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How Airbnb Put a Lid on Customer Service Costs

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky got some advice from Bill Gates two years ago. To be “truly great,” Mr. Gates told the Airbnb chief during a walk at the annual Sun Valley conference, the vacation rental site needed to improve its customer service, Mr. Chesky told employees in an email later.

“What struck me was how simple and obvious the advice was,” Mr. Chesky said in the email, which has been viewed by The Information. “For all you in customer experience, you are critical to these great experiences. You’re saving the day, every day. Like Batman.”

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There will be further pressure to improve service as Airbnb expands its offerings to travelers with high expectations. Recent initiatives like its new slate of tours were launched late last year. Airbnb’s acquisition of a luxury vacation rentals company, Luxury Retreats, involve more careful vetting of people and homes. The company is increasingly trying to lure business travelers, who now make up a relatively small portion of its stays.

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Mr. Tosi set about shaking things up. Managers put pressure on the in-house team to meet service goals. The company tightened the limits on how much customers could be compensated after complaining about stays.