Facebook: nowadays, it’s more than just a place to share cat memes and post passive-aggressive statuses about former ‘friends’ or ex-boyfriends. As the world’s largest social networking site, Facebook has become where retailers need to be if they want to have honest conversations with their customers and provide customer care that’s genuinely 24/7/365. However, recent statistics from Socialbakers indicate that 87 percent of brands examined in Q2 had their walls closed to user comments, a 2 percent increase from Q1. So what’s the deal? If Facebook is the biggest buyer marketplace and has the best opportunity for social interaction with customers, why are retailers so afraid to use it?

First, The Numbers
Here’s a quick rundown of all D2C industries’ Facebook usage during Q2 2014:

  • Brands are now answering 67 percent of all user questions on Facebook.
  • By volume, fans posted over 1.5 million questions on Facebook in Q2, of which 500,000 were left unanswered.
  • The average response time dropped by 30 minutes between Q1 and Q2, but it still takes most brands over a day to respond to customers.
  • Telecom companies are the most active in terms of questions posted-they received around 431,00 questions from customers via Facebook in Q2, three times as any other sector.
  • Telecom recorded a faster response time than other sectors, with the average time taken to respond pegged at 13.5 hours.
  • Airlines recorded the highest response rate at 84 percent, but telecom brands responded most quickly to questions and issues, with an average of 13.5 hours between post and response.
  • Retailers received almost 150,000 questions in Q2 2014 and responded to over 70 percent.
  • The ecommerce industry recorded a response rate of 64.3 percent, while the average response time was approximately 22 hours.

Are You Scared?

Without delving into the statistics, it’s pretty apparent why brands would be afraid of Facebook: it’s a mammoth network, and if you rub one customer the wrong way, you are potentially ticking off hundreds (or thousands) more with just a few keystrokes. Also, any misrepresentations can be quickly screenshot and shared virally, whereas interactions via phone or in-person became a “He said, she said” game. The domino effect can be scary.

However, the fear of the unknown shouldn’t deter your brand from the network altogether. According to the study, brands that are devoted online – who respond to at least 65 percent of fan queries – received far more interactions than those who chose to stay silent. More interactions mean showing up on more news feeds (free social advertising you DON’T have to pay for!), more shares, more eyeballs on your excellent customer service, and a better online reputation. Being responsive and providing good customer service has a domino effect, too!

Now, How Do We Facebook?

Customers increasingly turn to Facebook to ask questions (or voice concerns) because social networks are transparent. If 100 other fans have seen a post, a retailer cannot argue that they haven’t – and if it’s in the public eye, they’re more likely to respond and handle the situation more quickly. Here are a few things retailers should remember when providing customer service via Facebook:

  • Respond! The worst thing you can do as a brand is to ignore a Facebook post. If it’s a tricky question or a situation best handled offline, reply to the poster and request a direct message or email address so you can handle it one-on-one. If an irate customer wants to belittle your brand, apologize and try to make a peace offering. Other consumers can identify the difference between the angry and the unreasonable – just ensure you show you’re making an effort. If it’s a positive comment, you should AT LEAST ‘like’ it to show appreciation!
  • Respond fast! Equally as important as responding is responding quickly. You don’t want your fans waiting and fuming – think of it in the same mindset as sitting on hold with your contact center for hours. Even if you don’t have a detailed answer or solution, you can still respond with a simple acknowledgment, give fans a timeframe, or ask if you can follow up offline. The key here is to monitor your social media to ensure you don’t miss anything – whether it’s a community email address that receives all page updates or a tool like HootSuite, you need to stay on top!
  • Keep your cool! It’s not a secret that critics are much braver hidden behind a computer screen and keyboard than in person or even over the phone – so be prepared for a few less-than-kind posts at some point. The critical thing to remember is that it’s not the original poster’s words your customers are most anxious to see, it’s yours. If it’s a heated conversation, it’s best to take it elsewhere and out of the public eye.