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Should Airbnb Be Forgiven?

by Adriana Lee | August 4, 2011August 4, 2011 2:00 pm PDT

We’ve all seen corporate entities reacting badly to difficult circumstances. They might blame it on others, engage in deceitful acts or just flat-out deny the incident before attempting to bury it. Only occasionally do we see companies actually respond with a solution or “make-good,” and even then, they often still refuse to confess to any wrongdoing.

Rarely do we see a company admit it acted badly and apologize for it. But it seems that’s just what Airbnb is trying to do.

Here’s where it started: When “EJ” rented her home on Airbnb.com, she never imagined that her guest would ultimately trash the residence and steal her belongings. In the course of the telling, re-telling and follow-up of her story, some tidbits came to light — like how little Airbnb actually stands by their members when things go wrong. Contradicting public statements from the company, EJ’s version of the story cited a lack of communication or support from the company, along with what looked like attempts at silencing her and her blog. It was a maelstrom of bad press — hurled both at her for being naive and at Airbnb, for its negligence and coercive measures.

Then an unlikely thing happened: The company’s CEO and Co-founder Brian Chesky suddenly posted an apology on the company blog. It was both simple and stunning: He wrote, “…we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences.” He goes on to say that the company is launching a 24-hour hotline, doubling its support personnel, and adding a new “$50,000 Airbnb Guarantee” starting August 15, to protect hosts’ properties against damage or theft.

It’s a pretty candid response. Unfortunately, it’s “too little, too late,” at least as far as EJ is concerned. She writes on her blog that, while she applauds these measures, it doesn’t mean she can forgive and forget anything. If they were put in place before, she notes, it could’ve prevented much of the trauma she has suffered and still is experiencing — both from the crime and the resulting online abuse heaved her way since.

In and of itself, Airbnb’s apology is stunning, but perhaps simply for the reason that this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. But even so, it doesn’t address the holes that allowed such a crime to happen in the first place. Apparently the company still won’t connect hosts and guests until the last minute (presumably so the two parties won’t cut the company out of the loop and complete the transaction separately). And while hosts may think this delay means the company is at least doing a cursory background check on guests, this isn’t the case — and there’s no mention of any changes to this policy anywhere.

Admitting mistakes is big, especially in the corporate world, and I loathe to discourage the behavior, but this still left big gaping holes of risk for multitudes of Airbnb users.

What do you think? Given what has transpired, should Airbnb be forgiven? Or would other companies just take it as an example of why they should never admit mistakes? Weigh in.

[source Airbnb blog, EJRoundTheWorld]

 

 


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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