Tag Archive | customers

Side Effects

They say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Often, as we hope, wish and strive to accomplish our goals, we forget that there will be A downside to reaching any of them. Let’s think about medicines for a moment. Commercials are rampant these days for every disease out there. After it tells you how it will help you, an announcer quickly glosses over all the bad things that medicine could cause. 

One day as I watched a commercial with friends, one of them asked why anyone would want to take that medicine. I answered that the benefits to the person had to outweigh the risks. Take me, for example. When my last leukemia medicine failed, I had to switch to Tasigna. I’ve been on oral chemo for 15 years, so I didn’t figure it would be a big deal to change. The doctor say me down and told me that I needed to fully understand the potential side effects of this drug. The number one side effect?  Sudden death. Let that sink in. SUDDEN DEATH. 

I told my doctor that I had always said that I didn’t care if the medicines made me grow two heads, I was taking them. I wasn’t through with life yet. But it still gave me pause. I remember holding the first two pills in my hand, wondering if I should take them. I documented the dose on Instagram, just in case it was the last thing I ever did. Clearly, my heart didn’t react badly to the medicine and I am very careful to follow all the rules with it. 

I see similar things in the cake world all the time. We dream of success, without thinking about its cost. If you are dreaming of more customers, you will find that invariably you are going to have less time for yourself. Those lazy days can disappear. Those weekends at the lake?  Gone. 

Many of you dream of owning a retail location. You will definitely find that your schedule is now ruled by the business. You may find that as your business grows, so do the headaches with employees, taxes, vendors, etc.  you might look up one day and realize that you aren’t even decorating the cakes any more because your day is filled with the operation of the business. To give it your all, you have to give less somewhere else. Often, I see marriages crumble and fail in this situation. 

Maybe you want to travel and teach. And then you find that you never have a date, because it is hard for someone to handle the life you’ve built. Do you board your pet?  Do your relationships at home suffer?  Do you find that you hate airports, or driving, or hotels?  

It is so easy for us to think that “if only x happened, my life would be perfect”, but that is rarely the case. The person whose life you are idolizing could have a lot of side effects that you cannot see. Remember, most of us only show the world what we want it to see. 

So as you map out your dreams, be sure to think about the side effects. Taking fewer orders gets you more free time, but maybe less money for yourself. Taking more orders gets you money, but less sleep and time with family. In the end, we have to look for the balance that works for each of us. Don’t try to live anyone else’s life. Pick your goal and the side effects that make your life happy. 

And because I haven’t said it yet in this blog:  I believe in you. You’ve got this. 


The Three Questions

Many years ago at a cake event, I heard someone talk about the three questions. Norm Davis says that Pat Trunkfield from England came up with these. I’ve shared them over and over in my classes. They can truly help you focus on what is important.

As I’ve heard them, they are:
1) Will they notice?
2) Will they care?
3) If they will notice and care, are they willing to pay the difference?

Will They Notice?

Often on cake orders, we get bogged down on details and don’t know when to step away from a cake. Your first question has to be whether the customer is going to notice that aspect of the piece. If not, you want to spend less time on that part.

I use the example of my figurines. If a customer won’t notice, I often give ball hands or mitten hands to the character. It is faster for me, which means I can charge less for the figure.

Will They Care?

Some customers aren’t fussy about every single part of a cake. They might notice something but just not care.

Going with the above example, my husband would notice that I didn’t do an anatomical hand, but he would not care. If you know or believe that the customers won’t care about a particular aspect of your project, you should revert to the easiest version of it.

Will They Pay The Difference?

If they will notice and they will care, they have to be willing to pay you for the amount of extra time it is going to take. If they won’t pay for it, they do not get it. Let me say that again. If they do not pay for it, they DO NOT get it.

Why? Why must you enforce and use these three questions? Any time you spend on a cake is time you are not spending with your family, your furry babies, your friends, your TV shows or things like your laundry! You are giving up your valuable time to create an edible piece of art for a customer. They must compensate you for it.

If you went into a restaurant and ordered a steak, you would notice that it did not have mushrooms on it. If you cared to have them, you would know that you would have to pay extra for them or the chef would not be putting them on your plate.

I can hear you right now. You’re saying, “but I will notice!” That’s fine. Continue on down that same path. Give up your free time. Go ahead and sell that bed that goes unused every weekend. Don’t make a profit on your skills. But I hope you are starting to think of your operation as the gourmet steak house instead of the buffet, where folks ask for everything for hardly any money.

