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Airbnb CEO on 'most bizarre' customer complaint to date—it involves a ghost named Stanley

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky at The New York Times Dealbook event on November 6, 2019.
Credit: Mike Cohen/ The New York Times

Since launching Airbnb in 2008, CEO Brian Chesky has pretty much heard and seen it all when it comes to customer complaints.

But one stands out as the most bizarre.

"One day, a customer calls us and says they want a full refund. We say, 'why do you want a full refund?' They said because the house is haunted and there's a ghost," Chesky said at The New York Times DealBook event on Nov. 6.

As with any other complaint, Chesky's team called the hosts to relay the message and find out what happened. Chesky said he expected the hosts to say there was no ghost and that would be the end of it. But that's not what happened.

"The host confirms the ghost [but] says that it's a friendly ghost named Stanley and that the ghost is in its listing description," Chesky said.

Sure enough after reading the listing, Stanley "the ghost" was mentioned, Chesky said.

"So we go back to the guests and the guest says, 'Yes, we knew about Stanley. That's why we booked it, but Stanley has been harassing us all night,'" Chesky told the crowd at DealBook. They were upset he wasn't a friendly ghost. "How do you adjudicate that?" Chesky said. (He didn't say whether the guests received a refund.)

For Chesky, the story is not just funny, it also illustrates that in today's sharing economy, where businesses are built on trust — Airbnb only works if people are willing to trust their homes to complete strangers — companies need to be flexible and open to a wide range of issues.

"There is no playbook for this stuff," he said.

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