BOSTON: Online consumer reviews inevitably include some that are negative and potentially damaging to a brand’s reputation, but new research has found that a swift response from management can actually boost average online ratings.

That is according to an in-depth examination of tens of thousands of hotel reviews and responses from TripAdvisor that was conducted by two academics, who state that replying to customer reviews results in better ratings.

Davide Proserpio, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, and Giorgos Zervas, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Boston University Questrom School of Business, explained their findings in an article for Harvard Business Review.

Most people will be aware that TripAdvisor uses a star-based review scale from 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent), but what is perhaps less well known is that the website rounds average ratings to the nearest half star.

Proserpio and Zervas found that roughly one-third of reviews in their study received a response, and nearly half of all hotels responded to reviews.

But analysis of these responses showed that when hotels start responding they received 12% more reviews and their ratings increased on average by 0.12 stars.

Therefore, a hotel with a rating of 4.26 stars would be rounded up to 4.5, while a hotel with 4.24 stars would be rounded down to 4.

“Even small changes can have a significant impact on consumers’ perceptions,” they wrote. “Approximately one-third of the hotels we studied increased their rounded ratings by half a star or more within six months of their first management response.”

They also found that consumers who had read past management responses were less likely to leave short reviews than consumers who had not. As a result, once hotels started responding, they experienced a sharp drop in the rate of short negative reviews.

“While negative reviews are unavoidable, our work shows that managers can actively participate in shaping their firms’ online reputations,” said Proserpio and Zervas.

“By monitoring and responding to reviews, a manager can make sure that when negative reviews come in – as they inevitably will – they can respond constructively and maybe even raise their firm’s rating along the way.”

Sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by WARC staff