Facebook Gives Marketer Pages New Customer-Service Tools

Brands Can Now Set Away Messages, Annotate Private Messages With Customers

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Facebook will let businesses see public profile information from individuals that privately message their pages.
Facebook will let businesses see public profile information from individuals that privately message their pages. Credit: Courtesy Facebook

Marketers may have seen their abilities to initiate converstations with customers through Facebook compromised when Facebook curtailed their posts' organic reach. But that hasn't stopped customers from initating conversations with businesses through Facebook.

According to Facebook, the total number of private messages people have sent to the more than 50 million pages run by businesses has doubled in the past year, and people leave 2.5 billion public comments on pages each month. (The company declined to say how many private messages people sent to businesses or how the public comments today compares to a year earlier.) So now -- following a mobile redesign of pages in September intended to make pages the mobile customer-service hub for companies -- Facebook is giving marketers new tools to respond to customers and manage those communications.

For starters, marketers can now see all the comments people leave on their pages organized in a new section within a page's activity tab. That section will show all the comments and let companies respond to comments whether they're checking comments on a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

Most of the new tools Facebook is adding apply to the private messages sent between people and businesses using Facebook Messenger. While not every company lets people privately message them through Facebook, the "vast majority" do, according to Michael Sharon, product manager for Pages at Facebook.

"We've rolled out a lot of new tools for private messaging because we're seeing a lot more growth there and because it frankly has been an under-utilized channel," Mr. Sharon said.

To make people feel like they can communicate with a business through Facebook and actually hear back, a few months ago Facebook automatically put a badge on pages that have responded within five minutes for 90% of the messages received in the prior week. Now Facebook will let businesses set their own average responsiveness time: within minutes, an hour, hours or a day. If businesses don't set their own responsiveness times, Facebook will automatically do it for them by looking at how quickly a business has typically responded to messages received in the past week.

Since businesses aren't always able to immediately respond -- outside of operating hours, for example -- they can now set "away" messages that people will see when they open a private message thread with a business, plus instant replies to acknolwedge messages from new correspondents. If a page has set an away message, response times to messages sent during those off-hours won't count against the page's responsiveness time.

Facebook has also redesigned the email-like inbox that marketers use to see and respond to the private messages people have sent to a page. Now when companies are reviewing a message someone sent, they can see a reverse-chronological feed of other times that person has interacted with their pages, such as the comments she left or private messages she sent. They will also be able to see publicly available information from that person's Facebook profile, such as the city she lives in or her occupation. If a person's profile is set entirely to private, the business will only be able to see her name and profile photo.

To inform future Facebook-delivered communications between the business and that individual, companies will be able to manually add text-based notes to a message thread, like order information or customer service issues. Businesses will also be able to add categorical tags to a message, like whether someone is a repeat customer, to make these messages easier to sift through.

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