The Dystopian Future of Customer Service Ratings

The ride sharing company Uber has just announced it will start allowing customers to rate their driver mid-trip.

This could be a very positive development. It’s often during the ride where passengers have a convenient moment to give a rating, share a comment, or even tip the driver. 

Passengers are typically on the go when they arrive at their destination, so stopping to give any sort of feedback via the app could be seen as an inconvenience.

There’s another side to this story.

The never-ending quest for ratings feels like a slippery slope that leads us to a dystopian future imagined in this episode of Black Mirror, where we rate every interaction with every other person.

It feels a bit dehumanizing. Is this a glimpse at our future? 


Socially Awkward Rating Systems

I must admit, this bell gave me pause.

Sign asking supermarket customers to ring a bell if they were highly satisfied with their service.

My service was satisfactory.

There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you are buying a few items in a grocery store. We don’t need a life-changing experience with every interaction.

So ringing the bell would feel like a lie. It would also feel incredibly awkward since ringing the bell would inevitably draw attention to me and the cashier.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was subtly insulting the cashier by not ringing the bell. She probably works hard every single day and I can’t literally lift a finger to *ding* her some low-level praise?

Rating an Uber driver mid-ride comes with a similar level of social awkwardness.

  • Should you rate your driver while in their presence?
  • What if your feedback is less than stellar?
  • Should you share feedback with your driver or just rate them?


The Impact of Personal Ratings

The rating you give your Uber driver is personal since it’s tied directly to them. A form of personal ratings are already underway in China.

Called a “citizen score,” this system is currently in a pilot phase before it’s rolled out to the entire country in 2020. A person’s score could impact their ability to get a loan, rent a car, or even entitle someone to faster check-in at a hotel. 

Two elements of the citizen score are the person’s behavior, including their personal spending habits, and the person’s social connections. That means a friend using social media to rant about extreme political views could impact your own credit rating.

(If this happened in the US, we’d all have at least one friend we’d “unfriend” as a result.)

Back to Uber, there’s an awkward social contract knowing that your rating directly impacts your driver’s job. This BuzzFeed article has several excellent examples from Uber, Lyft, and other services.

Many drivers are outright coaching their customers on what rating to give, which is a form of survey begging.

Uber and Lyft drivers also get to rate passengers. A passenger’s rating can impact how likely they are to have a ride request accepted. This can be especially important during busy times.

There are two interesting caveats:

  • Both Uber and Lyft request 5 out of 5 stars as the default rating for okay service.
  • Studies show overall ratings are higher when customers are rated, too.


What Future Will We See?

The change to Uber’s rating system is relatively small and could be positive.

My worry is how this change will gently nudge customers away from the human-to-human interactions that are the core of great customer service. 

Customer-centric companies should prioritize humanity over data.

Humanity encourages interactions between people. This includes the positive stuff, such as “you did a great job, thank you!” It also includes letting someone know when things aren’t going so well. 


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