Facebook as a Customer Service Channel

Recently I was asked by a local charity (Clanmil Housing Association) to deliver some social media training. That’s not something I normally do, mainly because I don’t believe in charging people hundreds of pounds to show them how to set up a social media channel. That information is available for free all over the internet.

But I said yes to this particular request because the topic was more specific than that - how to use Facebook for Customer Service.


Social Customer Service

Now this is something I can appreciate needs some training! And with years of Voluntary Sector experience behind me, I felt I could bring good and bad examples to the table to help prepare the team for the introduction of this new channel.

And that’s all it is; a new channel. When you’re training a table of people who normally man hotlines/emails and carry out community liaison work, they don’t need to be shown what to say, how to say it or when, in the face of complaints or questions.

Understandably, however, they might question why Facebook of all places would be the appropriate base from which to communicate their answers. Yet the number one social networking site is fast-becoming the go-to destination for customers needing assistance, and indeed for more generic searches (as it works to overtake Google as the world’s leading search engine).

With the changes in Facebook timeline algorithms to aid the company’s advertising revenue strategy, Digital Marketers have long admitted that it is no longer an effective selling tool (without ad budget). Add to that the fact that research shows approximately three-quarters of everybody that follows a business on Facebook is a current or former customer of that company, and you can see that this is where your bread and butter is - your existing customer base.

Of course managing a Facebook Brand Page will involve elements outside those we’re used to dealing with on our personal profiles, but that is not a reason to fear its introduction in your business! The basic areas to watch for customer service opportunities are:

  • Visitor Posts - When people write on your wall but it stays removed from obvious view on the side of your page unless you choose to share it. The ability to allow these can be turned off in Settings but you wouldn’t advise that because people will turn to…
  • Reviews - Like TripAdvisor, people can rate you in star format and leave a comment. However unlike Visitor Posts, Reviews are more visible especially on mobile browsing and can’t be as easily removed.  Of course if you use Apps/Call To Action buttons at the top of your page you’ll be hoping most people reach for the obvious and…
  • Messages - Send a private message through to an inbox, much like emails, that can be read by all your Page Admins and responded to 24-7 through notifications and the Pages App for phones.


The Key To Online Customer Service

TRANSPARENCY: A fancy management jargon term that basically means being open and honest! But how does it work in practice?

  1. Well you could take an overall approach on your timeline of less broadcasting “at” your audience and asking more questions “of” your audience. That shows you’re open to feedback and you’re initiating said feedback when you’re ready, not waiting for it to happen on a Saturday night when your staff aren’t at their desks. Equally, use opening hours and message “away” status to advertise prominently to customers when they can’t expect a quick reply.
  2. You could do something as small as asking all customer service staff to sign-off their posts and messages with their first names. It doesn’t breach any data protection rules and actually benefits your company in terms of tracking ongoing issues (enabling quick checking for status updates from the appropriate departments) as well as breaking the anonymity of the internet and immediately personalising the interactions. This lowers the guard of the angry customer and helps to humanise your staff.
  3. And the one everyone forgets - in times of crisis, update social first. Yes, first. I’ve sat around many management tables and talked through crisis plans which inevitably leave a Facebook status post at the bottom of the to-do list. If there’s an issue, go public, even if only to admit you’re aware of it and figuring out what to do next. Direct people to your desired contact method at the time and show you care for anyone affected.


Managing Negativity On Brand Facebook Pages

So if Facebook makes for such a good customer service channel why aren’t more people using it? Because most organisations fear the “scourge of the internet” when it comes to opening up Facebook as a feedback channel for service users: negativity.

If you choose to hide behind the office sofa, the fact remains that whether you’re in the nasty conversation or not, it will still be happening. My advice would always be to make sure you’re there to see it and address it or, better still, direct the conversation to a place where you’re in control (like your Facebook Page) where you can manage it, address untruths, stop issues spiralling, and enforce your own House Rules/Page Guidelines.

Bearing in mind the old adage still applies - “the customer is always right” - you will more often than not simply be answering questions or apologising to genuine complaints, directing people away from public view to exchange personal information where you can investigate, explain and escalate, all the while showing empathy and a human touch.

You may sometimes come across offensive language, data protection breaches, inappropriate imagery, staff threats and other such horribleness. That is the reality of both customer service and the internet. At least on your Facebook Page you make the rules, and if they don’t play by the rules then you have the right to delete their content and even ban repeat offenders from your page.

But the comforting message (to management in particular) is that the majority of what you will do on Facebook is produce content that is informative, helpful, engaging or even entertaining. You will answer questions, you will address complaints, you will keep customers, and doing all of this in public view may even endear and entice new customers to you, as opposed to the good work of your support staff going unnoticed.

And through your content you can address concerns in a positive way, like the examples below - advertising waiting times publicly, showcasing community work, highlighting the human stories behind your staff, publicising new initiatives or services, or other wider-but-related helpful advice for customers (in this case, weather warnings and energy saving tips for housing tenants).

So go forth, and Facebook-prosper!

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