Black-owned businesses are held to higher and tougher standards 

As a double minority, I know first-hand the challenges that we face when starting and maintaining a business.  And I know the pressure that minority and women business owners have to provide excellent customer service so they don’t lose their customers and their sales don’t suffer. 

Great customer service is lacking across the board – no matter what race the owner of the company may be.  But, more specifically, Black-owned businesses typically don’t get the benefit-of-the-doubt when it comes to making a mistake with their customers. For example, if a customer shops at Walmart and gets horrible customer service, they may gripe about it to their friends. However, that customer and their friend may likely shop at Walmart (which consistently has HORRIBLE customer service) over and over and again. But let that same customer have the same negative experience at a Black-owned store and they will tell everyone they know about that bad experience and there’s a huge chance that none of those people will shop at that store.  Black businesses typically don’t get another chance to make a good impression and it’s hurting their bottom line.   

I’ve had several clients lament to me that a customer will order a product from them and within a day or two that customer is sending an email asking “where is the item I ordered?”. I think this is an inherent bias against Black-owned businesses.  During the BLM-era we are currently experiencing, a lot of people want to support Black-owned businesses, but many are sub-consciously half-expecting that the Black-owned business will do “something wrong” or provide horrible customer service is some way.  As a result, if they don’t hear from the business in what they deem to be an appropriate amount of time, they are assuming the business isn’t doing what they are supposed to do.  

When I was in Corporate America, I felt like I had to work 10 times as hard, win 10 times the awards, and increase sales by 10 times as much to get the same recognition as my non-Black counterparts (there are valid reasons for this, but that’s for another article).  Ask Black people in Corporate America if they feel the same way and I’d venture to say that, at the very least, 9 out of 10 of them will agree with me.  For Black entrepreneurs, the same holds true when it comes to customer service.  We have to over-communicate with our customers so they don’t think we aren’t providing good customer service, fulfilling their orders, or doing the work we said we would do.  If we don’t over-communicate, we run the risk of customers bad-mouthing us on social media and telling others not to patronize our business.  And this is even after ONE business oversight and without being given a chance to rectify the issue.  

In my experience, the easiest way to help alleviate customer anxiety over possibly bad customer service is to plan and strategize ahead of time so you’re prepared.  For example, automate your communications systems so customers are updated regularly and you don’t have to think about it.  This way, communication does not fall through the cracks and customers are not left in the dark.    

Now, the elephant in the room is that a number of us HAVE encountered a minority-owned business that has provided bad customer service.  But we’ve also encountered MANY non-minority-owned businesses that have provided bad customer service and still patronized them.  (Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm?”.)

For many Black-owned businesses, the owner is the “solopreneur” and they are trying to do EVERYTHING on their own because a lot of them cannot afford to hire staff.  And… things fall through the cracks because nobody can do everything by themselves and do it all well.  Also – many Black business owners think they know what great customer service is but they really don’t and nobody has taught them.  I’m offering some explanations as to why some customers may have encountered sub-par customer service from some Black-owned businesses – these are not excuses.  So my question is this – what excuse do large, multi-billion dollar companies like Walmart have for the horrible customer service they provide?  Seems to me they don’t care at all about the customer experience because they take for granted that people will shop with them anyway.  And people do.  Hmmmmmm…

-Angela Black

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