It's fair to say that Airbnb has made customer satisfaction a core pillar of it's platform and it lies at the centre of its business model for hosts. Guest reviews can affect how many prospective guests see a BNB's listing, where your BNB ranks in searches and whether or not your BNB attains, or keeps Superhost status. 5 star ratings can mean the difference between performance success, mediocrity and failure. Given that BNB's are a business, the financial connotations and ramifications of this can be significant.
So why do some BNB's consistently score 5 star reviews for overall experience when others struggle, or bounce inconsistently between 3, 4 or 5 stars? Is there a secret? What do those that score 5 star reviews every time do that the others don't?
Let's start by considering the difference between 4 and 5 stars, and how they are applied. Airbnb allows guests to provide ratings on 7 criteria:
- Cleanliness. Did they feel that your space was clean and tidy?
- Accuracy. How accurately did your listing page represent your space?
- Value. Did they feel your listing provided good value for the price?
- Communication. How well did you communicate with them before and during their stay?
- Arrival. How smoothly did their check-in go?
- Location. How did they feel about your neighborhood?
- Overall Experience. What was their overall experience?
For criteria 1-6, Airbnb's system defines 4 stars to represent good, while 5 stars embodies great. The first six criteria above are important, meaningful and valuable points to measure for both hosts and guests but they stand alone. By that, I mean that the seventh criteria - Overall Experience - is singularly responsible for driving your BNB's overall star rating. Guests rate overall experience independently from the other 6, and these other 6 do not therefore average or contribute a sum to the seventh criteria.
The seventh criteria - Overall Experience - is arguably the most important criteria for your BNB. It is this criteria and this criteria alone that affects your BNB's ranking, Superhost status and the performance of your listing on Airbnb relative to your competitors. For this criteria, a 4 star rating means your property was as described, or the experience met expectation. A 5 star rating, according to Airbnb embodies an experience or property that was more than it's description and exceeded expectation.
So it's possible, and for many BNB's quite common to receive 5 star reviews for criteria 1-6, and 4 stars for the seventh - Overall Experience - leaving hosts bitterly disappointed. Many hosts in forums around the world cry foul that guests can rate their BNB 5 stars for criteria 1-6, yet 4 stars for overall experience. They blame guests for not understanding the rating system. They blame Airbnb for confusing guests. It's everyone else's fault, and they're a victim of an unfair, and unjust system. But is it? To cry foul as some do presumes that criteria 1-6 are the only measures by which a guest could, or should evaluate their overall experience. But that clearly isn't true, because they're not exhaustive.
If a guest rates each of the first 6 criteria a 5, yet their overall experience a 4, then clearly the BNB has failed to delight the guest by a measure other than those otherwise rated.
The Secret to 5 Star Ratings for Overall Experience
So, what's the secret? It's simple. Deliver on your promises and at the same time, exceed your guests expectations by delivering them a better than expected experience. To put it more simply: under promise and over deliver.
It's not rocket science. The idea itself is very straight forward. Simple even. But don't confuse that with being easy. It isn't. It takes planning, standards, processes and discipline - in essence a formula - which once developed and executed will deliver your BNB 5 star reviews for overall experience consistently.
Here are some ideas to help you break down the secret and unpack it for yourself, to audit whether you can improve and identify areas to work on with your BNB so you can achieve more consistent 5 star success:
1. Deliver on your promises
Or to put it another way, don't make a promise you can't keep. Think about your listing and how you describe your BNB. Are you setting your guest up for disappointment when they arrive by creating an expectation that your BNB won't deliver? Do you "gild the lilly" in your listing, turning up the sales pitch and describing your BNB as something that it isn't?
Be honest. Create an honest impression so that the promises you're making about your BNB will be delivered.... for example don't say that it's close to transport if it isn't. Don't say that it's luxurious if you've fitted it out at Kmart or Aldi.
At all times be sure that you describe, sell and promote your listing in a way which is truthful, honest and either under promises, or matches perfectly against what the guest will discover upon check in. Personally I prefer the under promise approach, as it more often leads to delight which is a state that I'd prefer our guests were in.
2. Exceed expectations
Here's where you over deliver, and where you take your guests from happy to delighted, or send your ratings from good to great. This is where the 5 star ratings and reviews are found.
How you achieve this for your guests will depend on the style of your BNB and the approach you choose to take. As an example, in our BNB we don't mention to guests that we provide them with breakfast provisions, or a cheese board, or a bottle of Hunter Valley wine. Both the provision of these things, the quality of them and the presentation of them delights our guests and they consistently mention them in their 5 star reviews. We consistently receive rave reviews for our master bed, with guests likening it to sleeping on a cloud which delights us as much as it delights them because we put a great deal of thought and effort into creating that very impression with every guest.
5 star reviews occur when you turn the sum of things, or the guests overall experience from good to great. It's when you deliver something either unexpected or significantly superior to that which your guests were expecting and given that you control their expectation via your marketing, your listing on booking platforms like Airbnb and Stayz and your website you control both their expectation, and whether or not that is exceeded in their experience during their stay.
So the secret to 5 star reviews is simply this: delight your guests and exceed their expectations. Don't delivery the ordinary, and don't deliver a "near enough is good enough" experience to them. Surprise your guests so they are delighted, so their experience is elevated beyond that which they expected and watch your reviews and ratings lift to consistently 5 star levels.
About the author: Allan Evans is the Co-Founder of The BNB Works, and Founder and CEO of The Solution Engine, a leading consulting and advisory firm based in Sydney and Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Allan writes regularly on Medium.com about a range of issues from leadership and business to a myriad of BNB and short term rental topics. Allan also operates the highly successful and popular Brunswick Mews BNB in Newcastle with his partner Julie.