Airbnb: Customer Service Gone Wrong

There’s a lot to love about Airbnb. With its wide variety of listings and fair prices it’s no wonder the independently owned home sharing marketplace now stands as a 30 billion dollar company.

For years, I have relied on Airbnb as my go to hospitality option when traveling. I love the adventurous, authentic experiences that the privately owned homes and apartments have to offer while also keeping my traveling costs relatively low.

A few weeks ago I read an article on that reported Airbnb’s growth was slowing due to increased competition from Booking and Expedia. The statistics presented in this article coupled with a recent, less than ideal interaction I experienced with Airbnb lead me to believe that Airbnb needs to expand it’s martech stack in order to keep up with customer expectations and remain competitive.

How Airbnb works:

Airbnb’s online platform connects hosts renting out space in their homes with guests seeking lodging. The platform offers a variety of filters that help guests find the right listing, a chat system that connects hosts to guests directly, and handles payments though the site. Airbnb takes a 3% commission from bookings as well as 6%-12% servicing fee from guests.

My experience:

With reports of heavy snowfall up in the New Hampshire mountains, I decided to book a last minute ski weekend. My first stop was the Airbnb app. I browsed the availability, found an option within my budget, typed in my information, and within a few minutes received a notification confirming my reservation. Two days later (the day before I was set to leave for my weekend) I received a message from my Airbnb host stating due to a glitch in the Airbnb system, I was able to book a room that had already been booked for that weekend. Airbnb offered no explanation for the problem and relied solely on the host to report the problem to me, the guest. She graciously offered to write me a check for the $120 she received for the night that I booked, but couldn’t do anything about the $27 additional I paid for Airbnb’s commission and service fee.

The problem:

Despite the obvious problem of a glitch in their system, the bigger issue here is that Airbnb failed to act on a significant problem occurring with two top spending customers. They sent me through a web of automated messages and chatbots and offered no easy way to get in touch with their customer service team. The end solution was for me to request that the Airbnb host cancel my reservation.From there I was notified that I would be offered a refund within 15 business days.

As a long-time, frequent user of Airbnb, I was disappointed that my trusty travel companion let me down. As a consumer, Airbnb’s lack of acknowledgement of their error, which inconvenienced me in a variety of ways , made me feel like they don’t value me for my loyalty. As a marketer for a customer data and engagement platform, it made me think that Airbnb might not have unified customer data that they can act on. I suspect that Airbnb’s reservation system is not connected to their CRM or their other communication platforms — like their email service or SMS providers. Things probably would have gone differently for me if they had.

The solution:

If Airbnb had a customer data and engagement platform in place, all of my data–web and app browsing history, chat and customer service calls, social media activity, purchase records, etc.–would have been woven together into one customer profile. My customer profile would have been updated with the messed up booking that could have triggered an email or text apology and a credit to my account for the next time I booked. The customer service team would also receive a notification that I was now at higher risk of churn, allowing them to reach out on a more personal level and right their wrong.

Example of how CLV and Risk of Churn appears in the SessionM platform:

The Value of Unified Customer Data:

Unifying customer records across the entire martech stack enables marketers to keep a known user source of record through a consistent, unique omnichannel identifier, allowing for easy data access to marketers and most importantly, to other systems, ideally all in real time. Utilizing a customer data and engagement platform allows marketers at companies like Airbnb and other organizations that rely heavily on customer loyalty to execute well-thought out loyalty programs that continue to drive interest and encourage customer spend.