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Should you respond to online reviews?


You’ve logged onto your Booking.com portal only to see that a recent customer has left you a mixed review. They liked your hotel but thought the staff wasn’t very welcoming. Your first instinct is to respond to the customer to thank them for their feedback and to apologise for any issues they faced. But is that the wisest decision? Do you have a policy that guides your hotel staff on how to respond to online customer complaints?


The general rule of online commerce is not to anger the customer as negative reviews are public for the world to see, and hell for a hotel hath no fury as a customer scorned. Satisfied customers are less likely to sing and dance loudly compared to a dissatisfied customer. Online platforms like TripAdvisor actively encourage hotel owners to respond to all types of feedback and even offer tips and suggestions on how to respond.


Analysis by the Harvard Business Review from earlier this year suggests that replying to reviews results in better ratings. HBR examined tens of thousands of hotel reviews and responses from TripAdvisor, which uses a review scale from 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent). By analysing management responses, HBR found that when hotels start responding, they receive 12% more reviews and their rating increase, on average, by 0.12 stars. While the increase may seem tiny, remember that TripAdvisor rounds average ratings to the nearest half star: A hotel with a rating of 4.26 stars will be rounded up to a 4.5, while a hotel with 4.24 stars will be rounded down to a 4. Therefore, even small changes can have a significant impact on consumers’ perceptions. Approximately one-third of the hotels HBR studied increased their rounded ratings by half a star or more within six months of their first management response.


HBR commented, “If the consumer notices a manager responding to past reviews, they might decide not to leave a trivial or unsubstantiated negative review, to avoid a potentially uncomfortable online interaction with the manager.” It found that consumers who had read past management responses were less likely to leave short reviews that consumers who had not, and consequently, once hotels started responding, they experienced a sharp drop in the rate of short negative reviews. Longer negative reviews are still written but these reviews often contained constructive feedback that could be useful to managers trying to make changes.


So yes, you should respond to online reviews, right? Well, not quite…


The results of a recent new study published in Marketing Science cautions that when managers respond to online reviews they risk triggering a large number of negative reviews. Unlike HBR’s hypothesis, when consumers believe their online reviews might have influence, they are more likely to engage in negative reviewing. “In other words, if we think our comment may influence a specific company, we are more likely to write negatively about it.”

The researchers of the study differentiate between “dynamic-quality” goods and services, such as hotel and travel/hospitality services, and “static-quality” goods and services, where the consumer experience is not as influenced by direct managerial involvement. The researchers studied online reviews of hotels and analysed reviews and data from various websites including TripAdvisor, Expedia and Hotels.com.


The summary of their research is that reviews of hotels are different from reviews of products on Amazon because they have a different audience. “In the case of static-quality goods and services, such as a review of a product purchase on Amazon, the reviewer’s audience is more than likely other consumers. But when reviewing dynamic-quality goods and services, the reviewer could be motivated by an intent to impact the manager and not just other consumers.” This means that customers are leaving reviews partly to engage with a hotel’s management team and that hotels that respond to comments are more likely to get negative reviews because negative feedback creates an impact and attracts attention.


At AP we know that there is great potential in online marketing, and its self-evident that online reviews have tremendous power to influence others to book or to avoid your hotel. Our team is happy to speak to your on how to manage your online presence to ensure that you are protecting your brand and building positive relationships with your customers.

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