When the message that "your call is important" comes from a robotic, prerecorded voice, a customer could be forgiven for being incredulous.
Sitting on hold, listening to Muzak and repeatedly hearing that disingenuous message can be frustrating, to say the least. Perhaps that's why many people are turning to social media when they need to reach companies – whether to post a complaint or a compliment, or to ask a question about their products. It does not tie up customers on the phone, and a public social-media post demands accountability from companies to provide better service.
Last year, brands received almost 22 million questions on Facebook and Twitter, according to social-marketing measurement firm Socialbakers. Most are responding: According to the firm's analysis, roughly three-quarters of the questions posted on Facebook got a reply. At an average rate of nearly 27 hours per post, however, those responses are slower than most consumers would like.
Now, the social-media giant is weighing in, evaluating brand pages and identifying those that meet high customer expectations. Earlier this month, Facebook announced both a private messaging option for brand pages as well as a "responsiveness rating."
Companies that are quick to get back to their customers can now sport a green badge on their pages, just below their profile pictures, that identify them as "very responsive."
But three weeks in, many big brands are failing to meet the benchmark for that badge. Only one of Canada's Big Six banks displayed the badge this week, and it was the smallest: National Bank of Canada. None of the top telecom providers had one. The same goes for many other well-known Canadian brands, including Lululemon Athletica, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, Loblaws, Hudson's Bay, Shoppers Drug Mart, Jean Coutu, Canada Goose, Molson Canadian, Manulife Financial, WestJet, Air Canada and others.
Fast-food subsidiary McDonald's Canada, which created the now-global Our Food. Your Questions campaign, touting its response to customer questions – via Facebook, Twitter and its website – did not have a badge this week. Neither did the main McDonald's page.
This may be because Facebook has set the bar incredibly high: To receive a badge, brand pages must respond to customer questions in less than five minutes, 90 per cent of the time, over a seven-day period. Pages are re-evaluated every week.
A Facebook representative refused to say roughly how many business pages overall have the badge. The company's own brand page on Facebook also did not display a badge when checked on Thursday.
"The big picture idea behind these new communication features for pages is to provide business owners with more tools to respond to customers," Facebook Canada spokeswoman Meg Sinclair said in an e-mail. "This will make for a better experience for both people and brands on Facebook."
"It's enforcing a strategy. … In order to get the verification, you really need to make the decision as a brand for Facebook to be the primary customer service channel, almost over your call centre," said Mitch Joel, president of Montreal-based digital-marketing agency Mirum. "All these things are to encourage brands to spend more and to be on Facebook more. It's a clever move."
For Montreal-based Kruger Inc., quick response is even more "top of mind" now than it was before the badge was introduced, said Oliver Bukvic, director of facial tissue for Kruger Products. The company's Scotties facial tissue brand had a badge this week.
"It's about getting the answer out to any consumers that are contacting us as soon as possible, and making sure they know they're heard," Mr. Bukvic said. "That's an important part of Facebook: feeling heard."
He acknowledged, however, the criteria for Facebook's badge would be a difficult standard to maintain. By Thursday, the badge that had been on the Scotties page was gone.
Even for those unable to secure the badge, social media has become an important channel for customer service – which is a huge part of marketing, beyond just advertising.
Serving people well on social media can have tangible benefits. Marketers often try to convince "influencers" – trendsetters among their peer group – to help spread their campaigns through digital networks. But almost any friend or family member can sway our purchasing decisions, according to new research.
In a paper published in the current issue of Management Science, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that the influence of friends on social media can lead to as much as a 60-per-cent bump in purchase intention. The finding was based on an analysis of paying subscribers to an online music service. The data showed that subscribers were far more likely to be connected to other paying subscribers than users of the site's free services. Interestingly, people with smaller networks of friends appeared in their research to be more swayed by individual friends' buying preferences than those with larger friend groups.
It's just one small example, but it illustrates that the way people feel about brands – and express that on social media – can be contagious. An excellent way to improve their feelings, and their likelihood to share those feelings with others, is to serve them well on the same social sites where they connect with loved ones every day.
Rogers Communications Inc. has been offering customer support through social media since 2009, a spokesperson said. The company evaluates not just its response times, but whether a solution has been provided to each customer query. Like many brands, Rogers also uses other measures, such as a Net Promoter Score – which evaluates how likely people are to recommend a brand to others.
Manulife Financial Corp., another brand missing a badge, is currently "assessing the new Facebook badge program and how we would participate in it," Brendan Kenalty, assistant vice-president for digital properties, said in an e-mail.
Whether or not this new standard becomes the standard for brands, demonstrating their responsiveness on social media will continue to be crucial.
"When someone wants an answer to a question, in 2015, not to be present and responding is dangerous," Mirum's Mr. Joel said. "It's not just customer service; it's marketing."