Facebook Pages have become the new connection between brands and their customers. Instead of going to a company’s website, users experience and communicate with brands via Facebook using channels they’re used to. This familiarity has led many brands to see their Facebook Walls fill with customer service and support inquiries. To help brands monitor and respond to these inquiries, Parature customer service and support tool providers have released the new Parature for Facebook product.
Parature for Facebook is an application tab Page admins can install that contains a set of customer support modules. They allow users to search an FAQ-like knowledge-base, submit questions through a web form, and live chat with a service representative. Page admins can set keywords that when mentioned in a wall post send that post to Parature for Facebook’s admin-only Monitor tab. If the company also uses Parature’s Desk software, wall post, web form, and chat-initiated inquiries can be routed there for answering and inclusion in Parature’s analytics reports.
Duke Chung and four others founded Parature in 2000 to offer an online engagement and customer support system for the long tail of brick and mortar brands and businesses who were moving to the web. They spent the next nine years developing their suite of support modules and growing their team to 100 full time employees, about 15 of which were working on the Facebook product. The company now has almost 900 clients, ranging from media sites like IGN and Nascar.com, consumer sites including Travelodge, schools like Colorado State University, and an increasing number of social gaming and media companies including Playfish and RockYou. Parature’s systems power the creation of 12 million support tickets a year, with registered users viewing 80 million Parature support pages a year.
Clients license Parature depending on the number of support representatives that will use the tool, ranging from $10,000 to a $1 million a year, with the average client paying about $50,000 a year. Parature for Facebook costs $19,500 per year per Page it’s deployed on as a standalone product, and $2,500 for those already licensing Parature’s customer service software. Parature has raised $29.5 million between a Series A with Valhalla Partners and Sierra Ventures, and a Series B including those firms as well as Accel Partners.
Parature for Facebook launched yesterday with Rosetta Stone as its first client. Rosetta Stone’s Page now shows a “Support” tab. When clicked, users see a FAQ search box allowing them to look for keywords in existing questions and answers of the support knowledge-base. By making this self-serve tool the landing sub tab, companies can cut down on the amount of redundant inquiries they receive, saving time and money. However, the ability to browse the knowledge-base instead of only being able to search would help users find answers when they don’t know what keyword to search or are accidentally searching for the wrong synonym of a keyword.
The “Chat With Us” sub tab brings up a web form for submitting a support inquiry. Users leave a summary, details, and their name and email and wait for a support representative to contact them. Unfortunately, these submissions are not pre-scanned for keywords from the knowledge-base, allowing users to submit a ticket when the answer to their question might already be in Parature’s system.
Pressing the “Chat with Live Agent” button launches a Rosetta Stone pop-up window prompting users for their first name and email before opening a chat window. A support agent greets the user, and politely asks how they can help. Using chat works well as it’s easy to multi-task while waiting for responses instead of waiting on hold on the phone. At the end of the conversation, users can opt to have a transcript of the chat sent to the email address they provided.
While these direct channels of receiving support are useful, they are buried behind a separate tab. Many support inquiries, complaints, and complements come through the default landing tab for Pages: the wall. Without a system like Parature, companies often use interns to read and respond to every wall post. This can be inefficient as there is no way to mark which posts have been read, or easily route complex questions to the right expert in a company. There’s also no way to track what topics or features are receiving the most inquiries and might require clarification or improvement.
Parature for Facebook handles inquiries posted to the wall by letting clients use an admin-only “Monitor” tab. Here they can set up a flagged list of keywords from a stock list provided by Parature including “unhappy”, “broken”, or “help” and add ones specific to their business like “headset”, “volume” or “accent” for Rosetta Stone. When one of these keyword is present in a wall post, that post is queued in the “Monitor” tab, where it can be removed from the wall, sent to Parature’s desk software for resolution, or ignored. Keyword monitoring can also be useful to other departments like HR, which could use it to track words like “jobs” or “apply”.
Wall posts sent from Parature for Facebook to their desk software are included in analytics reports about their keywords and sentiment. These help a company keep track of the overall perception of their brand, and notice which specific features or issues are causing the most inquiries. For instance, a media site could track if a new instructions page for their video player had led to a reduction in support inquiries with the keyword “video”. Those without Parature’s desk software can integrate tickets from the Facebook application into other customer support systems using Parature’s API.
For clients, the Parature for Facebook product could drastically improve support offered over Facebook, though there is still room for improvement. A related keyword-generator for choosing what wall posts to flag would ensure companies are seeing posts with the word “badly” or “negative” when they enter “bad” as a keyword. A way to tell from the “Monitor” sub tab if a wall post has been commented on by the support team would also reduce needless combing of the wall. Meanwhile, users would benefit from knowledge-base browsing, and suggestions of related knowlege-base entries when they submit a web form ticket.
Parature thinks of Facebook as a 24/7 focus group for brands. The purchasing process for customers has changed with the advent of social networks. Whereas before they might go to a brick and mortar store and ask the sales representative for their opinion, they now ask their friends and check the experiences of other users online. “Social networks give customers the power to share their opinions in a much stronger way, and brands can’t hide”, says co-founder Duke Chung. By addressing complaints directly on the Facebook wall, brands can convert an unhappy user to a happy one.
Chung says that a technological advantage of his company over other support systems is that Parature is set up as a scalabe, hosted multi-tenant system. This means that all of Parature’s clients run their software off of one centralized database, whereas other providers require each company they work with to set up a localized system. When Parature improves a product or offers new functionality, they update on their side and every client immediately gets the benefits. Competitors require each client to update their system individually.
This is not Parature’s first Facebook support solution. It currently offers an integration with fellow online customer support company Get Satisfaction which allows for peer-to-peer support where users answer each other’s questions. That product is better suited to companies that receive a high volume of “How do I…?” questions where there might not be a right answer, but other users of the product can help with suggestions. Parature for Facebook is a better solution for when users typically have technical, billing, legal, or other questions that need expert or official responses.
While most companies working on the Facebook platform must scramble to adapt to changes, Parature got to work closely with the Facebook team thanks to their mutual investor, Accel Partners. “We worked with the Pages project managers to design this product and got roadmap item notifications”, which helped prevent Parature from having to re-do work to respond to an unforeseen alteration in Facebook’s code or policy, said Chung.
Parature is one of the few companies selling enterprise software for use on Facebook. It is a different market than the 98% of Facebook apps which are free and end-user focused. By providing a tool that lets brands take control of support inquiries happening on Facebook, whether they manage them or not, Parature has created the tool to manage customer support for the social network era.