Retailers Largely Ignoring Customers on Facebook

Discussion
Nov 03, 2011

According to research by Conversocial, a company that helps businesses improve interactions with consumers on social media sites, some of the largest retailers in the U.S. are ignoring consumer complaints on Facebook. In fact, during a five-day period in September, nearly two-thirds of consumer issues raised on Facebook went unaddressed.

Costco, Kmart and Kroger failed to respond to a single consumer inquiry on Facebook during the period. Others failed to respond in varying degrees, including: Walmart, which did not respond to 41 percent of inquiries; Macy’s (35 percent); Dillards (25 percent); Bloomingdale’s (20 percent); Nordstrom (20 percent); Sears (11 percent); and Safeway (5 percent).

Even those retailers that responded failed to do so quickly, according to the research. None of the chains had an average response time under an hour. Sears had the highest percentage of responses in under 30 minutes (57 percent), with all others falling somewhere between 40 percent and zero.

In terms of directly dealing with issues, Conversocial gave Safeway the higher marks. According to the company’s blog, the grocer was best "in terms of dealing with the full complaint on the wall. Whilst they still redirect some complaints to a Facebook dedicated email and a Freephone number, a significant number of conversations about customer satisfaction are handled on social media outlets."

Joshua March, chief executive officer of Conversocial, told Reuters, that many companies that have set up Facebook pages see them as "marketing channels" and not "customer service channels."

Walmart spokesperson Sarah Spencer said the company attempts to address as many questions directly on Facebook as possible.

"We answer questions online when we can easily point customers in the right direction," Ms. Spencer told Reuters. "The conversation is taken offline when we need to obtain personal contact information to address a question, concern or idea."

Discussion Questions: Does Facebook represent a bigger opportunity for retailers from a marketing or customer service point-of-view? What is your reaction to the no-to-slow response levels to customer service inquiries documented by Conversocial?

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25 Comments on "Retailers Largely Ignoring Customers on Facebook"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

A person truly interested in resolving a problem would go talk to a person in the store. I’m sure I’m in the minority here but why should brands respond to bullies on Facebook wanting their 15 seconds of fame?

I mean really — a Costco cashier is mean because (heart) my mom doesn’t like her?

Please….

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

While I’m a big fan of customer service, to expect an immediate personal reply may be more than should be expected of a chain. Look at the example — this is one person who clearly has some issues. Not that they should ignore these comments, but to devote a lot of time and effort to an immediate response to a few disgruntled customers is probably not a good business decision.

I’m guessing Conversocial is trying to make a name for themselves here rather than identifying a real problem.

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
Dumb. Someone once asked me whether the top box or the top two boxes of purchase interest in an ad test was more important. My answer “Neither…it’s the bottom two boxes…where people tell you they won’t buy your product.” Everyone has to pay attention to the negative comments because they have the most power. All you need is a little dent in your brand equity and customers begin to look at the competition to see how good they are. Think about your own experience examining reviews for restaurants or hotels. What influences your decision more, the beautiful views or the dirty rooms? I may have my own favorite store or product and you may have yours. But if you tell me that you’ve experienced my favorite store or product and your reaction is negative, it makes me think thoughts I would never have had. Not answering consumer complaints becomes just one more negative finding for shoppers. Seasoned shoppers know there will be problems, i.e. a need to return something, a difficult sales person. It’s how… Read more »
Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Social media can make any company look bad, as customers vent to one another, for a variety of reasons. Costco can not compete on quick customer service like smaller stores, as it is not in their business model to do so. I have friends in California that go together on Saturday into a Costco, and have wait times up to 1.5 hours to get out of the store.

There are sacrifices to saving money in huge club stores, and service is pitiful at best, BUT it hasn’t stopped most folks from packing the joint every day.

Facebook and other social blogs will find a way to praise and complain about your business, no matter how hard you try. Responding to all blogs would be difficult to monitor, without an actual face-to-face chat, as my customers come to us and we can solve the problem quickly. The bigger the store, the harder it is to solve the Facebook issues.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

If you have a business that has a presence on Facebook or Twitter, you need to follow the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared.” Be prepared to engage in a dialogue with consumers.

Social sites exist for dialogue. If retailers don’t intend to have a dialogue with their customers, they shouldn’t be on Facebook or Twitter.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

It is a huge mistake for retailers, or brands of any kind, to ignore their consumers on Facebook. When the consumer is ignored on Facebook, it’s the same as when a consumer is ignored if she wrote a letter, or made a phone call, or even visited customer service in person. All that said, every retailer, and every Consumer Goods brand, needs to have professionals in place to answer the questions and concerns by consumers on Facebook.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

