How to best (not) reply to reviews? Part 1: a formal or an informal tone?

How to best (not) reply to reviews? Part 1: a formal or an informal tone?

We all know it: online feedback has become very important for businesses, and even more so for hotels. You often book a hotel for the first time and an overnight stay costs money. So before we book, we often read a few reviews online to find out whether a particular hotel meets our expectations: are the rooms clean and quiet, is the breakfast tasty, is the location good? Meanwhile, research has also shown that hotels are better off responding to these guest reviews publicly: this not only results in a higher rating on TripAdvisor, but also in more reviews, which are also more often positive. Definitely worth the effort!

However, it is not only important what you respond to as a hotel, but also how you do it. Service and PR research provides rather vague guidelines in this respect: reply personalised, polite, friendly, empathetic, ... All well and good, but: how exactly do you do that, through language, and how do you best vary this from situation to situation? Take the following example: a colleague at work writes you an e-mail in which you are addressed as 'you', while all other colleagues address you as 'you'. That one colleague just wants to appear polite and professional by doing so, but for you the 'you' form might be too distant or it might make you feel older than you are. So what is polite or normal according to the context for one person is not always perceived that way by another. Conclusion: finding the right tone and communication style to make a good impression with your customers is easier said than done.

This is precisely why Hotelspeaker uses two spearheads when answering reviews: emotional intelligence (sensing what is appropriate in a given situation in terms of communication style and what is not) on the one hand, and evidence-based knowledge on the other. Hotelspeaker gathers research-based knowledge by closely monitoring research that focuses on communication style in webcare - in collaboration with Ghent University. This type of research is still relatively new and is currently booming. For instance, what can we already learn from a few recent studies regarding formality: as a hotel, do you respond better in an informal or a formal tone? Informal includes, for example, the use of informal vocabulary (e.g. super), informal punctuation (e.g. !), contractions (e.g. 't), emoticons, and flooding (e.g. heeel). The results indicate: if the interactions between the hotel and customers on Facebook are light-hearted, then as a hotel you can respond informally provided they are customers who are familiar with the hotel brand. If they are not, then as a hotel you are better off responding in a formal way. However, if you want to respond to negative feedback as a hotel, it is safer to communicate rather formally anyway. Indeed, a highly informal style with emoticons and exclamation marks is perceived by customers as implausible and unprofessional in this complaint situation.


Gretry, A., Horváth, C., Belei, N., & van Riel, A.C.R. (2017). "Don't pretend to be my friend!" When an informal brand communication style backfires on social media. Journal of Business Research, 74, 77-89.

Vanden Bremt, Farah. The impact of (in)formality, hotel rating and gender on customers' perceptions and attitudes in an online complaint context. An experimental study. Ghent University, 2017.