How Do Your Customers Rate?


It’s recently become known that Uber not only allows its customers to rate its drivers; it also allows its drivers to rate its customers. If you’re loud, abusive, demanding or otherwise unpleasant, you might find yourself silently boycotted by Uber drivers, none of whom are obliged to pick you up. Is this scary, unfair, an exercise in pure democracy or a wake-up call to consumers, who have to date exercised sometime life-and-death power over all types of small businesses with their comments, ratings and reviews, often furnished anonymously? It’s too early to know if this move by Uber foretells a trend, but it’s worth exploring.

Spend just a few minutes online, and you’ll quickly learn of the outrage of small businesses against rating and review websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, not to mention the periodic lawsuits. These businesses see an issue of basic fairness: why should unknown strangers (who may even be my competitors pretending to be customers) determine the success of my business in a manner in which I cannot even defend myself?

On the flip side, should businesses be empowered to rate their customers? In some cases, it’s simply not possible: customer transactions are largely anonymous. But for big dollar B2B transactions, rating and review platforms already exist.

An early example of this is a site called TheFunded.com. It had the audacity to let entrepreneurs rate venture capitalists, anonymously. It created a firestorm in the industry, with venture capitalists up in arms about the unfairness of anonymous reviews. In fact, the outrage really stemmed from the upending of the power dynamic in that business. Suddenly, entrepreneurs were no longer supplicants.

Business credit website Cortera has an interesting approach, creating online forums for credit managers in specific market areas to exchange information on companies. It’s a good concept, but one where it’s difficult to get a critical mass of interactions.

The idea of businesses rating customers is not completely new. Indeed, companies like ChexSystems operate “bad customer” databases used by banks to judge whether or not they want to do business with you. And in the apartment rental industry, numerous databases exist to report bad tenants, some with catchy names like badtenantslist.net and donotrento.com. These are not credit rating databases as much as they are places to report poor behavior.

So maybe widespread customer ratings will come along faster than we think. And if they do, a nifty data opportunity will arise: aggregate the ratings of customers that can then be used to weight the ratings these consumers assign to businesses. In algorithms, veritas.