It felt like someone had delivered a swift punch to my stomach. I stared in horror at my laptop screen. I read the email again. And I read it again. And I read it again.. in some vain hope that it might magically change.
Please tell me I’m imagining this. PLEASE!!
But I wasn’t!
The email read something like this*…
I’m afraid we can’t possibly recommend your cake decorating business at our venue.
My Manager found a thick blonde hair in her cake. She was very distressed, as you can imagine. So, whilst they were very pretty cakes, we won’t be recommending you.
Receiving a complaint
Receiving a complaint is one of the most distressing things that can happen to a Cake Decorators. Figuratively speaking, we put our heart, body and soul into everything we make (along with blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights). We’re hugely passionate about what we do. So when we receive a complaint it feels like the world has collapsed around us.
As hard as we work, and as conscientious as we are, at some point in our career, we will receive a complaint. It’s not a case of IF but a case of WHEN.
How to handle a complaint
Step 1: Don’t panic and respond too quickly
We’ve all heard of ‘Fight or Flight’: It’s our body’s instinctive reaction to a threat. We either come our fighting, or we run to the hills. When we receive a complaint our knee-jerk reaction is to ‘fight’ (argue back, fight our corner) or ‘flight’ (apologise profusely, offer a full refund and the naming rights to our first-born child).
Acknowledge the complaint “Thank you for taking the time to send me feedback. Please bear with me whilst I look into your complaint in detail. I will consult my baking records and order notes, and will get back to your shortly”.
Step 2: Are they justified in complaining?
Having calmed down, made yourself a cup of tea, or poured yourself a stiff vodka, take the time to consider whether their complaint was justified. Were you happy with the cake? Did you deliver what they ordered? What were they expecting?
We all ‘drop the ball’ at some stage. Mistakes happen when we’re tired (how many 2am finishes have you pulled recently?) or we’re busy. Be honest with yourself. Was that complaint justified?
Yes, it was justified
Honesty is the best policy. If you’ve made a mistake, then be (wo)man enough to admit it and apologise. Quite often an apology is enough. It shows you have taken their complaint seriously. Explain how you are going to make changes in future so that the problem never occurs again.
You might want to offer them a full refund, part refund, or free box of cupcakes as a form of apology (or a free cupcakes and a full refund if you’ve really dropped a clanger!!). What you offer depends on the severity of the complaint.
Imagine yourself in their shoes. How would you want your complaint to be dealt with? Would you expect a refund?
Consider going ‘Old School’ and sending them a handwritten apology (along with the half-dozen cupcakes).
If they’ve complained on your Facebook Page or on Social Media then acknowledge the complaint. Be friendly and polite, but take the conversation offline (or at least onto Messenger). No one else needs to be part of this soap opera.
No, it wasn’t justified
Do you know something?
At some point you’re going to come across an arsehole that is completely unreasonable.
You’re going to have to trust your gut instinct now:
Ask yourself, are you happy investing the time and effort into fighting your corner? Are you happy to give a full explanation as to why your cake was perfectly fine and why they are wrong? Stop and consider that for a moment… fighting your corner might take you 20 mins, or 30 mins, or an hour, or even longer.
If winning this battle is more important than your time, then go for it! I’ll be in the corner, leaning over the ropes, talking you through the punches, and shaking the spittle off your mouthguard. I’ve got your back!
Sometimes, though, it’s better just to suck it up! Apologise in a non-commital way, take responsibility when it wasn’t even yours, and offer a small form of compensation. Undoubtedly it will take you much less time, you can dust yourself down, and move on to more important matters (and clients).
But whichever tact you choose…
Mark it down to experience and learn your lesson
- Do you need to change anything on your order form?
- Do you need to change your Terms and Conditions?
- Do you need to manage clients expectations better?
- Do you need to show examples of what their cake will look like?
- Would you spot an arsehole in future (and price your cakes so high they don’t so business with you?)
Whatever the outcome, making mistakes along the way is not an issue. Not learning from those mistakes IS!
*And by the way I worked out what that thick blonde hair was. I’d used a natural bristle pastry brush and sugar syrup to moisten the cake, and the hair must have been one of the bristles. I knew it wasn’t human hair because…. well, the only natural blonde in my house at the time was my 4-year-old son!
What did I learn?
To bin the brush, and move to silicone brushes!