BOBs... Help Me Help You Help Us!
The relationship between Black businesses and Black customers is as nuanced as the relationship between Black people as a whole. While you are individuals with your own perspectives, goals, and life stories, you are also connected by a historical past unlike any other people… and are therefore bound by a common societal struggle. For that reason, some of us tend to sympathize with one another, even going as far as to defend one another against outside criticism despite not knowing anything about the other aside from our Blackness. For some other folk, being Black has nothing to do with nothing. All things are absolute and to them, Black people have had plenty of time to be on equal footing as the next man. Then there’s the Uncle Ruckus’… we’ll leave it at that.
On the flip side, this IS a business relationship which basically means it’s an exchange; it’s mutually beneficial where you, as business owner provide a good or a service in exchange for customers’ money. That’s pretty basic. And while you can hope that Black customers will be more understanding of shortcomings, you cannot EXPECT them to do so. The same way you don’t want customers asking for price cuts and discounts, customers don’t want to be short changed either! But guess whose responsibility it is to deliver 100% of the time. That would be you, business owner. Here are some ways you can do your part to not be part of the problem:
Be On Time
There’s no worse first impression of a business than showing up to catch them first thing and they’re not open. You inconvenience your customers tremendously not being there when you’re supposed to. A large part of a great customer experience is convenience. You lose major points for making my day harder for supporting your establishment.
Under-promise And Over-deliver
This cannot be stressed enough. You have the power to manage your customers’ expectations. If you tell me I’ll have my product delivered to me in 3-5 business days, on business day 6, I’m probably tight. However, if you tell me orders may take 3-5 weeks because “each order is handled with care” or something romantic like that and I get my order in 2 weeks, I’ll sing your praises for such a speedy delivery.
Be Courteous and Respectful
We know that business owners are people, too…people with good days, bad days, they lack sleep, and they stress, just like the next person. Unfortunately, that’s not your customers’ problem. You, and your staff or reps, should make customers feel as if they’re business is wanted and appreciated. Answer them in complete sentences. Follow up their questions clarification and/or confirmation of what they’re asking. You seem more like you care and as if you want to make sure you deliver exactly what they want. Those gestures are appreciated.
This one can seem robotic and rehearsed for you but for your customers, it can be a pleasant introduction and comforting affirmation that they just spent their money well. If you have a face-to-face business, SAY HELLO, BRUH. It’s unreal, and frankly annoying as hell when you walk into an establishment and you are not greeted. Have your staff do this as well. It’s not the employee who will get the wack Yelp review. It’s your business, and therefore, you. If you’re virtually communicating, feel free to throw in some pleasantries: some appropriately place exclamation points (Hello!, I appreciate your business!, It’s been my pleasure!)
Invest in Your Business!
This is not only monetary. Time is our most precious commodity. Be sure to spend plenty of that on improving your business: read up on your craft, take a class, attend a seminar, network when you might not feel social, perfect your process. The more time you invest in your business, the more it will show. You’ll take pride in this entity of which you have devoted so much of yourself and that will seep through your work. It will attract people who seek great things (those people usually pay good money). Oh, and pay the damn fees for the credit card machines... stop this CASH ONLY immediately.
The relationship between Black businesses and Black customers is almost like the one between Black men and Black women, respectively. Some think Black businesses are trash and will never get right. And for some, that may be true; they might not be worth the disappointment. But for the overwhelming majority, they are great and special and some just need a bit of grooming. It’s not the customer’s responsibility to groom them, but the constructive criticism helps many grow and flourish and intrinsically provide everything you’ve needed in addition to helping the community flourish. As long as businesses can acknowledge they may need the help, implement some practices to improve, and give back to the relationship, there’s no reason the union can’t flourish!
Khamil Scantling is a Black business advocate who comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Hailing from East Orange, NJ, a predominantly Black suburb of Newark, she grew up seeing Black people at all levels of prosperity. She attended the University of Pittsburgh where she was culture shocked by the city of Pittsburgh's lack of Black cohesiveness and a Black middle-class community. That void pushed her into her advocacy to help Black businesses in the city, figuring improving the economic state of Pittsburgh's Black communities was a good place to start to bring people together.
Chief Blogger at Black Owned and Company.
This blog dedicated to inspiring millennial women to the incorporate products from black owned businesses into their daily lives.