Entertainment

Overrated!

You rate businesses all the time, but did you know they rate you?

You’ve probably “Yelped” about awful restaurant food or praised the plumber who fixed your leaky faucet. You decided how many stars to give the movie you just saw, or the hotel you recently booked.

But did you realize that more and more places are rating YOU as a consumer? Those Uber ratings are a two-way street. Earlier this week, Jimmy Kimmel and Ashton Kutcher compared their Uber ratings. Kimmel came out one tenth of a point higher — pretty amazing, given that Kutcher is an Uber investor.

“I had an incident,” Kutcher explained on Kimmel’s show. “I had a night with [his wife] Mila’s dad where we were drinking vodka. And I was not driving home. And the Uber was of great assistance.” Kutcher went on to say that he didn’t remember much about the night. “I don’t know how I got in the house. I don’t know how I got in the car, but apparently I remembered to press the Uber button.”

He’s not unlike many Uber riders, who use the service when they shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

Consider college student Ken Smith (not his real name). Smith would consistently go out to bars in Dallas and drink a little too much. He would Uber back (responsible drinker that he is). But he would ask the Uber driver to take him through a McDonald’s drive-thru or other fast food place first. He would also sometimes get a little belligerent and annoy or harass the drivers. 

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What happens to drunk Uber riders? Sometimes Smith would be left at restaurants, and before long drivers wouldn’t pick him up because his Uber rating was too low. He’d have to rely on friends to call Ubers for him — but then their high Uber ratings would get lowered because they were devious. Smith was an Uber outcast.

AirBNB and Open Table also keep tabs on their customers. “Companies rating their customers, and making this rating available, is fairly new,” said Can Erbil, an economics professor at Boston College. 

[lz_infobox]To find out your Uber rating, go to Help, Account, click on “I’d like to know my rating,” and hit Submit.[/lz_infobox]

While this more transparent rating of everything is a fairly new phenomenon, some companies have ranked customers through in-house means — lifetime value, frequent flyer or some other metric for years. Comcast is one of those companies.

Last year, 63-year-old Chicago resident Mary Bauer received her monthly Comcast cable bill in the mail and noticed it was addressed to “SuperB*tch Bauer.” She got that name because she had been having problems with Comcast for months, requiring technicians to be dispatched to her place 39 times to fix the problem, reported Wired.com. A Comcast employee obviously felt she deserved the new title and changed it in the system. She was not pleased.

Another customer’s name was found to have been changed to “A**hole” Brown, after he tried to cancel his cable package.

The world of ratings can get nasty. At the dawn on the web, rants were usually the work of disgruntled trolls who could anonymously trash anything or anyone at will. The anonymity made for a haven of negativity.

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Then the tide turned toward the positive. On eBay, for example, sellers are now only allowed to give positive reviews to buyers. Even more recently, it was discovered that some companies have been paying people to write positive reviews on some sites, skewing the whole concept.

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As a result, services now are popping up to help you maintain a five-star profile as a customer. Reputation.com, an online reputation management platform, will help improve your standing by pushing down negative or misleading search results to pages where virtually no one will ever see them.

It’s just what you might need if you find yourself on a new app called Peeple, which lets you rate people around you.

The app’s goal is to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the neighbor who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews. Everything is open to the scrutiny of the Peeple people.

“People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” Julia Cordray, one of the app’s founders, told The Washington Post in defending the app. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

After the initial response to the technology idea — it earned a collective freak-out, with Re/code.com dubbing it “the Internet’s most hated app” — the founders backed off. “We never meant to scare anybody, we never meant for anyone to feel like we could cause them harm,” Cordray said in a post on LinkedIn. “We always meant for Peeple to be about positivity…’”

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Hasn’t it all reached the point of overkill? Isn’t being asked to rate everything — and now everyone — just annoying?

No, said Prof. Erbil. Rather, it is “empowering for both sides, and definitely a part of our new digitalized reality.”

He added, “Nobody likes to be ranked low, or criticized in public. But then again, customers are not forced to use these services. …  It may also help to create a kinder, gentler customer population, who doesn’t hide behind the ‘customer is always right’ excuse for every bad behavior. It evens the playing field and introduces checks and balances.” 

Whether you like the power of the ratings or not, they are valuable. According to Brightlocal.com, 9 out of 10 consumers have looked at reviews in the last 12 months to help them make a decision about a local business. That stat underscores the importance of the reviews and the priority that business owners should put on managing their reputation and ensuring customers are happy.

“It doesn’t apply to all segments of the economy, though,” said Erbil. “I don’t expect Sears to rate me on the fridge I recently bought from them and made them match the lowest competitor price, wave the delivery and haul away fees, and bugged them for two weeks for my missing reward points. Neither do I think that Whole Foods will post online that I always forget to bring the grocery bags.”

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