Dear Natural Hair Small Businesses, You Make it Hard to Love You

One of the most important things to me as a natural hair blogger and enthusiast is supporting small businesses that cater to or are owned by men and women with natural hair. Part of the reason why I do the Creations series is to bring attention to natural hair businesses that otherwise may not get as much exposure. And ever since I started running a business myself, I have even greater respect for the thousands of women and men who try their best to bring products, accessories, and services to a niche that is largely neglected by the mainstream market.

However, there’s one glaring problem that some small natural hair companies – and small businesses in general – frequently run into that damage their following, reputations, and ultimately, cash flow: POOR CUSTOMER SERVICE.

Here’s a personal example*

My mom wanted to try Product A from Natural Hair Store, and after researching it myself, I gave her the go ahead. I’ve used other products from NHS, and have ordered from them myself, but I’d never used or ordered Product A. On November 30, I ordered Product A on my mom’s behalf, using her email and shipping addresses. There was a special that would allow my mom to receive Product A quickly, maybe within 2-3 days. My mom received her email confirmation of her order, and her credit card was charged.

On December 7th, my mom called me to see if I’d gotten Product A, thinking that I used my own mailing address, since she hadn’t yet received it. I went to NHS’s website and saw that they announced they would be shipping orders on December 9th, presumably due to the Thanksgiving holiday influx. We both agreed to give it another few days.

On December 8th, I decided that I wanted to order Product B from NHS, and quite a few of them, so I placed the order, and then followed up with an email letting them know I placed a large order, wanted to make sure it was in stock, and would be willing to pay extra shipping to ensure it arrived by December 16th before I went to Nigeria. I received my confirmation and mullah was taken out of my account. On December 10th I hadn’t yet received a reply, so I sent another email. This time I got a reply from Person X, who said she’d forwarded my email to Person Y and was awaiting a response. By the 11th, my mom still hadn’t received a shipping confirmation, so I asked her to email NHS about her order of Product A (including the order number), and to cc me and say she was my mother and needed her order by the 16th just like me as we were traveling together. That same day, I received my shipping confirmation. My mom’s email still received no response so by the next day I followed up in the email chain to ask for an update. It was now the 12th. In addition to emailing, I searched the web for a contact number for NHS. After 15 minutes or so, I came across one, but there was an automated message redirecting me to send an email or visit the NHS website. Frustrated, I sent a final email regarding my mom’s order.

I received Product B on December 13th. My mom received an email that her Product A shipped on December 20th. Neither of us ever received a reply to any of the emails regarding her order, and as you can imagine, my mom is not at all pleased, and is unlikely to continue patronizing NHS, and definitely won’t be recommending them to her friends.

How can companies improve their customer service?

Be reachable

If you list ways to contact you on your site, check them! It’s one thing to have a Facebook page, but if a customer posts asking a question and you never reply, there is no point. Every business should have a phone number; even if it is a Google Voice number, at least provide a detailed FAQ or give the customer the option to leave a message… and call them back!

Be upfront

I think most of us are aware that many individuals running small natural hair companies do so in addition to their full time jobs, responsibilities, or just their lives. While it’s unrealistic to expect replies to emails within 10 minutes, it makes it easier when you let us know when to expect a response, whether 24 hours or 1 week. If you’re running low on stock, post a message on your site and let the customer know when we can expect more. If you only ship once a week, on Thursdays, let us know! Being upfront about some of these things helps you avoid complaints later, as you’ve anticipated and addressed issues before they can even happen.

What do you think? Should I continue to support this business? What else can small natural hair companies do to keep their customers happy?

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I thought long and hard about whether to use the company’s real name or a pseudonym. On the one hand, I want to tell you guys the truth and be transparent, but on the other hand, I want to maintain good relations with the company and avoid slander. After all, maybe it was just an oversight or misunderstanding. I resolved this internal dilemma by telling the exact details of the situation, but leaving the company’s name out. If you manage to deduce the company on your own, that’s just fine; if not, oh well. Be assured that I sent this article to the company in question, in hopes that they can take what I’ve observed into consideration and use it to improve their business.

