We’ve all been there: An Uber driver pulls something shady, or ignores the GPS, or just talks to you at length about his cult leader and how he thinks you’d really enjoy being part of the farm. You get to where you’re going, you step out relieved, open the app, and promptly give the guy five stars. Why would you do that? A mix of guilt, awkwardness, and fear, according to a new study.
NYU’s Apostolos Filippas and John Horton studied what happens with feedback under two circumstances: One where the person getting those stars sees the rating, and one where they don’t. In the latter circumstance, people are a lot more honest, usually giving workers an average of 3.7 stars or so. But the minute the workers could see the rating, it went up to nearly five stars on average. Why?
Interviews with those doling out the ratings found it was a mixture of guilt and concern. They didn’t think their experience was bad enough to put the employee’s job at risk, or they were worried the employee would be angry at them and possibly retaliate. Basically, we’ll rip on a product or an app for days, because we’re not worried about it punching us in the face or stalking us at work. Well, maybe Facebook. But the point is, objects don’t have feelings, people do, and we’re inclined not to wound those feelings unless we’ve got no other choice.
This is particularly intense in apps like Uber, where drivers rank the customers as well, so the potential for mutually assured destruction is fairly high. You’re forced to wonder what the precise goal is, here. Do these apps want exacting, useful feedback to refine their apps and keep the best people? Or do they want us to rubber-stamp their drivers so they don’t have to do any actual management? Or perhaps they’re hoping you’ll feel bad ripping on the app for bad design? Either way, the next time you feel pressured to give a bad experience five stars, visit the app store and strike a star off the app’s rating. Hey, it’s not like Uber’s CEO is going to come to your house and punch you over a rating.