Facebook has released a new set of controls and features aimed at helping businesses set better expectations with customers. Starting this month, Page administrators can specify their average response time, set an “away” status, enable instant replies, and even access a Rapportive-like inbox that provides insights about customers that message them.

Over the past few years, the social networking company has been adding new features aimed at bolstering its Pages offering. The idea is that as more businesses establish a digital identity, they’re likely going to set up shop on Facebook, but there needs to be more incentive for being on the site. There are more than 50 million active business Pages on Facebook, and the company said most are using their Page to communicate with customers. In fact, 2.5 billion comments are left on Pages monthly.

“People can contact businesses anytime and from any device, so we’re offering new tools for Pages to better manage their customer interactions,” said Facebook product manager for Pages Michael Sharon in a statement. “Now it’s easier than ever for Pages to address both the public comments and private messages that people send them, in order to build and maintain strong relationships and grow their business.”

Controlling expectations

But while there’s a lot of interaction that takes place, what customers are interested in is whether or not a business responds to their inquiry or feedback. This is why the company set up an indicator in August to give consumers an idea of the likelihood someone would respond. Building on that, now Page admins can set the average time it takes for them to reply to messages. Displayed as either “within minutes,” “within an hour,” “within hours,” or “within a day,” this metric is calculated automatically; by doing so, businesses can set the right expectation while also minimizing the chance of someone saying “this company never hears what I have to say.”

The next feature helps companies establish control over when they’ll be responding to messages. With a new messaging status called “away,” Page admins can designate when they’re unavailable to respond to messages. Just like you’d see within an instant messaging service, if a customer sees that status, they’ll know that someone won’t get to their message right away. Facebook said that any communications received during this time will not count against the business’ response rate.

Lastly, Facebook wants to streamline the workflow for the Page admins. Starting today, a new feature provides Instant Replies, which are automatic messages delivered to people who message a Page for the first time. Businesses can use this to quickly say “thank you for reaching out,” provide them a quick onboarding tutorial, or give them answers to frequently asked questions.

Know thy customer

So what happens once the customer actually messages a business? In order to provide personalized service, Page admins have a new feature in their Facebook inbox that gives them more context on the person they’re conversing with. This redesigned inbox offers up previous interactions the customer has with the Page, as well as information shared publicly on their profile.

Other capabilities include being able to add notes about the person, such as current orders, past customer service preferences, or anything else. Tags can be added to categorize conversations and make them easier to find and respond to later. All of this data will only be visible to Page admins.

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In unveiling this redesigned inbox, Facebook is providing a pretty interesting customer relationship management service for small businesses that’s available on mobile devices as well. Businesses just starting out can’t necessarily afford the expensive services like Salesforce, but Facebook is affordable (read: free). And as more interactions take place on the social network, why shouldn’t Facebook roll out these features to give businesses more of a fighting chance while also providing more context about conversations?

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And remember the 2.5 billion comments left on Pages monthly? Facebook will now provide a Rapportive-like view within the Page admin console. Under the “Activity” tab where admins can monitor and respond to comments on their Page, this tool will be the dashboard for customer interaction. You can flag interactions for followup, reply privately, or mark them as done.

This dashboard will also provide public profile information to give admins better context about who is interacting with the Page. Other data points, like posts, check-ins, mentions, and reviews, will be added in the future.

Page admins will start to see these features become available over the “coming months,” and they will be made available globally.