Share your thoughts...

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  1. No, I wouldn’t endorse this company again. Customers service should be their first priority. They receive the funds asap and rendering service should be the same. I can understand holidays but just ignoring contact is unacceptable.

  2. I own a natural hair business and in this tight competitive market customer service is everything to me. I hate to wait on online orders so I personally get my orders out same or next day. My customers are faithful and I deliver on that same quality. Check out my site which retails natural hair products and satin bonnets a unique combination. /Etsy: Naturalsis72 /Facebook Naturalsis72 or Instagram @Naturalsis72

  3. Wow, this is crazy! My first response to you was not to patronize them anymore. After thinking about the dates and time frame involved, I backspaced. LOL You said that you had used their products before and ordered from them which leads me to believe there were no problems before placing mom’s order. Maybe it’s what you said, an oversight. Given that this was during the holiday season, they may have gotten swamped or maybe this was their first holiday season with such a large volume of orders and were not as prepared as they thought they were (not sure who the company is… but I’m starting to have a strong feeling who it may be). In any event, they SHOULD have at least followed-up with you and mom, whatever the issue may have been, even taking the initiative to send emails letting you know right off the bat that there would be delays once they discovered things would get backed up. That tells the customer that they’re taking ownership of the situation and puts them at ease. Service Recovery is key! Something I learned in my retail days.

    An automated phone message directing you back to the site or send an email?! No bueno. FAQs are very helpful to me. I’m always looking for those on retail sites. You gave some great suggestions and I hope the company takes them into consideration to do better going forward. The way you dealt with this whole thing was stellar! 😉

    1. Yeah it was actually a very long time, and the lack of initiative was shameful. I hope they take them into consideration as well! And thank you 🙂

  4. I think the number one way is really just quick and easy initial service. There’s a company I patronize on a regular basis (Bee Mine) and I don’t even know what their troubleshooting is like because I have never had to use it. The proprieter(s) ship very quickly and your items arrive promptly. I even ordered during the busy holiday season and while there was a slight delay in the shipping, I think that was actually on USPS and not Bee Mine. I’m pretty sure it’s black-owned and black-run so it makes me happy to use them.

    Also maintaining a web presence. One of my favorite hair care companies is Shea Moisture. I love their products and the fact that I can identify all the ingredients. But they don’t have a website! I mean, I know 11-year-olds with a website. They’ve been working on it (and their sister company’s, Nubian Heritage) for the better part of a year+ and still have the same message on there about how they are working while they expand. But…I’d much rather them put a plain but full-service website up than nothing at all. A lot of their products are hard to find on the ground and you have to piece them together – some places have most of their hair lines but no body; some places have the body but no hair; and it’s so difficult to find their facial care and shave products. In the meantime many people, like myself, may turn to alternatives that are easier to find. It’s never bothered me that Bee Mine is only available online because the shipping is fast and the products are great, but with Shea Moisture, what bothers me is the difficulty of finding things and the need to pay shipping fees to separate retailers for separate things.

    To me, Facebook and Twitter don’t count. They’re nice to have as extras, especially if you are really responsive, but big national retail lines need their own website.

    Also, to plug Klassy Kinks, one of the things I like about your own business is that you are very professional and yet also very warm and friendly – great balance of warmth and professionalism. Too many people either don’t believe they mix or don’t know how to do both. But it can be done, and you do that well. Your services are very, very good but the process is also pleasant!

  5. I’m going through the same exact thing now. I ordered my product 3 days after you order your mom’s, and I still haven’t received it!!! Not only have I not received the product, I have emailed and called numerous times and have yet to receive a response from a human! I even sent a Facebook message! The weird thing is I’ve ordered from them a few times in the past with no problems! I’m getting really frustrated…I don’t know what to do! HELP!!!

    1. Sheesh! I wonder if we’re talking about the same company… you should shoot me an email (if you’re comfortable)

  6. Sigh. Exactly my problem. Went through the same thing before I went to Lagos in December. It was extremely frustrating and I only got my order in January!