One more use I’ve found for the questions is to help you know where you SHOULD spend the extra time. If you listen closely as a customer places an order, they will usually emphasize a couple thinks that are crucial to them.

Those are the elements that I really focused on, because I knew it would be the first things they would look for on the cake. If I did those well, I would find a happy customer on the other side of the cake box. At the end of the day, besides a few more hours of sleep, isn’t that something for which we are all strive?


Christmas Crazies


Every year, right after Thanksgiving, we would have a meeting at our bakery to prepare everyone for the Christmas crazies. All holiday season, we warn our children to be on their best behavior. “Santa is watching you.” “The elf on the shelf will report back to Santa.” And kids do their best to stifle their tantrums and to be sweet to their siblings. Isn’t it sad that parents don’t take their own advice?

We all seem to place so much pressure on ourselves to make everything perfect for the holidays. We worry that we will be judged to be deficient if our Christmas presentation, party or celebration doesn’t live up to that of others. We worry about the money we are spending. We fret that we don’t know what to buy for our in-laws, parents or siblings. We procrastinate out of indecision, then get even more stressed when time runs short. We have so much going on in our daily lives that we don’t have room for all of this holiday stuff.

I used to warn my employees that customers were going to unintentionally be mean and abusive to them. I honestly don’t think the customers set out to dump on my employees, but I watched it happen year after year. For some reason, people view those in the service industry to be beneath them or almost invisible. They cannot let their families see their stress, so they dump on my fine folks.

We finally figured out that we could eliminate a lot of the crazies by random words of kindness. We’ve all heard of Random Acts of Kindness, and this is similar. I told my folks to look for a way to give a genuine compliment to any customer spending a lot of money or who looked stressed. I told them to look with fresh eyes at each customer and to try to find something nice to say to them. When I would ring up a harried customer with a bunch of cookies that were going to cost her a pretty penny, I would say “your guests are so lucky to have someone do this for them”. I would compliment their holiday sweater, tell them their hair looked great, I loved their boots, whatever. The key was that it was a true, genuine statement, that I recognized them, and then they would recognize me in return.

Think about it. The last time someone told you they loved your top, you smiled and carried that statement with you for the rest of the day. Compliments have incredible powers. I firmly believe that if we all took a little bit more time to really LOOK at our customers and appreciate them, that the favor would be returned. I know that for the twelve years I had my bakery, it truly worked.

How do you guys combat the Christmas Crazies?

Disco Fever

“Death to Disco”. For a time, it seemed that this was the fate of disco dust and glitters in the UK. Meanwhile, people clamor  for disco dust in the USA. I know friends who cannot imagine decorating a cake without adding some form of sparkle. I will admit it. Cake decorators love bling. We think it makes everything look “fancy” and that it has to go everywhere!!

The problem is, there are actually rules out there about disco dusts, glitters, metallics and such. In America, items that are FDA approved are acceptable for use on our cakes. For most manufacturers today, this means that our petal dusts, edible glitter, lusters and pearls are ok to put on the cake and all accent pieces. When I say edible glitter, I mean this kind:

Of course, you need to check your labels, but most of the ones I own are food approved.

Then we get to the items marked non-toxic, for decoration only or inedible.  In the US, in most states, we can use this on pieces that are put onto the cakes, but removed prior to serving. This includes every brand of sparkles, glitters and disco dust I personally own. There could be an FDA approved one out there, but I have not purchased one yet. Some sites say that their disco or glitter is edible. I would ask for a copy of their paperwork from the FDA before I threw it all over my cake. I spoke to one manufacturer who told me that each of the ingredients in his version of disco dust is FDA approved, but that the FDA will not approve them combined as he does. Why?  He would like to know, too.

What?  You are the disco queen and have been sprinkling this all over peoples’ cakes for years?  Have you just killed off the next generation of Americans?  Are you poisoning troupes of children every weekend?  Let’s hope not. The Dictionary says that non toxic items pass through the body without adding nutrients, but also without causing harm.

Adj.    1.    nontoxic – not producing or resulting from poison atoxic harmless – not causing or capable of causing harm; “harmless bacteria”; “rendered the bomb harmless” toxic – of or relating to or caused by a toxin or poison; “suffering from exposure to toxic substances”
2.    nontoxic – safe to eat non-poisonous, nonpoisonous comestible, eatable, edible – suitable for use as food

Even if a little might not harm your customer, wouldn’t you feel safer to use the disco dusts on something that would be taken off the cake before you serve it?

