Understanding how to respond to online reviews is essential for businesses across all industries. Indeed, 89% of consumers read business responses to online reviews. How should manager responses differ for positive and negative reviews? How does manager response time impact online reputation? Should manager response times differ for positive and negative reviews? While some online platforms, like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google, offer managers general guidance on how to respond to online reviews, answering these questions has — until now — been far from easy.
To help managers responsible for responding to customer reviews, we examined more than 20 million online reviews across four different platforms: TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com, and Orbitz. Based on the analyses of the length and the content of manager responses for each online review, we offer five principles that can enhance online reputation regardless of platform.
Principle 1. Address a positive online review by providing a generic, short response.
Surprisingly, we found that managers need to be careful even when responding to positive reviews. While a simple “thank you” had little impact, more customized responses — perceived as promotional and thus viewed as disingenuous — negatively affected future reviews.
Principle 2. Delay responses for positive reviews.
Furthermore, managers can mitigate the negative effect of response time by delaying responses to positive reviews until after the review reaches the second page of reviews (for example, TripAdvisor shows 10 reviews per page). The delayed response allows the positive review to be buried behind newer reviews (all platforms in our sample automatically sort reviews from newest review to oldest review and are not bumped up after a manager response). By doing so, managers obtain any direct, positive effects from thanking a reviewer without negatively influencing future reviewers.
Principle 3. Respond to all negative online reviews.
Negative online reviews impact buying decisions and potentially lead to some consumers avoiding some businesses entirely. To reduce the damaging effects of negative online reviews and the potential loss of a significant share of customers, we find that managers should engage in responding to an online review primarily as a complaint management strategy. A manager’s response to a negative online review potentially prevents a subsequent negative review, because a future reviewer can observe prior complaint management interactions for a complaint similar to their own.
Principle 4. Address a negative online review by providing a tailored solution to the specific complaint.
Additionally, managers should customize their response to each negative review to increase the quality of their complaint management. Specifically, managers should communicate actions they have taken to rectify the problem(s) expressed in each negative review. By addressing the reviewer’s issue, the manager can potentially appease an unsatisfied customer and show subsequent reviewers that the firm cares about customer complaints and issues. Thus, an organization can proactively manage service recovery efforts.
Principle 5. Respond quickly to all negative reviews.
Finally, manager responses to negative reviews should be timely, so that a manager’s response is visible to future reviewers. The faster the manager responds to a negative online review, the faster the reviewer is appeased and prospective reviewers can see that the manager and the firm are dedicated to solving customer complaints in a timely fashion.
Mitigate the bad, maximize the good.
While in our analyses, both independent and chain businesses benefited from the strategies outlined above, chain businesses saw the most lift from using it. Why? Customers expect independent businesses to interact more with them and they are not surprised when they receive a response to their comment. Indeed, our analyses shows that responding to reviews in the manner we suggest doesn’t improve an independent company’s reputation, while it does for chain businesses. Still, following these steps are important for both independent and chain businesses because responding to reviews is not just about improving reputation, but limiting potential damage.
In an age where customer word of mouth can quickly go viral, these five principles provide a proactive approach to service recovery efforts by placing more emphasis on manager responses to negative reviews, which helps mitigate potential future negative reviews and maximize the benefits of positive reviews.
Source: Harvard Business Review