CATONSVILLE, Md. — If you’re a business on the quest to achieving a five-star rating, actively engaging with people who leave online reviews might be the best way to get there, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Southern California and Boston University looked at tens of thousands of hotel reviews and establishment responses on the travel site TripAdvisor, where nearly one-third of reviews are replied to by businesses.

Person using a laptop
A new study finds that responding to online reviews decreases the chances of customers posting complaints and leads to higher ratings for businesses.

Responding to reviews led to a gain in both the quantity and quality of appraisals — 12 percent more reviews came in, and the average rating of a given hotel increased by 0.12 stars.

While such an increase in stars may seem modest, ratings tend to show little variance once a significant number of reviews have been filed, the researchers note.

“Our results suggest that signaling to consumers that managers care about their feedback is a good strategy that can boost review volume and ratings,” says co-author Davide Proserpio in a press release.

In search of the true reason behind more favorable review patterns, the researchers found that people who knew their comments would be read by management or ownership led customers to simply feel less inclined to leave negative comments.

“In the end, what we discovered is that when managers read and respond to reviews, unsatisfied consumers become more hesitant to leave unsubstantiated complaints, hence directly leading to high ratings,” explains Georgios Zervas, the study’s other co-author. “It is almost like someone is looking behind your shoulder when you are writing a negative review.”

Meanwhile, those who were truly dissatisfied tended to provide more detailed and helpful feedback, even if it was critical, to responsive businesses.

“This is an interesting trade-off for managers: fewer negative ratings at the cost of more detailed negative feedback,” concludes Proserpio. “While this may hurt in the short run, it is a valuable source of feedback that business can act upon to fix problems and avoid future negative reviews.”

The study’s findings were published last month in the journal Marketing Science.

About Daniel Steingold

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