Retailers have rushed to establish a presence on the social Web, seeing a new opportunity to engage with consumers on sites like Facebook. But when it comes to customer service, turns out retailers aren’t always so social.
In fact, some retailers have pushed Facebook customer service so far down their priority list that they regularly erase questions posted to their Facebook pages.
STELLAService recently tested 20 top retailers on how they conduct customer service on Facebook by posting general service questions to each retailer’s Facebook wall and within the comments section of the retailer’s own Facebook entry. STELLAService found that retailers have yet to adopt best practices for customer service on Facebook.
Of the 20 retailers measured, five failed to respond to a question posted on their wall within two days. Meanwhile, seven retailers removed the question from their wall, hiding any record that a consumer had a question.
The test revealed that the location of a customer’s inquiry on a retailer’s Facebook page makes a significant difference. Questions were more likely to be answered when they were posted directly to the retailer’s wall, rather than within the comments section of a retailer’s post.
Just seven of the 20 retailers responded to questions posted in the comments section of a post within two days, while five retailers erased the question from the comments section.
“I remember looking at the [Facebook brand page] and thinking there’s going to be a time where any company of any size is going to want to service a customer from that page,” Get Satisfaction Inc. Chief Executive Wendy Lea said. “Even if the companies are too dumb or slow to do that, customers are going to demand that they do.”
Get Satisfaction helps power online customer service communities and builds an application for conducting customer service on Facebook.
Lea said completely removing a customer’s question or comment is a frequent practice of those managing Facebook pages for brands. And, she called the practice “a crime.”
Crutchfield, which has more than 70,000 Facebook fans, performed well in the test. The company replied within an hour to questions posted as part of the survey and left the comments public. Jeff Kitchen, online community manager for Crutchfield, admitted that the company’s Facebook strategy is still being defined, but they have quickly determined the importance of communicating with customers on the social network.
“For the most part, we try to be as transparent as we can,” Kitchen said. “If you’re removing customer posts, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If customers are posting about issues, you obviously have issues. And, if you’re taking down those posts, you’re not taking care of those issues.”
Facebook has built an incredible community, but STELLAService’s test calls the bonds of that community into question when it comes to an open dialogue between companies and consumers. Most companies view their Facebook presence as a means for marketing, an approach welcomed by the business of Facebook as it moves closer to an initial public offering and becomes increasingly dependent on the money companies spend to market themselves online.
A December 2011 Forrester study sponsored by Facebook showed that 76% of marketing professionals surveyed agreed that social media is important for brand building and 72% agreed that it is important for customer loyalty. Facebook followed the study with a white paper for best practices titled “Social Business Blueprints.” The 17-page guide defines a social business as “A company that uses social media and social technology to improve core businesses processes,” including customer service.
Facebook’s recently released Timeline view for brands includes an optional Message tab that enables consumers to contact retailers directly, rather than publicly. This feature would allow customer service teams to better identify true service questions and take those conversations offline to solve the issue. But, the lack of a public post means it’s also easier for brands to ignore questions hidden from its community of followers. This could rob customers of helpful information they would have organically received from an active dialogue between the retailer and customers.
“For service and support oriented companies to open themselves up and extend themselves to their [Facebook] brand page, they would have to accept that their customers are there,” Lea said. “There are 850 million people on Facebook, so we’re there. That bus has left the station.”
The companies tested by STELLAService were a mix of brand manufacturers and multi-brand retailers – both traditional and flash sale sites – across various product categories.
Companies that failed to reply to a wall post within 48 hours included J. Crew, One Kings Lane, Radio Shack, Rue La La and Victoria’s Secret. Companies that erased a wall post, regardless of whether they answered the question, included Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Gilt.com, J. Crew, Radio Shack, Rue La La and Victoria’s Secret.
Companies that failed to answer questions posted in the comments section of their own post included Best Buy, Bose, Brooks Brothers, Cooking.com, Fab.com, Foot Locker, Gap, Gilt.com, J. Crew, One Kings Lane, Radio Shack, Sur La Table and Victoria’s Secret.
Five companies responded, but immediately deleted the post. And, five companies failed to respond at all. In terms of speed, B&H Photo was the top performer, answering a question on their wall within two minutes.
STELLAService made a wall post and a comment post to each retailer and logged the results over a 48 hour period. The inquiries were general service questions and did not require any personal or payment info to be sourced or confirmed.
STELLAService Chief Executive Jordy Leiser said the test reveals a great opportunity for online retailers.
“There’s no doubt that retailers are receiving questions from customers on Facebook,” Leiser said. “The questions we asked as part of this test were often stacked on top of other questions from customers. Someone is going to differentiate by going above and beyond with customer service on Facebook, and they will win sales and loyalty as a result.”