Taking Facebook customer service off the Wall

May 11, 2011
Posted by: Matthew Hammer, VP- Marketing

Many brands are using Facebook as a customer-service channel as well as a brand presence/marketing channel. People ask questions or raise issues on the Wall, and the brand speaks back, showing how responsive it can be.
Great, right?
But think of the times you’ve wanted to share an opinion about a product or ask a question of a company or brand representative. Do you always feel comfortable broadcasting your views with your full name attached for everyone to hear or read?
Imagine you’re dining out and the béarnaise isn’t up to par, or you want to ask whether the server can pass the check to you instead of to your companion because it’s his birthday. Would you stand on your chair with a megaphone in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant, or would you ask for a quiet word with the manager?
On Facebook, you might similarly want to leave feedback of a personal nature for the brand — “your product gave me a rash here” or “your bank messed up my deposits and I’m in overdraft territory” or “another poster here is making me feel unwelcome” — without having to do so publicly on the Wall.

Options for 1:1 customer service on Facebook

Unfortunately, Facebook Pages don’t allow for easy one-to-one, “behind-closed-doors” communication.
Unlike on Twitter, where brands can exchange direct messages with customers from a corporate account, Facebook does not allow a Page to send private messages to individual fans. Messages can only be sent from individual Facebook profiles. That’s often an uncomfortable proposition for both the brand and customer-service reps, who potentially expose their personal Facebook presences in the process.
Plus, how can the customers know for sure that your admins are who they say they are, and that they actually work for your company? There’s also an identity and safety issue. Without verified accounts, a malicious observer could message your customer, pass himself off as a brand employee, and then come away with the customer’s account number or other personal data.
Facebook does offer the option of creating individual business accounts for just these scenarios, except that they’re seldom allowed under Facebook’s terms of service. Essentially, “Bob from Acme” can only have a business account if he doesn’t also also have a personal Facebook profile. And — let’s be honest — that’s almost never going to be the case.
You risk having your brand’s Facebook Page shut down by violating Facebook’s terms, so we don’t recommend this approach.
So what does work?
First, let your Facebook fans know how they can contact you if they don’t want to post publicly on the Wall. Provide contact information, such as a name and e-mail link (using an alias like facebook@brand.com) on your Info page and in the “About” box on your Wall’s left rail. You can also share a toll-free number for product/service issues, and, if applicable, direct your fans to a dedicated customer-service tab on your Facebook Page.
Then, be vigilant for customers who do share their feedback and concerns on the Wall. We suggest you comment as the official Page, and not via the personal account of one of your admins, for that added credibility. If the question is too specific or sensitive to fully answer publicly, also include the name and e-mail address of a brand representative whom the customer can direct a separate follow-up question to. AT&T follows this model regularly; here’s an example screenshot:

If you have an active and well-managed Facebook brand page with open commenting, you are already listening to what your customers are saying. Just make sure you’re listening when they really want to whisper.
This post is part on ongoing “31 Days of Facebook Marketing” series from LiveWorld, a social media agency that offers moderation, insight, and community programming Facebook services for Fortune 1000 brands.