One Bad Apple


“My five year old could do a better job!”. “That is the ugliest cake I have ever seen!”. “I was so embarrassed, I could not serve the cake.”. “No one could believe I paid $xx for such a terrible cake.”

I have read countless Facebook posts by people hurt to the core by comments like these. I have endured more than a few over nearly 20 years in retail. Sometimes, I could tell that the customers had overspent and were trying to recoup some money. Sometimes the customers were having problems completely unrelated to the cake, but you were close and it was easy to take out their frustrations on you. Sometimes, the cakes truly aren’t great.

When you get a complaint, it seems like the end of the world. You worry that your business is doomed. You begin to doubt your talent and wonder if you made a mistake going into cakes. Your insecurities grow and you start to second guess every design choice. Occasionally, you get angry and defensive. Your next several cake orders are stressful and anxiety producing events.

We drive almost every day, but very rarely are in traffic accidents. If we have one, do we instantly lament that we are the worst driver in the world? Do we consider giving up our cars? Of course not! We understand that in life, accidents happen. We need to take that approach with our cakes. Admit the mistake. Accept it. Move on.

There were weeks at our shop where I had a couple hundred cakes go out. We could have been told that 199 were “perfect”, “awesome”, “beautiful”…but the one negative comment would be what stuck with us. We would replay the comment and my employees and I would be in a funk for the rest of the day about that order. My sleep that night would be an endless loop of the conversation with the unhappy customer.

Why do we believe the negative comments more quickly than the positive? Why don’t we savor the compliments the same way we stew over the criticisms? I read a quote the other day that made me think of a lot of the young decorators who are so easily hurt by the complaints. It said: ” There are 7,012,472,832 people in the world. Don’t let one bring you down.”. The longer we are in business, the more we start to realize that one bad (or so so) cake doesn’t define who we are. The longer we are in business, the more we can tell which complaints are real and which are crap. The longer we are in business, the more confidence and experience we have when handling these situations.

I wish I could write down some magic words to tell you how to handle this situation. To some extent, I gave advice about handling the caketasrophes in my blog When Bad Things Happen To Good People. The key is to hold your temper, apologize, offer whatever you think is appropriate and maintain your professionalism. If you did do something wrong, learn from that mistake and work on preventing similar mistakes in the future. If someone who works for you screwed up, you still have to accept ultimate responsibility. (Yes, that sucks).

If you believe that you did nothing wrong, then you have to stick to your guns. Tell the customer that you are sorry that they did not like your recipe, or the way THEIR design looked or whatever. If you feel that they are not entitled to a refund, then do not give one. Be aware that they may complain on a social network, but that could happen any time any day, regardless of whether a customer talks to you about an issue. Know that your core customer base will stay the same and that this one incident will not make or break you.

Post the happy comments somewhere that you can see them when you work. Let the positive notes keep you company as you work. As soon as you can, get that negative incident out of your head. Do not let one person crush your spirit. Remember, we are all artists, but not everyone likes the same art. Believe in yourselves and the joy of decorating. Make today a great day to be designing cakes!

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11 thoughts on “One Bad Apple

  1. This is a great reminder to me. I have felt the same way this spring with some weddings that went out. Though I didn’t get a negative report, I am my worst critic and I always think I should have done better. For the comments that are negative (which are few), I do beat myself up a little, then just move on because it’s not worth being depressed about. If I truly made an error on the cake, then I chalk it up to experience and how to make it better the next time. This spring, I made a birthday cake and delivered close to an hour and found out I spelled the person’s name wrong. She was very nice about it, but the next cake she ordered had a discount for my blunder. Yes, the wrong name bothered my perfectionism, but I was more than happy to appease the customer with something in their favor the next time.

  2. In all my years of doing cakes I only remember one irrate customer. That bride and her mother had been to my house every week to change something on the order from the day they booked the cake. They were a nightmare set of customers. They changed something on the order everytime they came. By the time the week of the wedding came that order form was a mess. I should have known by their actions that no matter what I did it wasn’t going to be good enough. Well – I did make one mistake. They had ordered a 4 tier cake to feed 200 and with all the mess on the order form I baked a 3 tier cake to feed 200. That bride was irate. When they came back to me they wanted a full refund. They said “Cake was dry – no one ate it because it tasted so bad – family from California was embarrased over the cake.” I checked with the facility where the reception was held – all the plates came back clean (that tells me the cake was good), I asked the people who I dealt with regularly at that facility if they had heard any negative comments about the cake. Nothing. I checked with the photographers if they heard negative comments – they only heard compliments. These are people I work with all the time so they would tell me if something was truly wrong. I gave the customer half of her money back. But she did bad mouth me to a relative and that bride cancelled her cake. In looking back that cancellation was a good thing. I could not have done anything to make that family happy. They would have found something wrong – no matter how good a job I did. Lesson learned – if I ever had another customer who wanted to change everything every week – I would tell them I didn’t belive I could make a product that would make them happy. I would give them their money back months ahead of the wedding and suggest they find someone else. These people were Bridezilla and Momzilla. I hope you never have to deal with that type of customer.

  3. Just thought of another customer who bullied me. I had a customer who ordered a cake with fresh flowers. When she ordered that cake I told her to talk to the florist about the fresh flowers – I didn’t put fresh flowers on a cake. Her attitude and comment was “But you could put them on if you wanted to.” I stressed to her that part of what they pay a florist for is the arranging fee. It is their job to put those flowers on the cake – not mine. I delivered the cake and the florist was leaving as I walked in. I asked him why he was leaving because I would have the cake set up in about 10 minutes. He had NO FLOWERS for the cake. I called the mother of the bride. She told me to take flowers out of the arrangments on the tables to put on the cake. HUHHHHH. The photographer and his wife arrived shortly after that phone call. She pulled flowers and I put them on the cake. When that family arrived at the venue – the mothers comment to me was – “Why did you call me? You nearly gave me a heart attack. You knew what to do – you didn’t need to call me.” A Momzilla in spades. Or maybe a Bully customer. Do you walk out and leave it OR because it will reflect badly on you if you don’t do as she asks – do you let a customer bully you into doing something you don’t do normally.

  4. Absolutely love love your blog and articles. You are becoming such a big part of my baking and caking world. No one could give me a better advice than you. After all, you’d been there! Keep writing and I’ll keep reading !

  5. Love your words of wisdom. Loving perfection makes me strive to be a great sugar artist, but it also causes me to focus on what is wrong or negative feedback when it is given. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It helps to know we are not alone. Even when I know a customer is being insane the funk is hard to shake. Having a retail store has changed the amount of odd interactions, but luckily I have the best partner/sister in the world and we keep each other laughing. Thank you for writing your blog! We look forward to reading it always!

  6. I have a quote on my wall that says, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” I use this often in my life.

  7. Ruth,Thank you so much for this blog. There is truth in this blog on many levels, not just the
    cake or bakery industry.

  8. Ruth, I love your blog. you are like my “Big sister” helping me through things that I experience, but thinking I’m the only one!! LOL it hurts so much when someone tells you that the cake you made for them “wasn’t what they wanted” or “the flavor of the cake was so bad, no one at the party would eat it and they had to throw it away”…… that hurts alot!!! but as the other person said, you just keep going and try again tomorrow. thanks for all you do!! susan

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