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The purpose of quality rating systems is to inform the clients thoroughly before they spend their money. At least, that’s the theory. In reality, however, they accustom us to the lie.

The Client as a Hostage

I commission a tire change in the authorized repair shop of a German automobile manufacturer. The tires are mounted, the car is rolling smoothly.

So, of course I’m quite happy to confirm the telephone enquiry – about like this: “Yes, thank you for asking, everything’s fine.” However, they don’t let me off the hook quite so easily: “How would you rate our service on a scale of 1 to 10?” “It was perfect.” “Do you mean our service was good, very good, excellent or superb?” At this point I realize that I’m not speaking with the repair shop, but with a call center. “Superb”, I say in the false assumption that the conversation is now over.

“And how would you rate the friendliness of our employee on a scale of 1 to 10?”

“How would you judge the work done by the repair shop? On a scale of 1 to 10?”

“I’m sorry; I have other things to attend to now.”

How does an excellent tire change differ from a superb tire change?

This is how the customer is taken hostage in order to fulfill some idiotic internal quality control rules. I don’t want to cast the lady who gave me my keys and wished me a “pleasant drive” in a poor light. Was her behavior “superb”, very good”, or simply normal? I can’t judge the work of the mechanics; unless of course the tires fall off. The staff members at the call center are only trying to do their jobs well. But does that mean I have to let them waste my time? Do the companies think these things up in order to get rid of their customers?

The Manipulation of Quality Rating

A broken ankle has a positive side; it makes the drudgery of performing household tasks impossible. Great, there are online platforms which offer house cleaners. My first household help is male, has wonderful ratings, is very personable, is all thumbs and is addicted to Red Bull. My flat gradually approaches a condition of order and he gets my WLAN working again. Then his profile suddenly vanishes from the platform, because he supposedly does not adhere to appointments punctually. He says an unpleasant client cheated him. With just a little skepticism I write him a good review and his profile once again appears online. Then I go out on an errand while he’s at work in my flat. He uses my absence to disappear well before the appointed and paid time. Apparently he employs a strategy of optimization with frequently changing clients and online platforms.

Behavioral Distortions

I’ve booked accommodations in a touristic not-so-popular Italian village through a well-known online platform. It’s November and I want to photograph the wild horses living on the high plateau. The accommodations have been rated as “extraordinary” (9.8 points out of 10) and the guest house is situated ideally for my purposes. 35€, including breakfast, is the usual price for a modest room in this region. Luxury hotels are non-existent here; and nobody would look for them in this area.

The friendly hosts have their own grapevines and olive trees. They also give me worthwhile local information. The room is small, but serviceable and has an attractive terrace. Just as I am about to leave for an excursion, the owners’ housecat slips through the door and disappears under my bed. No big deal. I don’t wish to sweep the animal out from under my bed and I tell the landlady that I’ve left the door open, so that the cat can leave. Suddenly she looks worried and asks if I am disturbed by the cat. No, I like cats; and the landlady is relieved. The cat remains in freedom.

Photo by Erik Jan Leusink on unsplash

However, communication between the hosts and me seems to be dominated by the worry that something might cause dissatisfaction on my part. This forces me to emphasize again and again that everything is satisfactory. I would in fact, feel more comfortable with hosts who weren’t so overly concerned with my well-being. It is probably difficult for them to find any guests at all in this region during the off-season.

The catastrophe occurs – completely inadvertently – after my departure. I receive an email asking, “Please rate House So-And-So.” Of course I give the hosts a good rating. At the end of the questionnaire, however, my cell phone rings and I close the website. I had already given the highest marks for coziness. High relaxation value for only 35€ including breakfast? Who could believe it? At this time of the year the weather is cold and rainy here; and the houses are traditionally without heating. The air conditioner, though, blows hot air into the room. No matter. I don’t wish to deny these nice people their high rating.

But during my trip back home I receive a message from the hosts with a polite, but assertive request to raise my evaluation. I’m both confused and irritated by this.

What happened? I hadn’t answered the last question. Because of that, a category marked “0” went into the overall evaluation and therefore caused the evaluation of my hosts to crash at the end of the year. Thus, my evaluation totaled summa summarum merely “very good.” The race for good customer critiques had long led to inflation. That is the result of the logic of the system which strives to produce better and better services.

That is sheer nonsense! My hosts offer everything I can expect in all fairness. Greater efforts would hardly be viable in this region. Consequently, the evaluation spiral can only rise higher, if the guest is driven by constant, demonstrative efforts and incessant appealing to his conscience to encourage his exaggeration. Rather than concentrating on the guests, my hosts think only of their score on the web platform. I shall avoid this guest house in the future. The unspoken pressure which makes me responsible for the evaluation of the hosts could spoil my entire stay.

The Counterstrategy against Obsessive Evaluation

I deleted my evaluation, but did not renew it. At least I caused no damage that way. Emails from ferry companies and hotels with requests for rating their services land immediately in my digital waste basket. I have resolved to refuse participating in any and all evaluations in the future.

Tomorrow I must have my car inspected. I dread further call center inquiries, although I have changed my car for another brand. This plague of soliciting customer satisfaction statements is unfortunately universal in nature. However, I’m going to have my next tire change done in a small auto repair garage, where they will simply change my tires and leave me in peace.