With over 170 million users, Facebook is a huge opportunity for retailers to connect with customers not only to market to them but to solve complaints. I believe the high usage of Facebook means that more retailers will hear more complaints than other channels have provided in the past. The way to KEEP customers is to satisfy them and responding to Facebook issues promptly is a great avenue to accomplish this. The worst thing any retailer can do is ignore a complaint and Facebook definitely means that more complaints will be heard than ever before. Now a retailer is not ignoring one customer but anyone who is connected to the customer complaining can see the issue! Solving issues promptly may mean not only satisfying a customer but may prevent “sympathetic switching” by friends.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
Customer service through Facebook is a double edge sword. I do believe brands use Facebook as simply another channel to push their message into the ether rather than an opportunity to establish a personal dialog with their customers. The conversation doesn’t have to be played out in a public forum. The brand should take the conversation ‘offline’ and address the issues as they see fit. They have a great opportunity to turn a negative into a loyal customer if they turn this channel into a closed-loop and personal dialog. Brands don’t respond to the complaints because it creates work and its easier to ignore the issue. The other is that the brand employees whose responsibility it is to monitor this channel are not empowered to make a specific decision to resolve the problem at hand. They are bound by broad policies (send the customer to a call-center) that weaken the brand’s image to the customer that has taken the time to look for an answer. These statistics shed light on the dark side of the… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 6 months ago

There’s an old saying: “Nothing sinks a bad product faster than effective advertising.” Investing the time and money to demonstrate publicly that you really don’t care what the customers that take the time to communicate with you say puts a whole new spin on that concept. If you’re going to set up a forum to communicate with customers that is visible, you better communicate. The retail winners today are those that start with the customer and working backwards.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
9 years 6 months ago

Facebook and Twitter make it very easy for consumers to complain. In general retail’s distributed model is designed to handle complaints in the store, not consolidate/resolve them centrally across thousands of stores. Social media presents an interesting opportunity to change “customer service.” To do this, retailers will have to move Social Media beyond centralized marketing and align with current distributed labor models. More simply put… they are going to need to figure out how to engage local (store) associates with their local customers on social media. For most retailers (especially mass and grocery) this will be no small leap.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
This is one of those postings where I debate whether to bother contributing because it opens up a significantly larger issue. But I’ll try. Something has happened to us — people — society — the human race. We’re lonesome. No one seems to care. We have little sense of purpose and destiny. So what do we do to survive lonesomeness? We over-eat. Over-drink. Over-sex. Or we do social networking. We claim hundreds of “friends” where the truth is we actually know only about 3% of them. Just us and our imaginary friends. Now we’re learning that even there, no one cares. We try to get the attention of important rich people who own stores by throwing a little service tantrum, but at best we get a pat on the head. When a store responds to a complaint, what do you think the person actually doing the typing is usually thinking? A) “You poor dear thing.” or B) “What an idiot!” The renowned banker turned novelist Herbert Porchnow once said: “A city is a large community… Read more »
Hayes Minor
Guest
Hayes Minor
9 years 6 months ago

One of the best things to come out of Facebook for brands and retailers is the opportunity to connect with their shoppers. Imagine having a retailer that gave consistent, thoughtful and sincere responses. We all know shoppers are 4x more likely to frequent retailers to which they feel emotionally connected. Addressing questions and concerns in a meaningful way online is just one simple way to deliver an element of value for that retailer beyond just having low prices. Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Facebook needs to remember that social networks are like a digital backyard fence where people have conversations about things that are on their minds. It is a terrific listening device and an opportunity to respond to customer issues, including their dissatisfaction.

Social networks’ greatest advantage is customer knowledge and customer intimacy. The better you know your customer, the better your business.

Keep in mind that the younger generations are even more apt to use social media to complain. In my recent research of older members of Generation Y, 15% of those surveyed indicated that they use social media to complain versus only 3% of Baby Boomers.

Customer complaints need responses or you will generate grumbles, namely, customers telling everyone else but the offending company of their dissatisfaction. The result is that the offending company will never know and the customer disappears.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

We’re criticizing companies because they don’t respond to 20, 11 or (even) 5% of inquiries? And the responses that are given can take longer than — gasp! — an hour? Is Conversocial based on the Moon, Mars or one of the outer planets?

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 6 months ago

Why is this surprising? Most retailers ignore customer complaints or mishandle the complaints miserably when they are made face to face. A complaint on Facebook is far less personal. The great thing about Facebook is it is a great way to “get even” with a retailer or manufacturer providing shoddy products or shoddy service. Retailers and manufacturers don’t realize that they create terrorists when they fail to respond properly to consumers. In the old days, a dissatisfied customer could tell only about 100 people max about you. Today they can tell about 100 MILLION people about you. If retailers and manufacturers continue to assign customer service to EEOC hires they will continue to drive business to Amazon and other internet suppliers who have dedicated themselves to providing exceptional customer service.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 6 months ago

Facebook is not just an outbound marketing channel that sits as part of a digital communications strategy and team. Social media is different. Responding to these new needs is tough for businesses with a bricks and analogue heritage. Respond they must though. The article highlights the red flag. I hope this gets repeated to be able to check on progress….

