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A+A+A+ SUPER SELLER and Other Silly Ratings
Jeff Pasternack

One of the things that’s been driving me crazy over the past 15 years is the way in which companies ask to be rated and, perhaps more importantly, how people rate customer service. A long, long time ago and in a far, far away galaxy, I worked the front desk for two hotels, Loews L’enfant Plaza and Omni Shoreham. As with any other hotel, comment cards were handed out to guests and each department was graded by customer feedback. It sounds great on the surface, but there is a flaw in these surveys and the way that they are used to evaluate staff performance.

Typical customer satisfaction survey language is based around the concept of meeting expectations. Customers are generally presented with a Lichert Scale (1-5) with 5 referring to Strongly Agree, Very Satisfied or Excellent. 1 refers to Strongly Disagree, Not At All Satisfied or Poor. 2 through 4 are, I hope, self-explanatory. So here’s the flaw.

If I stay at a Ritz Carlton Hotel and pay $350 a night, the room darn well better be spotless, have high-thread count sheets, not a single missing amenity and sterling staff performance. Guess what? If all those conditions are met, Ritz Carlton meets my expectation and I award them with 3’s across the board. When I pay top dollar, I expect top service. If I pay $89 to stay at a Holiday Inn and I find Ritz Carlton service and rooms, guess what? They get 5’s. And if the sheets aren’t so soft, the bathroom light is not so bright and the staff aren’t as polished, well…that’ll bring on the 3’s. My expectations just aren’t as high for Holiday Inn.

The problem is that the staff is punished (or isn’t rewarded) for meeting customer expectations. I’ll never forget an exchange between a front office manager and the resident manager. The resident manager said that the front office’s satisfaction ratings were only 75 and that he’d like to see them up around 85. Uninvited, I mentioned that this is an ultra-luxury hotel and that as guests expect top service, when we deliver it, the only thing that we are doing is meeting their expectation, and thus deserving of a 3. The best way to describe their pause is “pregnant.” The discussion resumed without me. But the point is valid and somehow, along the way, meeting customer expectations has become insufficient.

Before looking at eBay and Amazon, let’s review two business transactions. At 7-11, you walk in, pick out a candy bar, give the cashier $2, receive the right change back and you walk out with a yummy Zero bar. On eBay and Amazon, you go to the Web site, find what you want, pay the price, the item arrives at your door within a previously-agreed upon timeframe and in good working order. Both transactions are similar in their flawlessness.

On eBay and Amazon, in the seller review area, you find people screaming out how great the service was. It’s as if they are amazed that they could pay for a product and have it actually arrive. The most elementary aspect of business is celebrated with 5’s and AAA+++ SUPER SELLER ***RECOMMEND***. But outside 7-11, you find two scratched brown trash cans, gum-spotted sidewalks and the occasional loiterer. Not a single person jumping up and down with glee, claiming how great the service was inside.

Here is how I rate people on eBay and Amazon Shops. If the package arrived on time and in the expected condition, they get a 3 along with this comment: “Basic business transaction. I paid for a product, they sent the product and it arrived on time. Boring, basic business.” And here is an actual email response that I received from a seller: “Why did you only give me a 3? You tanked my ratings for the month!!! You’re a <slang terms referring to practicing procreation and anus removed to protect the easily-offended>!!”

To make matters more confusing, try making sense of the professional recommendation sites, such as Cnet, and then comparing the editor rating with the consumer ratings. The editor who reviewed Norton Internet Security gave it a rating of 7.6. Of 59 consumers who also ranked the product on Cnet, 80% gave it a “thumbs down.” Which begs the question: Should I value one person’s 7.6 rating over the thumbs down of 47 people?

Another problem with the rating sites is that they’re all targets for homers: people who work for the company who’s product is being reviewed. I firmly believe that the professional reviewers aren’t shills for the companies. I’m less inclined to believe that about J.D. from Seattle. Some sites let me read other reviews that J.D. has submitted, but who’s going to dig that far into it?

Speaking of rating sites, here’s one you have to check out. HotOrNot is a rather interesting site in that people submit their snapshot and everyone else rates the person’s looks on a scale of 1 to 10. If you visit this site, you’ll likely find 1’s and 10’s and every score in between. I’m not that fixated on my own looks enough to care about what other people think: I have my wife and four mistresses (right!) and I was good enough for them, so that’s good enough for me. But to submit myself to the introspection that would result from being rated a 4 when I view myself as a 10…ok, an 8…I don’t need that in my life. I suppose that this site isn’t all that different from what happens on the street, but it just seems to be so in-your-face, which is probably the idea.

That said, the ratings on are probably more reliable than those on eBay or Cnet. Rating the looks on a person is obviously subjective and tied to the reviewer’s tastes. Rating one’s experience with software is also tricky, for each computer is as unique in its quirks as are the skills of each computer user. But rating an experience from a vendor? Either your expectations were met and the product was delivered on time and in the expected condition, or it wasn’t. If it was, the experience is a 3. There’s no way anyone can honestly tell me that they go into every purchase expecting to be ripped off and that they are thrilled when they aren’t. Stop using the A+A+A+SUPER SELLER and the 5’s, unless, of course, you’re rating me on HotOrNot, in which case, 10 is the only way to go.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at