Improper Racial Comments From Your Customers? It Does Happen!

It doesn’t matter what color or nationality you are, invariably it will happen no matter what minority group you represent.  With all of the good customers in the world, there are some who just have no filter on what they should say.  We could recognize their ignorance, but more importantly you should know how to deal with these situations.  Always be prepared!

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Customers come from all walks of life, and certainly have their goods and bads, but we cannot live without them in the sales world.  They are human, and with that in mind, are capable of saying things that are subject to translation, and sometimes downright wrong and insulting.

This post covers how you might react to those comments, or better yet, how you might better react to those comments.  Remember, just as we stated in Black Sales Journal August 22,2011, Reacting to Improper Racial Comments from Co-workers and Black Sales Journal 8/29/2011, Reacting to Improper Racial Comments from Managers, which covered how you might react to statements from co-workers and from your manager, you have the right to react, I am just suggesting to you do so in a professional manner.

Just because someone is doing business with you does not mean that they can say things that are demeaning or even cruel without a formidable response.

Intent Does Count!

Before we get deep into this, I would like to point out that intent does count.  I would like to explain that there are intentionally harmful racial comments that are made with malice, and racial comments that are made in ignorance.  Although neither of these should be considered acceptable, and they both probably warrant a reply, the requisite responses might need to differ.

Statements that are made because one is ignorant or one is unenlightened obviously have the same effect, yet have less gravity than a statement meant to harm by some one who is rude and insensitive.  Here are a couple of examples:

Statement A: During a business meeting your customer talked about safety in the area that his business is located. He says with a smile… “They say that one of your brothers pulled off the robbery of that fast food joint down the street last night.”

Statement B: During a dinner entertainment session, your buyer indicates she needs to terminate a Hispanic employee “who is still wet from the swim across because of the new immigration laws.”

Both statements are offensive, and both deserve a response.  Which statement is, in your view, is the most racially charged?  How would you react to each of these?

Always be calculated in your response and consider the intent.  I will discuss how I would respond in a moment.  First I want to acquaint you with a personal situation and how I handled it.

A Personal Example

When I was in sales, many of my customers were owners of trucking companies.  This industry, like many others has people that say what is on their mind, and sometimes what is on their mind can be disparaging.  In the instance that I am about to cite, I definitely responded incorrectly the first time, by not responding.  When the second time came around, I think I definitely handled it in the correct manner.

I was on a call basically to deliver policies to the account and we got involved in a conversation about a driver who had generated a lower back workers compensation claim.  Everyone knows that lower back claims can be subjective, and tend to linger for long periods.

During the call my customer indicated that we should investigate the claim of Ben T.  He stated that he had reason to believe that Ben was malingering, and it was our job to get to the root of it and make sure that the claim was compensable, and that payments should be stopped until we knew for sure.  He then said, “You have a good work ethic, and I wish all of your people had that same work ethic.”

I was a 26 year old sales professional and initially, my response was to say nothing other than that I would check it out.  I thought I needed the client, and needed my money.  I realized within minutes that my response was wrong. It kept me up at night for a little bit, and relived it several times.

When I returned to the customer location the following week, I explained to him the situation behind the back claim.  This individual was going to undergo surgery and his claim was legitimate to our people.  I then sat with him, looked him in the eye and said, “Respectfully Bob, I take offense to your comments last week about Ben T. and work ethic.” He developed a puzzled look and quickly said, “I did not mean to offend you Michael.” I then advised the following, “I know you did not mean to offend me, as we speak openly, yet you offended a whole community of people, of which I am one.  It would have been the same as if I said that you are special, but most of your people are drunkards (Bob was Irish). It was frankly just wrong.”

A light bulb went on in Bob’s head.  I could see it happen… enlightenment, that is.  Bob said, “Point taken, but we Irish like to drink!”  I quickly responded, “You do get my point, don’t you?”  We smiled and wecompleted the meeting.

Back to Our Questions

Well, both situations are enough to of these statements are bothersome, and unfortunately situations like this happen in the workplace frequently.

Regarding Statement A: This is the least charged, as this person is attempting to refer to a felon as a ‘brother’ presumably because we often call Black people ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.  It should not have been said but you would not have to use a nuclear bomb on this one.  Your response should be simple and professional, “Respectfully, no one who would do that is a brother of mine.”  Remember, this is a customer.

