There are two sides to every story. But in the customer/business relationship, are they always equal?

Reviewing is one of the hallmarks of the shared economy. Take a look at every new company ‘shaking up’ or ‘disrupting’ its industry – the majority are powered by reviews or user-generated content (and often, user-generated product).

Uber and Airbnb took it further by introducing many customers to the concept of bilateral reviews, where both sides can leave a review of one another (a concept that arguably started with eBay). It’s a rare brand that doesn’t think it should always be attentive to what their customers are saying, but are two-way reviews good for all types of businesses? We thought we’d investigate.

We’ve spoken before about the importance of customer reviews in honing products and services, and tuning in to customer sentiment. Certainly, letting your customers review you does just that. But, if your customers knew they were getting a review too – one which might affect their ability to do business in the future – would you get an honest opinion from them?

Take a look at every new company 'shaking up' or 'disrupting' its industry - the majority are powered by reviews or user-generated content.

Brands are doing some clever stuff with two-way data. We’re seeing insurance companies using in-car computers to record customers’ driving habits, and that data used when calculating premiums – so brands in other industries might follow suit. But will we ever see passengers with a high Uber rating get cheaper fares? Probably not.

The biggest issue with two-way reviewing is the unwanted side effect: bias.

It’s tough to remove bias from the reviewing process. We know because it’s our job.

Bias skews the data, which is unfair for both the business being reviewed and the customers trying to make the best decision. Now think back to those companies we mentioned at the top – Ebay, Uber, Airbnb. If you’ve used them, you’ve probably been begged to write a glowing review in exchange for one in return – regardless of how the transaction actually played out.

Bias skews the data, which is unfair for both the business being reviewed and the customers trying to make the best decision.

Studies show that bilateral reviewing results in higher ratings for both parties. The average eBay seller score is 99.7% and the average Uber driver score is 4.7-4.8 out of 5. But is that actually linked to the customer satisfaction levels? Are the best merchants receiving the highest review scores, or just the most persistent ones?

Ebay makes these reviews public, while Uber only shows them to the parties after the car has been ordered, past the point of polite cancellation. Even then, customers can only see their Uber rating by formally requesting it through the app. Uber’s system is designed to protect the interests of the company and its employees, so any inconsistencies only hinder itself. Either way, these bilateral review systems mean that reported customer satisfaction increases. But is it a fake smile?

In the meantime, Uber has a rogue 140 character reviewing system in Twitter…

And for good measure, here’s an article on Vice about what Uber drivers really think of you.

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Should brands be reviewing their customers?