Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire.com, retail industry execs get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a panel of retail industry experts.
Some of the largest retailers in the U.S. are ignoring consumer complaints on Facebook, according to research by Conversocial, a company that helps businesses improve interactions with consumers on social media sites. In fact, during a five-day period in September, nearly two-thirds of consumer issues raised on Facebook went unaddressed.
Costco, Kmart and Kroger failed to respond to a single consumer inquiry on Facebook during the period. Others failed to respond in varying degrees, including: Walmart, which did not respond to 41% of inquiries; Macy’s (35%); Dillards (25%); Bloomingdale’s (20%); Nordstrom (20%); Sears (11%); and Safeway (5%).
Even those retailers that responded failed to do so quickly, according to the research. None of the chains had an average response time under an hour. Sears had the highest percentage of responses in under 30 minutes (57%), with all others falling somewhere between 40% and zero.
In terms of dealing with issues directly, Conversocial gave grocery retailer Safeway higher marks. According to the company’s blog, the grocer was best “in terms of dealing with the full complaint on the wall. Whilst they still redirect some complaints to a Facebook dedicated email and a Freephone number, a significant number of conversations about customer satisfaction are handled on social media outlets.”
Joshua March, CEO of Conversocial, told Reuters many companies that have set up Facebook pages see them as “marketing channels” and not “customer service channels.”
Walmart spokesperson Sarah Spencer said the company attempts to address as many questions directly on Facebook as possible.
“We answer questions online when we can easily point customers in the right direction,” Spencer told Reuters. “The conversation is taken offline when we need to obtain personal contact information to address a question, concern or idea.
The majority of participants in the RetailWire discussion agreed that it is vital for retailers of all sizes and across verticals to remain active in social media activities and track customer feedback. “If you have a business that has a presence on Facebook or Twitter, you need to follow the Boy Scout motto and ‘be prepared,’” noted Max Goldberg, Founding Partner, The Radical Clarity Group. “Retailers should be prepared to engage in a dialogue with consumers. Social sites exist for dialogue. If retailers don’t intend to have a dialogue with their customers, they shouldn’t be on Facebook or Twitter.” Furthermore, if retailers are not agile in responding and addressing customer complaints, they may quickly lose even their most loyal customers, according to Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group, LLC.
“I may have my own favorite store or product and you may have yours,” Treistman said. “But if you tell me you’ve experienced my favorite store or product and your reaction was negative, it makes me think another way. Not answering consumer complaints becomes just one more negative finding for shoppers. Seasoned shoppers know there will be problems, i.e. a need to return something, a difficult sales person. It’s how the problem is solved that stays with the customer and makes the final impression. It’s dumb not to answer customer complaints in a public forum.”
Other respondents argued that big-box retailers such as Costco shouldn’t be expected to be active in social media efforts due to their complex business models. “While I’m a big fan of customer service, to expect an immediate personal reply may be more than should be expected of a chain,” said Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations. “Not that retailers should ignore these comments, but to devote a lot of time and effort to provide an immediate response to a few disgruntled customers is probably not a good business decision.”
Similarly, Bob Phibbs, President and CEO of The Retail Doctor & Associates noted that vital customer service should be taken to the store. “A person truly interested in resolving a problem would go talk to a person in the store,” he said “I’m sure I’m in the minority here but why should brands respond to bullies on Facebook wanting their 15 seconds of fame?”