An ever growing number of companies have begun employing Facebook "fan" pages for customer relationship management (CRM). During the last few weeks, ClickZ has examined dozens of Facebook brand pages with an eye toward CRM and discovered that commitment level varies widely. While some appear nonplussed by the CRM opportunities on Facebook, others have bought in. Not surprisingly, firms committing to answering publicly/anonymously-made questions and authoring responses to "fan" comments predominantly have vested interests in direct-selling or retail.
Walmart, Dell, Comcast, Toyota, Domino's, Taco John's, and Teleflora, among others, have been proactively addressing customer concerns on Facebook. If questions cannot be immediately answered, their social reps normally direct "fans" to a Web page, toll-free number, or customer service e-mail address in a follow-up post.
But there are other types of simple-yet-interesting CRM/loyalty tactics being used. Toyota has been constantly posting comments under "fan" car photos as it continues to reach out to consumers in the wake of its scandal. A post on March 21 read, "Congrats on the new Tacoma, T.J.! Thank you and your family for your continuous support." Seven other similarly toned comments were posted by the Toyota rep within the same hour on that evening. The copy was often akin to post-sales-conversion "Thank You" e-mail subject lines.
And then there's Teleflora, which for the last year has utilized its "fan" page to reel in occasional customer complaints. Nicole DeRuiter, manager of emerging media at the Los Angeles-based florist network, normally has one dedicated staffer addressing "fan" posts, while enlisting more people to help during busier seasonal periods. The staffers also pay heed to customer dissatisfaction - and positive comments - being expressed via Twitter.
"By looking at what other companies, such as...Comcast and the folks at Dell have experienced," DeRuiter said, "we knew that opening ourselves up to social channels meant we would experience customer-service type questions. CRM via social media is just one piece of our overall social strategy."
Many firms use their posts to address rising CRM situations on the fly. For instance, Domino's recently remedied a potential customer-service headache via Facebook before it could go viral.
Here's the pizza chain, alerting "fans" about the looming issue at-hand: "Just a note to all our fans, there's a page floating around on Facebook that claims to be giving out $50 Domino's Pizza vouchers. This is NOT something we are sponsoring, involved in or supporting."
CPG Brands Mostly Focus On Engagement, Though Dove and Intel Dive Deeper
Some brands with huge Facebook presences are choosing to zero in on engagement (i.e., "Feels like spring outside! Perfect weather for [product name]!") while leaving CRM alone. For example, Coca-Cola (5.2 million "fans") and Skittles (4.1 million) are two of the biggest brands on the social site, and they consistently author updates that are designed to be engaging and fun. Both seem to achieve that end regularly as their pages buzz with "fan" comments. But neither actively does CRM there.
Ivan Askwith, director of strategy for the Brooklyn, NY-based Big Spaceship, handles social media initiatives for CPG brands like Skittles and a host of entertainment-based clients. He said what a company is selling should impact whether or not it invests in Facebook CRM. Askwith seemed to warn against the cardinal sin that has stifled profits for too many businesses during the Internet era - doing it just because everyone else is.
"Very few of our current brand clients are using Facebook as an active channel for customer service," he said. "To some extent, that's a reflection of the current clients we have - few of whom have active 'customer service' needs."
Meanwhile, there are non-retail brands prominently using Facebook as a CRM tool - software firm Intel and Unilever's Dove to name a couple. In terms of the latter, Dove's social media reps are recommending items to "fans" if they ask for product guidance. In social media circles, this tactic is commonly referred to as "pull marketing."
On March 18, a Dove "fan" inquired: "I found a product of Dove that I don't like, the pomegranate and lemon verbena body wash doesn't smell very well. - If anyone from dove is reading this, I wish, I wish really hard, that you would come up with a really clean zippy citrus set." Fifty-minutes later that Friday evening, Dove's rep responded: "@Judy have you tried Dove Body Wash with Nutrium Moisture? There's no other body wash like it!"
Overall, Dove's exchanges on Facebook can be at times similar to conversations between customers and sales reps in bricks-and-mortar stores. Askwith alluded to that idea when he said, "Like having a storefront in the neighborhood mall, brands - especially those with active customer-service needs - benefit from going where customers are."
Ade Adeosun, commercial director for the U.K.-based Web analytics firm Nedstat, said the public nature of Facebook opens up the possibility for multiple customers with the same problem getting addressed by one brand post. He added that "fans" often help each other with questions, alleviating the rep from having to enter the picture and creating a deeper sense of community among users. But European brands overall have lagged behind U.S. firms in terms of using Facebook for CRM, Adeosun said, despite it being the continent's No. 1 social site.
"[European companies] kind of have this apprehension where they think, 'Okay, it's a community.' And they don't realize it's actually a very strong channel," he explained. "They could let the people within the community do the customer service for them. That's essentially what we are seeing from brands doing it in a smarter way."
You can follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
March 19, 2014