The New York Times recently published an article spotlighting a group that is writing software to determine which content on review sites is legitimate and which is fraudulent. The article states that many leading review sites are interested in learning how this software can help them to weed out bad reviews; making one wonder if they’re suddenly showing concern after their hands were in the cookie jar for so long?

Clearly, a paid review lacks validity, but he concern with the legitimacy and utility of reviews should not simply be limited to the fact that the writer may not be an actual customer. Those reviews that are from authentic customers are just as concerning as they’re the result of a flawed system. What the current review system lacks more than authenticity is relevancy.

Review sites don’t guarantee that customers are at a store when writing, result in reviews that typically are submitted far after the fact and thus failing to carry the same relevance that they potentially could. I have a hard enough time remembering what I had for dinner last night. How can I review a restaurant that I was at 3 weeks ago and pass on details that other customers will find important. Therein lies the case for reviews to become more relevant. Heat of the moment feedback from customers that are physically at a business is truly the only way to ensure that all the information an outside consumer needs to make a decision is provided.

Businesses depend on reviews as a means to give customers assurance and help them to make more informed decisions. What the system has further neglected is the necessity for businesses to be able to respond to these reviews. Active engagement with reviewing customers allows the businesses’ service and personality to be put on display, thus benefitting both the consumers who see how a business is to work with, and also the business as the great service that they hopefully provide is put on display. The failure of systems to provide businesses a chance to respond is short-changing the consumer of what is truly important to them – the chance to improve their own personal experience.

Case in point. In instances where a customer has a negative review, businesses should be able to capitalize on the emotion of the reviewer, and help them in such a way that their purely negative emotion can become purely positive – benefitting the business by creating advocates and fans of the brand who will be walking, talking advertisements. Why? Because the customer is first directly able to improve THEIR experience. It’s an empowering tool for consumers to get what’s really important to them.

It’s clear that the review system as we know it is flawed, and that it’s a largely untapped medium for retention and customer-focused practices. Software to detect real vs. fake reviews is simply a band-aid on a larger problem.