Airbnb: Outsourcing not only houses but the customer experience

yitch
4 min readFeb 9, 2016

Re-design needed.

My original experience with Airbnb was pretty good the first time I used it in 2013. I never saw the host (although we are good friends now) however it leaves a lot of doubts as to how far the model works. The last few encounters I have had have left me with a poor opinion of Airbnb.

In terms of what Airbnb is expected to provide from a customer standpoint is definitely a secure, clean, convenient location at an affordable price. These are standard metrics when browsing accommodation sites and I think it fulfills 90% of the experience. The 10% is when things go wrong i.e cancellation of booking by the host or patron and reaching out to an actual human being to resolve the resolution.

Get me a human!

In the quest to drive down costs, companies have adopted poorly designed technology to handle customer service. This has led to interesting solutions such as http://www.dialahuman.com/ or https://gethuman.com/

In the case of Airbnb they have chosen a rather interesting approach of using actual humans but still keep costs down to zero. i.e Outsource the supply of accommodation and customer service all to the hosts:

A search on Google actually yields an interesting result:

There is absolutely no email address to contact Airbnb directly (normally if you do a ‘find’ there is a contact us section at the bottom but this seems sadly missing:

Why the gripes?

My recent trip to Sapporo left me stranded at the very last moment while transiting from Haneda Airport to Sapporo. I received the email jut a few hours prior to landing in Sapporo:

In his defense I think he had a situation worse than mine to have his house burgled. The host was actually very nice and was happy to put us up for a night at a different place, but only for the first night so we had to find alternate accommodation.

So of course, in this situation I would really expect Airbnb to provide a decent alternative. Their reply was really less than satisfactory (and yes this was after calling them):

Granted there are instant bookings on Airbnb, but sadly not for Sapporo. To try to contact a host while moving from city to city with luggage feels more like a business trip as compared to a holiday.

For the model to truly work, Airbnb does need to fix the ability for customers to not be stranded in a foreign land and not really know the foreign language. For all my inconvenience, they offered USD200 (Coupon). I went with the safe option of booking a hotel. That roughly cost me USD500 more than my expected budget (based on the same location).

Recommendations

Interestingly enough, Airbnb responds very quickly to tweets @AirbnbHelp. Although in terms of the satisfaction of the resolution, I think it would still be a long way before I recommend them to friends and family again.

Trust is something that Airbnb is striving to build. Apart from having verification and reviews, I believe that Airbnb really needs to create a much better experience for the 10% moments that might occur.

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yitch

If you are enjoy a laugh at the expense of our corporate overlords, I hope my sense of humour is the cause