Are you sick and tired of all the media hype around Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook? I hope not, because I'm now going to blog about the social networking behemoth once again. This time, I'll start by citing a stat that the controversial exec shared recently about his company.Apparently, the number of Facebook fan pages has reached 2 million, up from 1.5M just this past summer. In the next 12 months, Zuckerberg expects the figure to double. So what, right? Well, sure, you could choose to pooh-pooh fan pages and everything else social media-related and go on your merry way, but if you're an SMB, you might want to pay attention. Because fan pages aren't just for brand devotees anymore. They've turned into full-fledged customer service portals.
More and more consumers are using Facebook to get support for the products and services they buy. They're visiting fan pages to ask questions, engage in live chats with customer service reps, and refer to "knowledgebases" for important information.
Parature is one company that's capitalizing on the trend. Launched in 2001 as a provider of online customer service software, the Vienna, Va.-based operation recently unveiled Parature for Facebook, an integrated customer service application for the social media site. About 20 businesses have signed up for the product already, and there are more deals in the works.
The first customer was Rosetta Stone, whose Facebook fan base has since skyrocketed to 50,000, from 5,000 in August. "Our product is helping them manage this explosive growth," says Cindy Cruzado, vice president of product management at Parature. Already a user of Parature's multi-channel customer service offering, Rosetta Stone decided that adding Facebook-based support to its repertoire would give it a more well-rounded service portfolio. With Parature for Facebook, the company can monitor Facebook wall conversations, posts, and comments in real time for appropriate routing and response. Customers can search Rosetta Stone's knowledgebase, submit trouble tickets, and chat with agents directly from the social media site.
"Customer service through Facebook is becoming a true differentiator for companies," says Duke Chung, Chief Strategy Officer and founder of Parature. "It's a way for them to demonstrate their personalities, and that's especially true for SMBs." Offering customer service through social networking sites also helps businesses build their brands. Adds Cruzado: "It's really important for small businesses to have customers sharing positive customer support experiences at social sites. Word of mouth is king."
Nobody knows that better than Threadless, Parature's latest Facebook-side subscriber. The community-centered online apparel store now has a support tab on its Facebook fan page. Customers can click it to access knowledgebases, submit trouble tickets, post comments, ask questions, and more. "Threadless' approach to support is shaped by our online community and their need for transparency and immediacy," says Brianne Hattaway, director of customer support at Threadless, in a press release. "We can reach out to our customers on Facebook even more than before and give them a fluid support experience across different channels…."
The customer support teams that use Parature range from small (a handful of staffers) to large (up to 1,500 CSRs). A large proportion of customers are in software, high-tech, digital media/gaming, and higher education. Parature has about 900 customers worldwide, and its original multi-channel offering supports 33 languages.