airport.
  • 7* service — the above + there is a limo waiting for you at the airport and inside the limo are your favorite chips and coconut water.
  • 8* service — There is a giant parade when you arrive at the airport and you are honored for coming.
  • 9* service — The moment you step off the plane there are 5,000 screaming fans holding signs for your arrival — we call this the Beatles check-in.
  • 10* service — I could go all the way up to 30 stars — I won’t, but 10 stars would be when you arrive and a Tesla with your name on it is waiting for you and in the car the driver is Elon Musk, and instead of your Airbnb Elon, takes you to outer space.

I exaggerated this to make a point but the principle is if what you need to do is find 100 people who love you — 5 star is what people expect. For them to love you, you need to do more than what they expect. We play out these scenarios all of the time — once you go up to 10 stars, 6 stars doesn’t seem so crazy anymore."

When you dig deep into the ethos of Airbnb it is hard not to be impressed. How does your brand or hotel property think about customer service?

PS if you want to know which are the other great videos in that series my favourites were:
- Reed Hastings of Netflix - Eric Schmidt of Google - Diane Greene, VMware - Reid Hoffman in Episode9 on Linkedin

About The Author

The Triptease Platform is built to help hotels take back control of their distribution and increase their direct revenue.

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