Rating systems have become a part of everyone’s life.
Nearly every time we complete a transaction, whether it’s a purchase on Amazon, a delivery by FedEx, or even a customer service phone call, companies and merchants follow up with requests like, “tell us how we did,” or “tell us how much you like our product.”
These rating systems give customers a chance to offer honest feedback, and (hopefully) incentivize companies to make improvements in products and/or services.
For rideshare or delivery drivers, however, the effects of rating systems can be brutal, and too often the “star rating” does not tell the whole story.
As a result, many drivers end up deactivated unfairly and without ever being able to plead their case.
In this post, we’ll cover some of the reasons why the current star rating isn’t always fair to drivers, and discuss some alternative options that the ride-hail and delivery drives could use.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why ratings can be good for drivers… sometimes
- Bad ratings bring big problems
- Why ratings are not always fair
- Protecting yourself from bad ratings
- 5 steps companies can take to improve the system
Why ratings can be good for drivers… sometimes
Feedback can be a useful tool for gaining tips on how to improve performance and avoid doing things that make customers squirm. It’s nice to know that a passenger appreciated your conversation, the music you played, or your ability to go above and beyond.
In a similar (though less pleasant) way, it’s also good to know when you’ve done something to upset or irritate a customer.
Some customers like it when you stop at yellow lights, while others would prefer you hit the gas and get to your destination faster. You might get more appreciation for bringing extra napkins and condiments in a food order than you would for making the delivery five minutes sooner.
It’s hard to know exactly what to do in order to make customers happy, but most good drivers are always trying to do that. Even when you think you’ve done the right thing, and get a rating that says you could have done better, it’s still good information to have.
The other bonus of getting good ratings is that it enhances your reputation with the company and with potential customers. If you maintain a high rating, you might get extra bonuses from the company.
But when the ratings game works against you, it can be a whole other story.
Potential problems with bad ratings
There’s no doubt about the biggest and most serious impact bad ratings can have on drivers… the companies can, and do, use it as a measuring stick that can potentially hit drivers with deactivation.
How does this happen? If you drive now, you already know. Uber, Lyft, and some delivery services have a minimum level for drivers based on their star ratings. When a rating drops below a certain level, the company can fully deactivate the driver, just based on how well the majority of customers reacted to the question, “What did you think about your driver?”
The other problem bad ratings can cause is a change in your public impression with riders. When a rider has a choice between two drivers, one with a 4.9 rating, and the other with a 4.7 rating, it’s clear which driver will get the trip.
While most drivers aren’t too bothered by negative comments such as “hit the brakes too hard” or “music was too loud,” it’s very hard to shake the reality of a bad rating. Low star counts, and their consequences, are even more upsetting when they are unfairly attributed.
Why ratings are not always fair
Any time one person is asked to evaluate another, subjectivity and opinion can dominate the answers that are given, and so it is for most driver star ratings.
Passengers can make innocent mistakes or mischaracterizations, as well as observations that result from a customer’s preference or proclivities, such as conversation, appearance, wearing too much cologne, etc.
Of course, there are also valid reasons for customers to object to the performance of drivers. Safety, cleanliness, and following protocols such as wearing masks and sanitizing the vehicle are some. Others include inappropriate advances, offensive language, and rudeness.
But unfair, biased factors also influence ratings, such as sexism, bigotry, and even hate-inspired thinking. When these and other such factors play into a customer’s evaluation, the customer-driven, highly subjective, star rating systems fail miserably.
For example, drivers may have gotten poor ratings based on attributes such as:
- Gender: Some people (even in today’s day and age) think female drivers are not as competent as male drivers.
- Race: Prejudice based on race and nationality is an ugly, and all too common blight on society. Sometimes bigoted riders take a cultural difference or language gap out on drivers, and give them poor ratings based on it. You can read in this October 2020 article about one driver who has sued Uber, claiming the rating system allows for racial bias.
- Politics: For drivers, it’s never a good idea to wear or display political messages where they can be seen. If you do, you leave yourself open to being discriminated against for being on the wrong side in the opinion of your customers.
- Sexual orientation: It’s an unfortunate fact that not all customers are open-minded and accepting. An LGBT driver who ends up with one of these customers can, through no fault of his/her own, provoke a hateful person to give a bad rating.
- Physical challenges: Customers might expect more than a driver is capable of, depending on the driver’s physical abilities and limitations.
- Age: Whether the customer perceives the driver is too young or too old, derisive opinions about this can be unfairly factored into a star rating.
Some drivers are striking back at the companies for using the current rating system, which they believe discriminates against people who look and act different from what riders might consider acceptable.
This LA Times article is about an October 2020 class-action suit that was filed against Uber on behalf of nonwhite drivers nationwide.