Regarding Statement B: This is a racially charged statement.  You might hesitate to respond to it, yet the races are interchangeable in this case.  If you do not respond, I suppose you would be waiting until this customer got around to taking a ‘shot’ at African Americans  next.  An improper remark against any group or religion is an attack on your diversity.  Your response should be professional and impactful.  Something like, “Kristin, honestly I take offense to that statement.”  She knows it was wrong and if she is worth her salt she will not make another one like it.

Respect your principals.  I am not saying that you should not work with a customer as much as you need to be true to yourself.

Always be true to yourself.  Always be the professional.

Your comments are appreciated.  Read me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.

Racial Prejudice, Preference, and Perceptions and Your Customer! A Deep Dive!

The CustoemrThis is, and will remain, an important topic.  No matter whether it is the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s or any decade in the 2000s.  Some things will get incrementally better, yet hope that they will change is still an interesting premise.

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This post will reinforce the fact that the customer makes choices, and the sales professional must determine the way to interface  and find success.  This post will show clarification of my view on racial perceptions, racial preferences, and racial prejudices. I will also expand on some previous posts as to ways to change increase effectiveness when faced with preferences and prejudice from your prospect or buyer in some of my upcoming posts.   I have dealt with it in earlier posts; yet will impose a more striking angle in the upcoming posts.

The reality is that an understanding of these two items is essential in the day-to-day activities of the Black sales professional.

The 3Ps – Perceptions, Preferences, Prejudices

Racial Prejudice

Perceptions can slowly be changed.  They exist, and come from many sources.  A person’s life experiences, the media, parents, friends, and the knowledge and ignorance of interaction or lack of interaction formperceptions.  When these life experiences are negative, we have negative perceptions that fuel preferences and help substantiate prejudices.

Perceptions are normally wrong based on their application against a group of people based on some input which was either not factual, or was spread across a group of people without warrant. We will talk more about perceptions in an upcoming post, exposing activities that help to give credence to the negative perceptions.

Perceptions are prevalent in all racial and ethnic groups, and we should not criticize perceptions that we disagree with if we are going to carry perceptions of our own which are damaging to other races or ethnic groups.  We all need to fight against this activity.

Racial Preference

Preferences are a different and are powerful.  They are not always meant to be deleterious to a race or ethnic group, yet can have the same effect.   Your customer’s level desire of whom they want to work with is directly related to their relationship comfort.  That does not make it right.   Some of the preferences come from perceptions and some come from prejudice, yet preference is more substantial than those two inputs.  Comfort levels, familiarity, a lack of understanding, and some “lumping” of people into groups based on common elements manifest preference.

As an example, putting all Hispanics or African Americans into respective group on the basis that their ethnic background and “perceived” activities that are similar in nature is a perception which can be damning.  It is not often thought of that way, yet it is true.

Whether it is preference or it is prejudice, the effect is the same; lost opportunities, lack of diversity, locking out of good people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Racial Prejudice

Prejudice in life, and what we do from the standpoint of an occupation is wrong.  If we define prejudice as Webster does:

“an irrational attitude of hostility directed against, [in this situation] a group or race”.

It is insidious!

To discriminate because of race, ethnicity, or gender is at the base of everything we should never endorse.  When it comes to sales, it is no different.  It is not manufactured by anything substantive, but is fueled by narrow-mindedness.  I am sure you recognize that if it is wrong for one group, it is wrong for all.

Prejudice changes the landscape.  It cannot necessarily be changed, and any changes may well be short lived.  It robs the Black sales professional of opportunity and in some cases, based on your territory, success, yet exist, and will not be removed from the marketplace in my lifetime.

I will aver in an upcoming post that as sure as we are that prejudice exists, it is much less prevalent than the problems with preference.  This, we need to recognize.  We can change perceptions…we can overcome preference.  Should we spend time trying to solve or sell when prejudice is involved?

Blacks who discriminate against Hispanics or Whites in the sales arena are in the same “boat” as other ethnic groups that discriminate.  Whites who are in positions of power get more attention because of their roles.  The truth is that prejudice whether in a role of power or any role is wrong.

Why is this a Big Deal?

This is a big deal because recognition and tactics are so important for success.  There are tactics to defeat racial preference.  There are tactics to nullify and change negative racial perceptions.  Racial prejudice is different.  It is pervasive and even in situations where you are given the business, a positive relationship does not exist, so the business is potentially borrowed anyway.

There is no situation more gratifying than enjoying your occupation and getting a fair opportunity to perform it to your best ability.  Learning what you can change and what you cannot will conserve energy for redirection to positive tasks, as well as promote growth.

Your comments are welcome.  You can reach me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.