Less than two weeks ago, red-hot startup Airbnb got rocked by a wave of negative press after one of its guests blogged about the traumatizing experience of coming home to her apartment to find it utterly wrecked by a guest.
Airbnb’s initial response was lackluster at best. But after a couple of false starts, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote an unconditional apology that reaffirmed that the company understood the concerns and was going to do everything it could to make things right. He promised a $50,000 insurance guarantee for hosts, as well as additional safety features that were on the way. And a week after that apology, we’re seeing the fruits of their efforts.
Today Airbnb has announced a new 24-hour support hotline, giving users a safety net in case something goes wrong. The logistics and personnel required to staff the line would have been too costly for a scrappy startup, but the extremely well-funded company can afford it, and this will do a lot to help reassure customers.
Another important new feature to help boost safety is VoiceConnect, which now allows hosts to call potential guests to do a quick screen, without revealing their phone numbers. This works a bit like Google Voice — you initiate the call using the web interface, then immediately get a phone call from Airbnb, which routes you to the potential guest’s line. Calls are recorded by Airbnb for security purposes.
Next is an improved references system. This has been around for a while (as ‘recommendations’), but Airbnb now has better integration with Facebook that makes it easier for users to build up their reputation even before they’ve received reviews from other Airbnb users. And that’s important, because the service is young enough that many users are trying it out for the first time. Another addition: there are now video profiles — currently for hosts only — that let hosts create a video that’s shared as part of their listing.
These launches come on the heels of a series of other safety features that have rolled out over the course of the last week. These include member verification (you can validate your profile by connecting it to third-party services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and an integrated ‘photobooth’ feature that makes it easier for members to take a snapshot of themselves (and gives them less of an excuse not to have one).
Finally, in a blog post on August 5, Airbnb announced that it was using a tool on its new safety site that allows the community to vote on the changes it wants most. Less than five days after releasing that tool, Airbnb implemented the top two requests: it now allows hosts to mandate that all potential guests have a profile photo, and hosts can now decline reservations without that impacting where their space will appear in search results. The post explains that while it’s been possible to decline reservations before now, your results ranking would be negatively impacted if you rejected a reservation.