Summary: The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging by Joseph Michelli
Summary: The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging by Joseph Michelli

Summary: The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging by Joseph Michelli

Amazon did not kill the retail industry. They did it to themselves with bad customer service.

Netflix did not kill Blockbuster. They did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees.

Uber did not kill the taxi business. They did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and fare control.

Apple did not kill the music industry. They did it themselves by forcing people to buy entire albums.

Airbnb did not kill the hotel industry. They did it to themselves with limited availability and pricing options.

Technology by itself isn’t the real disruptor. Not being a human is the biggest threat to any business. The Airbnb Way is for anyone who wants to create meaningful and profitable human experiences – whether they’re delivered in the context of employment, entrepreneurship or a personal life. The Airbnb Away shares five essential concepts that underpin outstanding Airbnb experiences:

  1. Belonging: Creating a world where everyone can feel they belong anywhere
  2. Trust: Challenging fears of ‘stranger danger’ and enabling people to experience the basic trustworthiness of others
  3. Hospitality: Helping people deliver ‘service with heart’
  4. Empowerment: Activating people to achieve economic and interpersonal goals
  5. Community: Making positive contribution to others


Concept #1 Belonging

Make it a people business

The leaders at Airbnb studied human nature, sought partnerships with industry thought leaders and change agents. They listened to their stakeholders well enough and articulated the ‘why’ – to create a world where everyone can belong anywhere.

Those leaders also created a sense of ‘purposeful urgency’ for the vision and communicated the vision so effectively using the multitude of engagement methods. They held themselves accountable for bringing their vision come to life and for those they served, including employees, hosts and guests.

When Airbnb leaders were presented with data that showed inconsistent community behavior with their vision, they sought consultation and put policies in place to change the course. When they see violations of the community surface, they evaluate the situation and take swift actions to make it right.

“The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.” – Dean Ornish, physician and researcher

Create belonging

Mindsets are shaped by an individual’s personality as well as life events and environment in which they adapt. Developing a service-oriented mindset can lead to happiness, longevity, a greater sense of purpose, profits, customer retention and referrals.

At its core, empathy is an awareness of the emotional state of others. Empathy involves assuming the frame of reference of other people so you can understand their feelings at a particular moment.

Research suggests within the first ten seconds of arriving at a retail store, customers are deciding if they’ll leave or stay. If they aren’t greeted warmly in a short time, the chances are high they’ll pivot and go. First impressions do matter, and customers expect to be greeted promptly.  It’s difficult for customers to feel they belong to your company if you don’t prepare for their arrival. Enthusiasm and attention to details should be your number one priority.


Concept #2 Trust

Design for trust and safety

Stephen Covey describes trust as an actionable asset that can be created. Joe Gebbia, Airbnb founder, talks about trust as something Airbnb has designed. In his famous TED talk, Joe Gebbia elaborates ‘stranger danger’ thinking and sets the stage for Airbnb’s driving question “Is it possible to design for trust?”

If you’re optimizing for speed, you’ll remove user effort whenever possible. But Airbnb designs and optimizes for trust. As such, Airbnb requires their hosts to upload pictures of their profile. Airbnb also understands reputation systems play a crucial role when designing for trust. With that in mind, they optimized for trustworthiness of ratings and mitigated likely biases.

Safety is a primary human need and is an essential ingredient to maintain trust. Where possible, safety should be designed into online and offline interactions. Offer tools to your team and your customers to say vigilant for their own safety.

Practice helpful disclosure

Jeff Bezos believes “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things as well.” While exaggerated marketing claims can favorably affect brand perceptions, questionable claims often cite the wrath of customers across the Internet when your promises aren’t met. In fact, customers have become cynical enough about brand promises that they’ll pay a premium when they find a brand they can trust.

Truth equals trust and reputation. And your reputation is everything in business. Instead of selling the fantasy, describe and inform the truth. Think of marketing the way you would think of dating. Present yourself at your best but no better than you are. Too much makeup can backfire later in the relationship.

“Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice.”


Concept #3 Hospitality

Be a host

Hosting has been around for many decades and will likely be for many more. Hosting is resistant to technological disruption. Basic hosting drives satisfaction. Basic hosting plus emotional engagement drives loyalty and referrals.

Customer expectations for service response have greatly increased,  prompting a need to measure and drive accountability for responsive communication, while maintaining ‘service with heart’.

The best service companies often share their optimal customer experience (their ‘way we serve’ statement) and help everyone in their teams to understand how they can and should deliver that experience for every customer, every time.

Think magical and memorable

“Sometimes you’ll never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss

Most customers calculate the cost of an experience based on how much money they pay as well as how much time and effort they spend to receive their expectations.

Excellency in customer experience requires taking care of customer communication needs and service requests even before they have a chance to worry.  Jim Rohn advised “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.” Great service brands do more than wish for improvements, wisdom or skills. They take actions. As Jeff Bezos put it, “Customers don’t need to call you, they don’t need to talk to you. It just works.”


Concept #4 Empowerment

Maximize impact

Millennials are showing significantly increased interest in causes that stand for minority, marginalized or disenfranchised groups of people. And they’re most interested in causes that prompt equity, equality and opportunity. A focus on profits can overshadow the importance of a company acting for the social good. For Airbnb and their people, it’s about democratizing capitalism and creating economic opportunities for the middle class. 

Claim and share your value

Knowledge must be acted upon or shared for its full power to be realized. Everyone in business can transfer knowledge, which eventually creates value for customers. Knowledge can be mobilized and shared in various ways, including classroom training, hands-on sessions, blogs, podcasts, articles or knowledge  bases.

When shared thoughtfully, information is either a product by itself or a substantial value-added benefit- Well-crafted information at the right place at the right time can significantly reduce customer effort.


Concept #5 Community

Serve your neighbor

Leaders must position their businesses in the direction of sustainable consumption that minimizes the environmental impact of a business while maintaining economic viability. Likewise, they must position their companies to bring competencies that innovatively address disaster situations.

Consider forming partnerships with your customers that leave your community better from the collective effort you form. Above all, focus on leaving an impact well beyond your community that transcends borders and continents. 

Our goodness

“Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it’s about how we treat people.” – Dennis Prager

Leadership is about accepting responsibility for the rights that individuals and businesses enjoy. It’s also about demonstrating moral courage to step into the public arena when necessary. As Denis Leary said, “Crisis doesn’t create character;  it reveals it.” Think about the last time you saw a community crisis. How did you respond to it?

A company isn’t a mere collection of products and buildings. The essence of a company lies in the willingness of leaders and frontline workers to open their hearts to those they serve. You can make your home a haven for both the friend and the stranger. So, why wouldn’t you do the same with your business?

“Consider the earth to be but one country, and humankind its citizens. All people are created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” 

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