Responding to reviews: lessons from a decade of management responses

It has been already 10 years since TripAdvisor launched the ability for hoteliers to give a management response to reviews. In 2012 the number of management responses on the world’s largest review site still doubled compared to the year before. No less than 1 out of 4 reviews on TripAdvisor can expect a personal response from a manager. According to the majority of the portal’s visitors seeing these responses improve their impression of a hotel and make them believe a hotel cares about its guests.

A tripadvisor response of a hotelier

How to react?

The web is awash with tips and tricks on how to respond to reviews as a manager and TripAdvisor’s own ‘how-to’ guide totals no less than 6 pages. No shortage of inspiration apparently, but what is really working for hoteliers? The absence of scientific research on on the influence of responding to user reviews stands in sharp contrast with the great number of articles that has been published on the influence of user reviews itself. This has motivated the researchers of the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research to perform a first explorative study to on responding to online reviews. Together with the anniversary of this functionality on TripAdvisor we thought it would be useful to elaborate on the outcomes of this research in this blogpost.

Professional background of responder influences frequency

The study shows that in general hotels are taking lots of different approaches to respond to reviews, sometimes even within the same brand families. Some hotels respond to every single review, others just respond to extreme ones and some just never respond. What influences hotel mangers to decide to respond or not? According to Cornell’s researchers this is caused by differences in perception of the accuracy of online reviews. Hoteliers that respond frequently state that the reviews accurately reflect an average stay at their property. Hoteliers that respond less frequent support the view that that online reviews only represent extreme positive or negative perspectives. The differences in perceptions of accuracy among people who respond seem to be related to differences in their professional background in data analytics: managers with a background in data analytics, online marketing, and hotel administration tend to react more frequent than those with a background in journalism and PR. Are you paying attention recruiters?

Problem-solving & strategic approach

The research distincts two distinct, but not mutually exclusive, approaches in responding to online hotel reviews:

  • First of all there is the problem-solving approach: reviews are seen as a mechanism for resolving complaints as any other, in the quickest, most efficient and discrete way possible. The goal of this approach is managing the hotel’s reputation by allowing unsatisfied guests to vent their complaints and show them that corrective actions are being taken.
  • Another more sophisticated way to respond to reviews is the strategic approach: this approach uses online review responses to engage with guests in a relationship. Review information is really being used as input to improve the hotel operations and sometimes even linked to performance measures; a successful co-creation of value between the guest and the hotel. According to the research hotels focussing on the strategic approach respond more frequent to reviews in general, and also relatively more often to positive reviews.

What can we conclude?

We can say that, despite the feature has been been around for a decade, there are still lots of differences in how hotels respond to reviews. The person responsible for the responses, as well as the company’s internal communication style with respect to online reviews. The majority of guests however seem to appreciate a response of a hotelier. Combined with previous Cornell research that found a positie relationship between review scores and hotel revenue we would advise every hotelier to respond to reviews carefully and consistent. But think carefully on what kind of person to hire to do this.

The Olery Review Sites Database gives an overview of all review sites that allow management to repond.

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