New study offers guidance to hotel managers concerned about responding to online reviews, pospective consumers have difficulty interpreting mixed online reviews and negative reviews of a hotel are the least trusted as readers assume that reviewers may be unreasonably retaliating against a company.
Most online hotel reviews mean nothing to future customers, according to new Macquarie University research published in the Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management. The research found positive reviews could hold the most weight with those reading reviews, with review readers virtuously discounting mixed and negative reviews.
Author and lecturer at Macquarie’s Department of Marketing, Dr Shahin Sharifi, looked into the influence of positive, negative, and mixed reviews on prospective hotel customers, finding that people struggle to interpret and evaluate mixed reviews. As a result, people tend to place greater weight on purely positive or negative reviews, and the positive reviews have the most influence.
However, when a hotel offered a “100% satisfaction guarantee”, mixed reviews became the most trusted, as customers considered the guarantee a signal that positive pieces in a mixed review should be weighed more heavily than negative pieces.
“In today’s interconnected world, where more bookings are made online than ever before, customer reviews can make or break a business,” said Dr Sharifi.
“Understanding the impact of positive, negative, and mixed reviews on their business is crucial for a hotel manager, particularly as managers are spending more time than ever responding to online reviews. Our findings suggest much of this time may be in vain.”
For hotel managers, these findings show that a satisfaction guarantee has no effect on whether a potential customer makes a booking; so instead of expending resources on a satisfaction guarantee, managers should focus primarily on improving the customer experiences. If not offering a satisfaction guarantee, managers should prioritise responding to mixed reviews over others.
“For hoteliers, the most important thing is to focus on providing a good service to customers rather than guaranteeing it,” added Dr Sharifi.
“Positive reviews influence prospective customers more than any other so, as you would expect, to drive future bookings it is best to have as many good reviews as possible. Following that, it is important to respond to mixed reviews as quickly as possible.
“This research provides a solid, analytical foundation from which hotel managers can look to attract more customers from online booking services going forward. Understanding your customer is the key to success!”
In a particularly interesting finding, it is postulated that due to the positive correlation between aversion to uncertainty - a key reason why mixed reviews are discounted according to the research - and conservatism, if a hotel is in a more conservative voting area it is more important to respond to mixed reviews quickly – as this will lessen the negative aspect of the mixed reviews.
Further, if a hotel is in a conservative area, or attracts guests from a disproportionally conservative area, and has a high number of mixed reviews it would be beneficial to give a satisfaction guarantee to offset the population’s latent need for cognitive closure.
Sharifi, S. Examining the impacts of positive and negative online consumer reviews on behavioral intentions: Role of need for cognitive closure and satisfaction guarantees. Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management, October 2018. doi: 10.1080/19368623.2019.1531804