5 Challenges For Managing Customer Service On Facebook

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The Delta Assist tab helps route customer service questions from the airline's Facebook fans

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.

That’s almost unthinkable, and yet, this poor level of customer service happens all the time across Facebook, including on Pages for high-profile companies and brands.  The problem usually stems from poor operational planning and staffing coverage behind the scenes, coupled with vague communication to fans.

Is your company struggling to provide top-notch customer service to your Facebook fans? Talking through these five issues can help change that:

1. Staffing Your Facebook Team

If your Facebook Page has hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans, monitoring and responding to posts and comments from fans can quickly evolve into a multiple-person operation. How will you scale your coverage?

Like any online channel, Facebook is always “on.” Your corporate staff may work a traditional Monday-Friday, 9-5 schedule, but that won’t stop your fans from firing off a question or complaint on your Wall late in the evening or on a Sunday morning, if that’s when a problem arises or the mood strikes.

And if your company or brand has a global presence, the situation is magnified. The middle of the night in your time zone means the middle of the day on the other side of the world.

An important decision here is deciding who will take up the response duties for your Page. Is it one or more internal moderators or community managers? A subset of your traditional customer service team that has gone through additional training to interact in the more social, and public, Facebook environment? Does it makes sense to outsource at least some of the coverage to an agency partner, such as during the overnight hours and on weekends? And should that coverage mix change over time, as your fan base grows and the number of Wall posts rises exponentially?

2. Setting Expectations

Take this as a given: If your business or brand maintains a Facebook Page, at least some of your customers will go there to complain or raise some type of service issue. It’s simply not realistic to expect otherwise.

If there are reasons why you can’t or won’t respond to customer service questions on your Page — such as inadequate staffing to respond, a mismatch with your business goals and systems, or legal restrictions — you should communicate that approach to your fans up front.

Ford and jetBlue are two examples of brands that have active Facebook Pages but that make clear they won’t respond address customer service issues.

jetBlue notes on its Info tab that it will not address customer service issues

Conversely, if you do plan to answer your customers regularly, publish a note to that effect, too (You can use your “About” box on your Wall, and/or your “Info” tab). Displaying your Facebook community policies somewhere is always a good idea.

On the internal side, set targets around how quickly you intend to answer fans’ questions, when a response is warranted. For one client we work with, that’s within 30 minutes; for another, it’s up to four hours.  Some brands decide to only respond during regular business hours.

When practical, let your fans know the typical response time as well. You’ll be helping to set their expectations from the outset.

3. Striking a conversational tone

It can be a challenge for businesses and brands to find their “social voice” online, and this certainly extends to Facebook, where being naturally social and conversational is the normal behavior and expectation of users.

For your customer service efforts, this means not posting a string of repetitive, canned, and robotic responses to your fans’ personal questions. Your fans will resent it, and complain even louder. Instead, try personalizing your messages as often as possible, writing like a real human being!

As a bonus, it also helps when the tone and language of your response matches the culture and promise of your brand.

4. Communicating Privately (… it’s complicated!)

Sometimes you or the customer will want to move a personal discussion away from the public Wall to a more private, 1:1 environment. Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t make this easy to do. Unlike on Twitter, where brands can exchange direct messages from a corporate account, Facebook requires that all private messages be sent from individual Facebook profiles. This can lead to an uncomfortable situation for many customer service reps, who potentially expose their personal Facebook accounts in the process.

But short of carrying out an entire exchange exchange on the public Wall, you do have some other options:

a. Redirect the conversation. Point your fans to a tab or application that is separate from the Wall and is dedicated to accommodating more detailed customer service requests, as Delta does at “Delta Assist.” You can also share your 1-800 phone number or a Twitter account with your fans if you’re better equipped to answer them there.

b. Request an email. Respond publicly to a post/comment from your brand account, asking the customer to send a follow-up message to a particular email address and pledging a prompt, personal review and response. AT&T uses this model all the time, and brings an element of accountability by including the first name of the rep who will handle the issue.

Screenshot from an effective AT&T customer service response on Facebook

c. Use an individual business account. Some brands are setting up secondary “Joe@BrandName” personal business accounts, so that their reps can send private 1:1 messages to fans. But tread carefully here, as this approach may violate the Facebook terms of service.

5. Escalating urgent questions

Certain fan posts or comments will warrant a review and/or response from someone other than your moderators or customer service staff, such a product, PR, or marketing person.  Do you have procedures in place for escalating those requests to the appropriate subject-matters experts or senior staffers inside the organization? And how quickly should those SMEs be expected to follow up with an informed reply?

In the case of a budding crisis or “attack” against your brand, you should also have a cross-discipline team comprising key stakeholders at your company who can convene on short notice to formulate the appropriate response/action plan.

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Delivering good customer service on Facebook comes with plenty of challenges. But with the right team in place and careful planning, you can addresses your customers’ needs as a natural extension of their interaction with your brand, and in a channel where they’re already spending their time.

What Facebook customer service challenges have you faced or overcome? Let us know in the comments.

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