/ Shopping, Technology

Companies should treat Facebook complaints like any other

Person logging into Facebook

A report out this week looked at response times from companies when you complain about them on their Facebook wall. The times ranged from less than one hour to… never. Why do some companies get it so wrong?

I wouldn’t expect to queue for 24 hours at a customer service till in a shop, but if I email a company I’m happy for them to take a couple of days to respond.

Conversely, if I wrote them a letter, I wouldn’t expect them to phone me the next day and resolve my complaint within five minutes.

Gold stars for Next and Asos

At Which? we love seeing companies dealing quickly and efficiently with complaints – it’s part of their job. So when I saw a report this week that praised Next and Asos for speedy responses to customer complaints on Facebook, I was delighted.

They both averaged response times of less than an hour – around the time I’d expect a company to deal with a complaint via social media.

This shows that both companies obviously pay attention to what customers are saying, and crucially, appreciate that this particular medium is speedier than traditional letters or emails.

Amazon snoozes & loses

But the bad news? Some companies just aren’t doing it at all. Over the course of the study (carried out by a web company called ‘Conversocial’), Amazon did not respond to a single complaint or query from a customer. What makes it worse is that they weren’t on holiday – they were still posting lots of marketing messages and special deals which these frustrated customers will have seen.

It’s the equivalent of a supermarket assistant ignoring you queuing at the tills for a refund, while shouting ‘Special deals! Buy one get one free!’ at the other customers in the shop. Bad move.

If something’s worth doing…

If I tweet at one of my friends asking them for advice or telling them a joke, I don’t expect to wait three days for a response (unless it’s a particularly awful joke). Likewise if I tweet at a company about their customer service I’d expect them to respond within a reasonable time – one to two hours during office hours, at most.

I know many people don’t like to use social networks, and companies may only grudgingly have a presence on these sites, but surely they realise that if they have it, they should use it properly. And companies like Amazon, whose main business is online, should be leading the way in this kind of customer service, not lagging behind.

Not responding promptly to tweets or Facebook messages is like having a customer service phone line that goes straight to answerphone. The messages playing over and over again to deaf ears – never listened to, and never resolved.

It would be like having a complaints email address that goes to the intern who left two years ago. Or a postal address that redirects letters straight to your recycling bin.

Companies need to wake up to the fact that people want to contact them via social media, and that these complaints are just as important as any other. After all, the customer’s problem is the same regardless of how it comes to their attention. Don’t shoot the messenger, I say.


No way. You can contact companies by phone, by letter and by email (although many use Web-based forms, making it difficult to keep a copy). Why should we expect them to monitor Facebook?

Leave Facebook et al. out of this.

Let’s agree to differ on this Nikki. Which? Conversation introduced me to some of the problems with Facebook and I have learned more since then. It all seems horribly unprofessional and unsuitable for serious use. If a company wants to use it that’s fine, but why expect it to?

I don’t remember much criticism about email, at least after its use became widespread in the commercial world.

Joshua March says:
29 November 2011

Completely agree with Nikki on this wavechange (although should put in a big disclaimer – I’m co-founder and CEO of Conversocial which produced the report). I have no problem with a company who chooses not to be on Facebook at all – fine. The issue is when companies put themselves onto Facebook, say ‘hey we’re here’, expect customers to listen to them when they send out sales promotions – but then ignore the customers when they speak back. We weren’t looking whether companies were just listening to public complaints made on Facebook (e.g. if you made a status update to your friends); only if the company had set up their own fan page, and a customer had written directly to the company on that page.

Perhaps Facebook could be used to help consumers and companies understand the Sale of Goods Act, particularly with respect of items more than a year old. If Facebook has the power to promote understanding of consumers’ rights and responsibilities then I might have some respect for it.

Thanks for this Nikki. I can see that Facebook could be a way of getting the attention of a lot more people. If retailers realise that their customers are better aware of their rights it might make them face up to their responsibilities. Equally, it is important for disgruntled customers to realise that the retailers have rights too. Facebook could also be useful for those who have a common problem to make their views known. Perhaps Orange increasing their prices for those on phone contracts, which has been a popular topic on Which? Conversation, would be ideal for complaints via the Orange Facebook site (if it exists).

