U.S. store chains use Facebook pages to reach out to customers, but when customers reach back with complaints, many go unanswered, a new study shows.
Retailers did not respond to 65 per cent of complaints and questions on their Facebook pages during a five-day period in September, according to Joshua March, chief executive officer of Conversocial, a firm that helps companies interact with customers on social media.
The results are from a just-completed study called "Who's Ignoring Their Customers? A Survey of the Largest U.S. Retailers and Their Use of Social Media."
"A lot of them probably set up these Facebook pages as marketing channels and have not considered them as customer service channels," March told Reuters.
According to March, some retailers appeared to not monitor their Facebook pages for complaints or concerns at all, while some showed good service. A large group, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy's Inc., are somewhere in the middle, he said.
Forty-one per cent of the queries that Wal-Mart received on its Facebook page went unanswered, March said, while 35 per cent went unanswered on the Macy's page.
Yet some "missed" complaints or queries might have just been a matter of the retailer dealing individually with the customer, rather than in the public space of the Facebook wall.
"Because complaints often involve credit/customer account or employment matters, our first step is typically to request the complainant e-mail us outside of the social space with details of their issue," Macy's spokeswoman Holly Thomas said. "We aim first and foremost to protect our customers' privacy by handling offline."
Macy's is committed to reaching out to all customers who raise a complaint, she added.
But solving the problem "offline" means that people looking at Facebook only see the complaint, not the resolution.
"When we speak to customers that are doing it well, they realize they need to keep as much of the discussion on Facebook as possible," March said.
For U.S. Walmart stores, the response to Facebook queries is varied, spokeswoman Sarah Spencer said.
"We answer questions online when we can easily point customers in the right direction," Ms. Spencer said. "The conversation is taken offline when we need to obtain personal contact information to address a question, concern or idea."
Walmart recently launched 3,500 Facebook pages for individual stores to better connect them with the company's 9 million Facebook "fans."
"With early Walmarts, customers would walk in a store and ask the manager to get a product or share an idea," Ms. Spencer said. "The local Facebook pages allow us to do this on a national scale."
Other large retailers are still trying to work out the best way for dealing with complaints on Facebook.
Grocery store operator Kroger Co. was one retailer that Conversocial's five-day study showed as not responding to any of the complaints on Facebook.
The company is testing different ways of responding to customers at its individual divisions, which include Fry's, Fred Meyer, Dillons and other brands aside from Kroger, spokesman Keith Dailey said.
"Kroger is currently developing tools to make it easier for customers to contact us through social media channels," he said.