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HOW’S YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE?

“I don’t shop there, because Black folks own that place. You know how WE do…”

Sound familiar? I can’t count how many times I’d heard this and similar comments. Most of the time, when someone says anything like this, they are referring to the service they have received–or at least believe they will receive–when patronizing a Black-owned business. However, over the recent years, one thing has dawned on me. Exactly how do  we “do it”?

Why do Black-owned businesses provide such poor customer service?

This is a question that has been voiced many times over and sadly much of the time it’s from the Black community. I know many people who will not patronize Black-owned businesses because of this belief– be-it from experience or hearsay. So, why do Black-owned businesses provide such poor customer service?

Well, in short, they don’t. At least not all of them. Poor service or product quality exist in the business community as a whole, not just the Black small business community. It is unfortunate that there are businesses that do provide bad service or inferior products. It is even more unfortunate that because of a few bad apples, the stigma has enveloped the small Black business community. Black-owned businesses already face tough challenges.  So the added stigma of poor customer service is definitely not an asset.

How does your business’s customer service measure up?

As Black businesses owners, it is certainly up to us to prove that we are worthy of our customers’ patronage. After all, they do have other options and it is their money–and who wants to pay for disrespectful or rude treatment? The same thinking goes for the products that we offer. (Uh-hum–please do not put old, expired or otherwise inferior products on your shelves and expect them to sell!)

So how does your customer service measure up? While the experts will expound on different metrics and measurements, I prefer these two: number of sales and customer numbers. By the way, the two are very much connected. Satisfied customers will buy, but happy customers will buy more and keep coming back. So if sales are down or you don’t have any “regulars”, it’s safe to assume people are going elsewhere, because they were not even satisfied with the service that you provided.

What’s the fix?

Regardless of our business, we can all use a regular tune-up in the customer service department. As a  matter of fact, those with the most exceptional service are successful, because they are proactive about maintaining quality customer service.

So whether you are looking to fix or maintain your customer service here are a few areas to address:

Be a Mind Reader: Seriously, no one can read minds, right… right? However, if you know your business, then you should know your customers–at least the basics. When it comes to customer needs three things are key: ask, identify, anticipate. Learn to ask the right questions to identify what your customers want or need and then use that information to anticipate future needs.

Be a first responder: Don’t worry, unless you’re a firefighter, no one is expecting you to rush off to any fires. However, when a customer walks through your doors they should be your priority–so don’t make them wait! If you’re already with another customer, at least acknowledge your new visitor. The same courtesy should be extended when dealing with phone calls and even social media. Respond to all customer visits, complaints or concerns with a sense of urgency.

Go the extra mile: There used to be a time when if you asked a clerk where a certain item was in a store, they would take you right to the item. These days, ask someone and it is not uncommon to get a mumbling resembling “Um… aisle 3 or 4… maybe. I’m not sure, but you can check.” What in the world is that? This happens in all areas of business, too–doctor’s offices, the plumber and fast food joints–my way…whatever! First of all, “I don’t know.” is not an answer and certainly not a solution.  Let’s exempt that from our vocabulary now. If you don’t have the answer, let your customer know, followed by a promise to find the answer as soon as possible.

Always, always, always provide the best service possible, even if it won’t necessarily mean an immediate sale for you. While some people are only looking for free advice or help, the majority will appreciate you looking out for their best interests. Not only will they return ready to buy the next time, but they’re more than likely to bring cash in hand friends, too.

The sum total of this lesson is to treat your customers like you want to keep them as customers. It only takes one person to have one bad experience to blemish your otherwise great customer service reputation. So there is always work to do! Oh and when you do make a mistake, the best response is, “I sincerely apologize, how can we fix this?”

Are your customers raving about your service? If so, we’d love to hear your secret to customer service success! Share your comments with the MYBB community.

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Louiseza Sanderson

Louiseza Sanderson

Louiseza Sanderson is a business consultant, writer and the founder of www.MindYourBlackBusiness.com. She is also a veteran of the United States Air Force. It was during her time in the military that she learned the value of hard work, community and serving the needs of others. Following her military service she earned a bachelor's degree in business and an MBA in business communications.

She began consulting with the explicit goal of providing affordable business consultation and guidance to those who might not otherwise have access. "I started consulting by 'inherent accident'. I've spent my whole life gathering information, in hopes that it would benefit someone," says Sanderson. When it comes to working with her clients, she believes that the key is to find the human factor. By doing so, she helps her clients to find the best solution for their business, by first figuring out what is best for the person. Her hope is to help such entrepreneurs, small businesses and non-profits who share her vision of giving back-- be it through job creation, innovation or a cause.

As a consultant and business owner herself, Sanderson came to realize that while there are many resources for small business owners, there were very few that provided a platform for micro and small Black owned businesses, as well as the information germane to them. These are the mom and pops, solo-preneurs and other businesses and organizations that are really the heart and soul of the local (Black) community. She shares, "The vision of Mind Your Black Business is the culmination of what I am most passionate about and what I do best--helping others to achieve their dreams and helping small businesses grow."

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