Apps Cause Confusion with Customer Ratings

On rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber as well as platforms like Airbnb, customers are encouraged to rate their overall experience out of five stars. The general goal of these ratings is to inform both the company and future customers about an individual’s performance on the job. After all, if an Uber driver keeps their car dirty or swerves all over the road, then the rider can leave a low rating to reflect their subpar experience. Then again, that’s how the system is supposed to work in theory. In practice, people are often reluctant to leave less than five stars on an app, regardless of whether or not they received good service.

For example, New Yorker Mike Johnson claims he’s been on his fair share of awkward Uber rides: one where the driver argued with their significant other over the phone, another where the driver tried to sell him a Ponzi scheme. In each case, however, he rated the experience 5 out of 5 stars. “I mean, they all seemed like nice people. I didn’t want them to be kicked off the app over my bad rating,” said Johnson. “Isn’t 5 stars, like, the norm?” Many people indeed default to handing out the highest score in every instance, whether out of confusion over the definition of “5-star service” or guilt over potentially harming someone’s income.

Lyft says that drivers whose scores fall below 4.8 receive a message about improving their work performance. If their rating falls under 4.6, they risk getting deactivated entirely. “You’re probably not going to feel bad leaving a bad review for Comcast, but your Airbnb host or Uber driver—there’s a greater sense of the potentially negative impact on the person,” said Harvard Business School professor Michael Luca. By rating everyone 5 stars, though, it can create a working environment where poor performers remain stuck in bad habits while excellent employees are left unrecognized. 


  1. Why do many people leave 5-star ratings on apps like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb regardless of their experience? 
  2. How can across-the-board 5-star ratings confuse both companies and customers?

Source: Preetika Rana, “Customer Ratings Have Become Meaningless. ‘People Hand Out 5 Stars Like It’s Candy,’” The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2023.