Such behavior on the part of customers is appalling and unacceptable. But with the system the way that it is, drivers are vulnerable to mistreatment on many accounts. It pays to know how to prevent unfair ratings, and deactivations, from affecting you.
Protecting yourself from bad ratings
It’s obvious that the best way to protect yourself from bad ratings is to do everything you can to earn good ones. Here are some suggestions from Lyft and Uber to help drivers keep their ratings high:
- Be sensitive to your customer: Always be friendly, but learn to discern whether the customer wants to chat, or just wants to ride or take the delivery and go about his or her business. Also ask about music preferences, especially volume, and whether the passenger needs more heat or air conditioning.
- Be a good navigator: Follow the route in your app closely, and try not to make mistakes. Also, ask your passenger (or delivery customer) if they prefer that you take a different route.
- Stay safe: Drive like you have a state trooper in your car. Stop at intersections, and keep to the speed limit. Don’t text or talk on the phone while you’re driving. Your customer should experience the time with you behind the wheel as being safe as well as comfortable.
- Be clean and serene: Many customer complaints come from a rideshare driver having a dirty car, or a delivery person carrying food in a dirty bag. You may have to tidy up even between rides. Increase your awareness of your car’s state of sanitation, and you’ll see your ratings go up too.
- Help with doors, luggage, and special needs: Where and when it’s appropriate, rideshare drivers can go that extra mile by helping with groceries, luggage, and other cargo their customers might bring along. Also, if someone needs extra help getting in or out of your vehicle, don’t watch the person struggle unless you are specifically asked not to help. And, if your delivery customer is weak or disabled and needs help carrying bags, offer to help with that.
- Be polite, even when others are not: Having a customer scream at you is never a pleasant experience, but it happens—and when it does, it will always benefit you to be calm and quiet. You can still be firm, of course, especially if you have to enforce a rule or policy such as wearing a mask or requiring a car seat for a child. Contrary to popular opinion, it is very possible to be firm as well as polite.
- Get a dashcam: We’ve preached about this before, but we have to say it again: A dashcam is always good protection against being falsely accused. You can find more information about protecting yourself with a dashcam in this blog post.
You have control over these behaviors and habits, but as we said earlier, there are some incidents with customers that you cannot control—or even predict.
What can you do when you get low ratings for bad reasons? Here are some tips:
- If you have reason to believe a customer is going to leave you an unfair rating, contact your company’s driver service department and report it. When you are proactive about stating your side of the story, you will have a better chance of winning any appeal you might need to undertake later.
- If a customer has made you uncomfortable, either through sexual harassment or discrimination of any kind, note this on your rating of the customer. This will alert your company about the customer’s undesirable behavior, and will also prevent the customer from camouflaging it by lodging a complaint against you.
- Use your dashcam or bodycam video to prove what happened, what was said, and who said it. Present it as evidence to your company. Familiarize yourself with how to cut clips and transmit them. This kind of action can be a real job-saver.
The subjective and volatile nature of the star rating system is something we as drivers have to live with. We can do everything possible to keep our side of the street clean (so to speak), but we also believe there are steps companies can take to improve this subjective and volatile system.
5 steps companies can take to improve the system
Every system has room for improvement, and the star ratings used by Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and DoorDash are no exception. Many drivers feel the system, and the cutoffs (4.6 for Uber and 4.8 for Lyft) are unfair, especially if these arbitrary numbers are used to deactivate drivers.
There’s no reason to believe the companies will stop using this rating system anytime soon, but there are ways they could improve it. Here are our suggestions:
- Be more responsive to driver appeals. Some incidents, such as when a customer accuses a driver of being impaired, result in the driver getting immediately deactivated until the situation is investigated and resolved—which can take days. In lieu of that, the driver could be offered an immediate opportunity to prove that the accusation was false, perhaps through the hubs, a medical facility, or other means.
- Ensure that customers can back up their claims. Many customers make accusations just so they can get free rides or other bonuses from the companies. They should be asked to prove, perhaps with a formal statement, that the objectionable act actually was committed.
- Hold customers accountable for bias. Just as drivers are asked to do, customers could be required to watch videos about community standards that clearly state what they are not to do, and what they should not tolerate from drivers.
- Give drivers more access to their ratings. Drivers receive summaries of their ratings, but rarely do they get specific information about what they’re being accused of. While customers’ anonymity should be respected, the driver’s right to know what s/he is accused of should also be honored.
- Consider not allowing star ratings to be the sole basis for deactivation. Especially for drivers whose customers either have sky-high standards or little common sense, low star ratings don’t always mean the driver doesn’t deserve to be on the road.
So there you go. We’ve offered five suggestions for improvements, but we’re betting you can think of more. Leave us a comment below or contact us with ideas that you’re convinced the companies need to hear.
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