An African-American businessman.
An African-American businessman works to improve customer service. © Minerva Studio - Fotolia.com

Last week, I wrote an article for theGrio entitled “4 half-truths about black-owned businesses and why you should still buy black”. Although it is important to have the support of the black community when starting a black business, it is time for black businesses to step up as well. It is true that there has been a history of oppression from others in this country. However, that is a sunk cost which is a cost that has already occurred and cannot be recovered. These costs should not factor into decision-making about the future of African-American commerce.

This article on customer service is the first of a series of articles that will share my thoughts on how black businesses can improve to become world class organizations. It is time for us to move forward, create a great business roadmap, and execute it to perfection.

Improving Our Customer Service

There is a very negative stigma customers hold regarding black-owned businesses having poor customer service. Although this is definitely not true for many black businesses, it is an area in which we need to pay special attention. Due to the negative stigma, customer service has become a critical success factor (CSF) if a business is black-owned. Not all attributes of a company (i.e. customer service, prices, quality, etc.) are weighted equally in the minds of consumers; CSFs are those things that need to be excellent in order to build a sustainable customer base. Delighting customers does three things for your business:

  1. It increases the number of referrals to your business as happy customers are likely to give good suggestions to their friends. This lowers the acquisition cost of each new customer.
  2. It helps you retain your current customers longer as they will want to user your service multiple times. This increases your customer lifetime value.
  3. It reduces the number of people saying negative things about your company. One of the worst things that can happen for a small business is an angry, vocal customer who knows how to use the Internet. If you are not careful, your reputation can be ruined on feedback sites like Yelp.

The Ultimate Question of Good Customer Service

It is one thing to say that customer service needs to be improved, but what does this really mean? Salesforce.com has an excellent video explaining the attributes of great customer service. Ultimately, it comes down to one question: “As a customer, how satisfied were you using this product or service?” If the answer is “very satisfied,” then you have a great likelihood of retaining that customer for future business. If it is less than that, it is important to collect feedback on what you can do better. Common actions that make a good customer experience are speed of service and  personable and helpful interaction with the customer over the phone or in person. Focus on these things and never forget this ultimate question that you need to keep in mind.