Metallics are either edible or not. I have to admit that the prettiest golds, silvers and bronzes are those that you are not supposed to eat. I accept that they are for accent pieces only. There are very pretty ( but slightly less amazing) edible metallic airbrush colors on the
market. There are FDA approved metallic lusters and pearl dusts. These are permitted to be used on the cake itself. You can also splurge on gold leaf for a true gold appearance that is edible.

I have a Glow in the Dark disco dust on my site. It says clearly that it is to be used on pieces that are removed from the cake. There are edible methods of making things glow (tonic water), so you need to look at what you are making and what is the best method of achieving the look.

One last note:  I feel exactly about glitter the way I do about the overuse of super pearl. A little bit goes a long way. Back in my single days, the fashionable girls at the country bar wore just a bit of sparkle – a rhinestone buckle or earrings or such. The accent set off their
smart looking outfit and caught everyone’s eye. Then there were the girls who tried a bit too hard. If a little shine was good, why not wear a beaded, sequin dress to the country bar, add sparkly shoes, a glitter bow in your hair and shiny jewelry?  I know in my heart that those girls thought they looked cute and fancy. They never understood that being a “glitter queen” meant only that people were looking at them -not admiring their outfits. When I see (or Lord forbid, judge) a cake that looks like the glitter truck backed up and dumped a load on it, I feel like the decorator is trying to hide things on their cake. If your work is clean and nice, you won’t feel the need to splatter it completely with glitter or disco. I promise that a few well placed touches of sparkle will create a prettier cake every time.

Decorate nicely and carry a small glitter shaker.

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!

The Education of Rita

On a recent flight, I was on the aisle with a clear view of the people going to the restroom. There was a three panel section – the wall, the left side of the folding door and the right side of the folding door. Repeatedly, people would walk up and push on the first panel (the wall panel) to no avail. They would stare at it, tilt their heads and try to pull on the left side of the folding door, again to no avail. Finally, they would actually READ the large blue sign on the right door panel that said “Push Here” and would magically get in to the lavatory.

It reminded me of our customers. Regardless of how informative your web page is, your brochure is, or signs at your shop are, people simply do not read. They assume that they know how things work or how they WANT them to work and just go with that. I always told my employees that part of our job was educating our customers.

I have often wondered why we don’t read anymore, but have been guilty of doing the same thing. Sometimes we walk in with our own assumptions about a person or place and don’t take the time to read or research like we should. As someone who used to do research for a living as an attorney, I should know better! I think we all just get in a hurry. We want to skim the facts, skim the news, skim through life to get to the next thing. (goodness, that could be a whole other blog!)

Think of the customers like toddlers, uninformed, but possible to be trained. Just like when you are trying to teach something to your child, you must be firm, authoritative and clear. You do not negotiate on your policies. Once you change it for one person, you will have to change it constantly. You SHOULD use the old parental standard, “Because I said so!”. This is your bakery. You do not need to justify your reasons. I don’t know how many times a customer would argue with me and try to push me to break my policies. When I refused, they would always demand to know “Why?”. “Because it says Ruth’s on the sign outside”, I would reply.

There cannot be many other industries where people try to push people into changing their business model. Do people tell a cardiologist that he should deliver their baby? Not a chance. But customers will fight with you if you say that you don’t do carved cakes, sheet cakes or whatever. They cannot yet perceive that people focus their bakery business on the areas in which they specialize? It is our job to get them to understand. Maybe we need to start using those words…I specialize in…my bakery business is focused on…things like that.

If you tell a customer your policy, but you seem unsure of your message, you will be pushed into doing work you either do not like or do not know how to do. You have to look them in the eye and be authoritative. You need to be fine with them taking their business elsewhere. Remember, they want something that you do not do. In your head, picture that mom you have seen get pushed around by her child at the grocery store. Keep that image in your head as you talk to your customers so that you know what you do NOT want to become. Do NOT let the customers make you feel guilty about not doing what they want.

If you have been around a toddler, you know that you constantly have to repeat yourself. It is the repetition of your rules that gets your customers to understand. Eventually, they will get it. Of course, then the next customer walks in and the lessons start all over again.