By Samuel Scott
Facebook is not just for relating with friends and family – companies that operate in the B2C services sector including hotels and restaurants need to invest in the social network as part of a long-term strategy to have a feedback platform that relates with customers as well. But too many businesses are not using Facebook for customer service effectively – if at all.
Entrepreneur writer Mikal E. Belicove recently reported on a study by STELLAService that discovered that only seven out of twenty companies in its analysis answered customer-service questions on Facebook within forty-eight hours. As Brian Person rightly observes at SocialFresh:
Whenever I come across a Facebook brand Page with dozens of unanswered fan questions on the wall, I cringe. It’s the digital equivalent of walking into a retail store and not finding a single employee to help you return a previous purchase or to tell you more about a product you’re thinking of buying.
The effect of an underutilized Facebook page is even worse than that. With more and more people using mobile devices, all it takes is a few seconds for a dissatisfied customer to post something negative on Facebook (or on Twitter, Yelp, or elsewhere) that will be seen by an untold number of people. I was once in an Apple store because I was having issues with my iPhone, and the representative told that the devices do not work well with Gmail. I posted my problem on Facebook and received twenty eight posts in five minutes – two of which did solve the problem. Did Apple’s customer support come out looking good or bad?
Now, multiply my single experience by the millions of people who have tens of millions of interactions with various businesses each day. The possibility for any business to appear good or bad is enormous since social media is quickly becoming the desired point of contact between companies and consumers.
Forrester Research (via Stacey Politi in Mashable) noted that 27% of U.S. online consumers looked for customer-service support on the Internet last year and that 75% expect replies to negative comments posted on companies’ Facebook walls.
What the data reveals is that nearly all of people complaining on corporate Facebook walls are not so-called “trolls” – those who are entertained by posting inflammatory or provocative statements in various online forums. Instead, they are genuine individuals who want their real problems to be addressed. As we spend more and more time online, it is becoming easier and more preferable to send a quick note to a company’s Facebook page or Twitter account rather than wade through an extensive website or wait on hold on the telephone for an hour.
Companies ignore these inquires at their own digital peril, and too many firms are doing exactly that. For example, businesses can – and many do – delete any negative comments on their Facebook pages, but that often only results in enraged customers who will post again and again – reaching untold numbers of your fans – until they receive a response (or is banned from the page). Think about how that reflects on your business.
There are best practices for Facebook customer support, but before we go into the specific details, you first need to know the general challenges (as accurately described by Person):
- Staffing and operating your Facebook team – Most likely, your fans and customers will be located all over the country, if not the world. How will you respond to around-the-clock posts outside of normal business hours? Will the Facebook manager or a customer-support representative answer? Many companies think social media is a nine-to-five job, but what about when someone posts a message at midnight on a hot Saturday night in the summer saying that his hotel room’s air conditioner is not working? He needs a response quickly – otherwise he will think that he wasted $400 and will never return.
- Setting customer expectations – Will you respond to each and every comment directly, will you redirect inquires to a FAQ tab or e-mail address, or will you do something else entirely?
- Striking a conversational tone – How can you communicate the feeling that a real person is indeed responding to each post individually and not that the company is writing in a robotic, form-letter way?
- Communicating privately – Facebook pages cannot message fans directly unless someone e-mails the page first, so this is a challenge for businesses. How can you address individual issues whenever warranted?
- Escalating urgent questions – In a (business) emergency, how will important inquires be passed along – will the social-media or community manager alert a customer-service manager, or will the process consist of something else?
Unfortunately, there are no set answers to these challenges. Each company will – and should – develop its own strategy based on its communications objectives, available assets, and related issues. Still, once you know your general strategy, you can execute it in certain, positive ways. We have compiled some of the best practices from Mashable, Social Media Week, Econsultancy, and Entrepreneur that you may want to consider:
- Add a Facebook customer-service platform to your page that sends inquires to your CRM – a specialized application can be used to redirect posts so they do not “clog up” the Wall
- Turn “superfans” – those who participate frequently and in a knowledgeable way on the page – into “brand ambassadors” who help out other fans when they post questions
- Build an FAQ tab and place it prominently on the page (one of the boxes under the main Timeline image)
- When responding to complaints – Apologize, Acknowledge, Atone, and Affirm
- Use Facebook Questions as market research – What do people like, not like, and so on?
- Consider whether to address a specific issue in a general status update – this may stop many people from posting the same question numerous times
- Don’t forget to respond to positive comments as well
Social media is a part of public relations precisely because the online networks are yet more mediums through which companies relate to the public. Just as any business strategy will need a marketing strategy, so will a social-media strategy need to incorporate your public relations and customer-service goals.
Without such a strategic plan, your current and potential customers will likely be left with a less-than-positive view of your brand as their inquires are being either ignored or addressed in a less-than-optimal way.
Samuel Scott is Senior Director of SEO & Digital Marketing for The Cline Group. You see more of his thoughts on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Scott’s personal website is here, and he is a contributor to Moz.