When I hear the term ‘complaints’ I usually think of rather more serious problems involving individual problems, and I doubt that Facebook could help here. I prefer email but even reputable organisations are now using Web-based forms for communication. That means that it is not easy to keep a copy of communication. Anyway, that’s another problem.

Your link is wrong and it should be: http://www.facebook.com/whichaction

Paul@Ecotricity says:
28 November 2011

We try to keep on top of ’emerging channels’ 🙂

Facebook could do a lot more to help businesses adopt it as a serious support channel however.

Like enable notifications for comments for pages. I don’t want an email every time I get a Farmville invite, but I do want an email every time someone comments on our Facebook page,

And while I’m on that topic – allowing people to get email notifications on an address other than the one they use to access Facebook would be nice. At the moment all Facebook comms go to my personal email address, which I don’t check when I’m at work! Being able to use another email address would allow us to use a distribution list that would alert multiple people & integrate it into our normal (& excellent) enquiry/complaints process…

Also – I’m sad enough to check my work twitter/facebook streams after hours & at weekends, but this is not part of my working hours – so I’m definitely in two minds about creating the expectation that brands should monitor social media 24/7 for complaints/enquiries 😉

Just thinking out loud…

Joshua March says:
29 November 2011

Hi Paul, I’m co-founder and CEO of Conversocial which produced the report. We agree that Facebook don’t provide sufficient tools for this purpose – however they make up for this by having an open platform which allows companies like ourselves to build additional tools for specific purposes. Our software (http://conversocial.com) is focused on helping manage customer services through Facebook and Twitter and has the functionality you describe. There are also other tools like Hootsuite (one of our main competitors, although a more general management tool) which you can check out. Hope that helps!

Paul@Ecotricity says:
28 November 2011

Hehe yes Nikki – I set up a G+ page on the day they became available… I was disappointed by the lack of functionality, but being the social media ‘hub’ for the company (which isn’t massive but is getting medium sized very rapidly) means I’m not suffering as much as Mr Scoble! It does mean that I haven’t set up pages for business units outside of my direct responsibility that I might have set up if there was an option to add other admins etc. I hear that functionality is due shortly.

I think you’re definitely right about the inevitability of these channels being like email/web in the early days.

I personally believe that marketing should come below customer service/support when it comes to social media.

So far I’ve gotten away with that… 😉

I tend to find that facebook is a tad useless as a customer service tool as brands do not take it seriously or man it enough to keep on top of everything. I do however think that’s as a result of facebook’s poor moderation and notification tools available to page owners.

Twitter is much better as a customer service tool as businesses are able to view all ‘mentions’ of them on one screen and reply at their own leisure when someone is on shift to do the work. It also means that any, perhaps unfair, criticism isn’t really shown for everyone to see – they have to specifically go searching for it. Twitter also has a much wider range of third party apps available for tweet management where you can see exactly which tweets have been replied to and which ones need escalation. I think facebook needs more of this!

Anyone who has ever tried to complain to Royal Mail about their woeful service standards would love to be able to write a simple complaint on facebook, rather than fill in a form with a zillion an one questions which have nothing to do with your complaint.

If the posty repeatedly bends my post why do I need to know who sent it, which post box it was posted in, where it was posted, the weather at the time, the colour of underwear they wore. When the issue is the postman on my doorstep.

Some companies go out of their way to make complaining almost impossible. And at least with facebook I’d be able to see if other have the same issue. I think it would also help to focus a company towards providing better service as who would want to see all this stuff in the public domian.

I have just set up a ‘Royal Mail complaints page’ on facebook. As William said above, they go out of their way to make complaining impossible and when you do find a way to email them, as I did last week, they send out a standard reply which is meaningless. The reason why I set up the page is on the facebook site, but I have complained in the past about poor service, or about parcels being left on my door step alerting any would be burglar that the house was empty, but again, all I ever received was a standard email.

Nice one, Sue 🙂