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 6 months ago

Is it possible for retailers and brands to use social media strictly for marketing and not for complaint sessions? That feature of social media is no different than forums — an opportunity for faceless ranting and ignorant comments. The very existence of the “forum feature” (Wall, etc.) of social media invites, perpetuates, and even encourages negativity. It’s human nature.

For genuine online customer interaction, if that’s really what retailers and brands want, I strongly recommend the “Live Chat” feature of many websites today. I use it whenever it is available on several websites and I’ve never been disappointed. It’s quick and easy, and you’re given a transcript of the typed conversation afterwards. Yes, there are “hold periods” when the online service person is researching the answer to your question, just as there are during telephone service calls. But with Live Chat you can continue to work on other projects on your computer while you wait.

George Anderson
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Many retailers and brands operate call centers to deal with these types of issues over the phone. Many sites now have a feature where you can chat with a rep while online. What’s the big deal? Every objection (complaint) is an opportunity to build a relationship. Assign a person(s) to deal with your customers on Facebook, knowing that many of those discussions will be be continued offline. It’s an investment worth making.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
As mentioned by others, if you are going to play, you have to pay. If not, don’t. As a retailer, you may be better off not being on Facebook if you’re unable to manage your customer relationships there, or don’t plan on devoting resources to it full time. If the retailers are achieving these numbers as portrayed in the study, they might be better off to get out. Placing your customer relationship in the hands of a third party while not willing to treat it just as importantly as face-to-face is an opening for trouble. I would think NOT being on Facebook is better than being there and failing. I don’t think NOT being there hurts a retailer at all. Being there and managing it as shown in this representation is a big issue. If you’re not there, you wouldn’t have had the issue. For the retailer going there without a strategy for managing it, they’ve set themselves up for these results. I would have to ask the question, would Walmart, Macy’s, Dillards, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom,… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 6 months ago

Really. Is there anything in any of our experiences with major national retailers over the past 10 or 20 years that suggests even a little bit that they put a greater emphasis on customer service than they do marketing? Why would anybody expect it to be any different on social media sites?

Andy Casey
Guest
Andy Casey
9 years 6 months ago

There is a big difference made when simply acknowledging someone who’s had a problem or negative store experience. Acknowledging a complaint is easy and to simply ignore a complaint can give it validity in other customers’ minds. In this case a simple “sorry you had a bad experience, please come back and introduce yourself to the store manager” at least puts the ball back in the customer’s court and avoids the “black hole” feeling.

Otherwise, why would a company even display comments on the page?

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
9 years 6 months ago

In the short term, Facebook represents a bigger opportunity for customer service. This opportunity is greater because customers who participate on the Facebook page (and “like” the site), are more likely to be advocates for your company or for another in the category.

Remember, less than 20% of Facebook page readers contribute content, but 100% read it. Addressing customer service issues visibly and effectively has a compounding effect; not only do you satisfy the customer in question, but you also provide a clear, visible example of the company’s commitment to their customers in a place where the most vocal customers can see it. And they will talk about it whether the resolution is respectful and successful or not.

In this way, customer service is ACTUALLY marketing itself; motivating customers to spread the word about the company through clear, real-world examples.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

The good and bad about social media is that no single person has much control over what is said. Therefore, if a business of any kind wants to participate, they will run the risk of having negative comments posted about them. If huge retailers engage with the customers online and intentionally offer customer service options via one or more of the social channels (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), then they should dedicate reasonable resources to those channels to respond in a timely manner. The challenge also comes in when a retailer has a presence online and a customer posts a service-related comment or question and the retail, of any size, doesn’t have to people assigned to monitor the site.

Bottom line, many retailers, usually small ones, however there are some large ones too, have made a successful effort in social media by tending to the customers in need of service. This can be done by all retailers, and there are some great new approaches being implemented as we speak.

Tom Pollin
Guest
Tom Pollin
9 years 6 months ago

I’m not surprised because I don’t think most retail companies have figured out how to use Facebook and other social marketing sites yet. It seems that most consider Facebook another avenue to advertise and deliver their promotions.

All that’s needed is to acknowledge a negative comment, every one doesn’t need to be solved. @Andy Casey gave the perfect response in his comment on this thread. Engage the customer and if they ARE a troublemaker or trying to get even with something they’ll reveal themselves for what they are in further comments and be recognized as such.

Ignore these findings by Conversocial at your own peril.

Pamela Riemenschneider
Guest
Pamela Riemenschneider
9 years 6 months ago

If a retailer isn’t prepared to have a personal response to comments on its social media, then they shouldn’t have it in the first place. Consumers are savvy enough to realize when they’re being strictly marketed to.

I see consumers “liking” retailers on Facebook for two reasons:

Feeling a connection (rants OR raves) and deals and coupons. If all they see are marketing messages, they’re going to tune out pretty quickly.

And responding to these complaints should be kept brief and to the point. A retailer should have a dedicated person to come through and say something like “I’m sorry you had a negative experience. Please contact me at Pamela@retailer’semail.com so we can resolve this issue.” That gives someone a personal connection and shows other consumers that you care about their needs.

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