Can a change in policy change the customer experience?

Sometimes, making customer experiences better can also make the world better. Here’s how one leading brand is trying.

The subject line of an email this morning said “Discrimination and Belonging: What it Means to You”. I thought it was a political headline designed to sway my vote given the headline-grabbing nature of this year’s presidential race.

Airbnb was the sender, so I checked it out. Here’s the email where Airbnb introduces its ‘Community Commitment.’



One way to look at it: a forced-upon-its-customers policy that requires users to contractually agree to be non-discriminatory in their selection and treatment of guests staying at their properties. It’s not a corporation’s place to legislate morality.

Another way to look at it: Airbnb is using its brand to wreak positive change in the world.


cvs-logoThere’s precedent for that. CVS Health Corporation stopped selling tobacco products in 2014 to the dismay of shareholders but the applause of health care and insurance professionals. Sales dropped, yet share prices rose from the $80’s to the $100’s over the next eleven months.




The bottom line? Well, there are two bottom lines. Profits dropped temporarily but the quality of life for many improved permanently. People smoked 95 million fewer packs of cigarettes that year. As a result of decreased access, it’s quite possible that fewer people started smoking, some people stopped smoking, and more smokers reduced their usage.

In my opinion, CVS’s change in its customer experience is making the world a better place. After all, CVS is a health care company, not a health degrading company.

Airbnb’s no-discrimination policy allows their marketers to more carefully define their core customers. Also, Community Commitment as a brand policy may actually heighten the customer experience. Here’s how: In conversations among Airbnb suppliers and users who meet face-to-face after November 1st, the values will probably be a frequent topic of conversation, maybe even an ice-breaker. I suspect that as people of different backgrounds and interests connect more frequently and share more deeply with each other, they will feel safer and more comfortable. Over time, the promise of fair and welcoming treatment will become a valued expectation of the Airbnb-branded experience.

Will it work and what will the outcomes of this change in policy be? Does Airbnb need to put more teeth into this policy by adding non-discrimination into its ratings? As a pioneer and trusted authority by many in the experience design and brand narrative spaces, I sense that Airbnb is going to slightly reduce its customer count but heighten their sense of community and add to the customer’s sense of value received in millions of customer experiences. In the next 2-4 years, the Airbnb brand will become stronger and, through more authentic supplier-user interactions, it will earn even greater awareness.

The bottom line: Airbnb’s value will rise morally and financially. In this advisor’s opinion, that’s really good experience and business design—at the same time and for the right reasons. Using one design to achieve two positive outcomes is smart business and elegant strategy.

You can read more about Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy here:

Mike Wittenstein advises retail and hospitality leaders on how changes to their customer experiences can positively affect their brand narratives and their bottom lines. He is the managing partner at Storyminers, a design pioneer and developer of unique methods and tools for enhancing front-line customer experiences.


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About the Author

During 25 years in 25 countries with 400+ companies, Mike and his clients have co-created over $1.5 billion in measurable impact with his guidance on their experience and business designs . Under the Storyminers brand, he helps retailers design and deploy Store-of-the-Future initiatives that create new business opportunities and rekindle investor interest. Mike is a top 25 customer experience influencer (as ranked by SAP and MindTouch), a global speaker, and founding member of Global CX Panel and the CXPA.