How To Handle Complaints

Business By Bethkay Updated 6 Oct 2008 , 12:07am by loriemoms

Bethkay Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:01pm
post #1 of 35

How do I handle complaints from people after they have consumed all or part of a cake that I made for them? These gripes have come in the form of "we just didn't like the cake" or "it was tasteless." I have been using the same recipes (from a professional pastry program I completed) since the inception of my business about nine months ago. I believe that if I have satisfied my obligation to customers by completing the cake they ordered on time and oftentimes deliverying it, that I do not owe them a 100% refund. I have handled two such complaints--each in a different manner.

I am thinking if the problem is just a matter of taste, I will offer them a small gift certificate for future use. I make things other than cakes, so if they just can't stand my cakes, there are other uses for a certificate.

Obviously, if I screw up an order, a 100% refund is in order, but this just seems to be people who were expecting a grocery store or Costco cake and are unhappy that the taste and texture of my cakes are different.

I am open to and all suggestions. I just want to have something firm that I abide by if this should happen again. Thanks! icon_sad.gif

34 replies
candee2300 Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:17pm
post #2 of 35

This may not help a whole lot but I do not believe you should give them ANY refund or certificate of any sort. First of all, when people start finding out that if you just say, "I didn't really like the taste" and they will get something back that is all people are going to say, after of course gobbling up all your cake. I have never heard of getting a refund for food, unless there is a hair or dead rat in it. I would never think of asking for a refund at a fancy restaurant just because I didn't love my dinner. These people are just looking to get something for free. On a side note, if you offer tastings then people won't be suprised at what they are ordering. Sorry I guess this a little rant of my own-hope it helps

KHalstead Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:18pm
post #3 of 35

I would just tell them that "I'm sorry you didn't like the taste, and ask them what they didn't like and tell them that you appreciate the feedback and let them know that sometimes everyone's pallettes aren't used to completely homemade things, if they're accustomed to boxed cakes".......oh wait....leave off the rest off after "you appreciate their feedback" lol There are people that prefer wal-mart cake to that of the high end bakeries........it's not that the cakes are better, it's just that their pallettes are not ready for such delicasies

leah_s Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:22pm
post #4 of 35

I think it depends on the source. I had a dear friend order one of my cakes last week, and he hated, and I mean hated it. Hated everything from the design to the taste. I tore up his check.

I had a bride not like a cake once, and to minimize the trash talking I gave her a 25% refund. I had another bride who didn't like hers, and I gave her nothing because it was a beautiful cake and I told her so, but she was a whack-job anyway.

That probably didn't help.

KHalstead Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:33pm
post #5 of 35

well, yes of course if there was actually something wrong with the cake.........like my wedding cake disaster, I gave a full refund and a 20% off coupon for future orders (she still had all the cake to serve though, minus the top tier, which I offered to rebake when she wants)
But if there is nothing to complain about.........then that's a whole different ball game

I recently had a customer (my bf family) order a cassada cake (bavarian cream and strawberries inside) and they have ordered one before (they said it didn't have enough strawberries or bav. cream)

okay, so this time they order a 1/2 sheet, they want 3 layers of cake and 2 layers of filling

I used 4 pounds of sliced strawberries and an entire sleeve of bavarian cream, the cake weighed a ton

you know what they said??? (mind you I told them to keep the cake refrigerated and it was like 85 in their house according to my bf and they didn't "have room in the fridge" so it sat out for 4 hrs. before they ate it)
so guess what happened?? They cut it and all the layers once it was on their plate started to slide apart.......duh!!! I'm surprised the whole thing wasn't a big floppy mess before cutting!! They said that I must not know what I'm doing because I should have baked 3 separate thin layers of cake not just one layer cut into 3 separate pieces because "the cake needs to have that crust on the tops to hold it all together"

I just laughed when my bf told me.........she was totally miffed that they were critiquing the cake so much when I didn't even charge them above the ingredient cost.....I told her to relax

Some people just can NOT be pleased!!!

mom2spunkynbug Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:36pm
post #6 of 35

If I were you I would not offer any sort of refund or anything! As previously mentioned, if you start doing this & word gets out, ALL your customers will be complaining and you'll be giving out freebies/refunds left & right! thumbsdown.gif

I had a guy (the groom...on his 3rd marriage, btw - oh there is a big post on it) back in July tell me that the cake was the most horrible cake he had ever eaten in his entire life & that not one person liked the cake at all. He basically just ripped me apart.

ANYWAY...after putting myself back together, lol, I decided I was just going to call him & apologize - and that's just what I did. Called & apologized & thanked him for his feedback. I didn't offer a refund, but I'm sure he would've loved that offer! I also asked him if he still wanted his free one-year anniversary cake........and he said....yes icon_confused.gif (ok, if it was the absolute worst cake you've ever had in the world WHY would you want another one?!)

Anyway, we work hard on our edible creations of art! We make the cake, we deliver, we set up - there is no need for a refund!

Good luck!

karenm0712 Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:37pm
post #7 of 35

Not to steal your post but I just had this happen to me this morning. icon_sad.gif

I received an order for 4 cookie bouquets from a co-worker after he saw a cookie bouquet that I made last week. He was ordering for his team (all men and all from India). Well I make and deliver the first of the four yesterday (they were all due on different days) and the guy who ordered loved it. Well I get into work this morning and he tells me that the cookie bouquet didn't go over well and he would like to cancel the other 3 (no biggie, the rest of them are due next week so I haven't started on them). I know that my cookies tasted good b/c it's the same recipes I have used for the past couple of years and have always gotten rave reviews. I have to chalk it up to they were probably just WAY TOO sweet for his teams pallattes. I know that what Indian's consider sweet is much different than what we consider sweet. American sweets are 100% sweeter than Indian sweets. I can say I now first hand b/c my co-workers are always bringing in sweets from India and they are so not sweet to me. icon_smile.gif

At any rate - I don't think you owe them a refund at all! Chalk it up to their pallettes couldn't handle your cakes and thank them for thier feedback! icon_smile.gif

grama_j Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:50pm
post #8 of 35

Beth, how many complaints are you receiving ? You say you have only been in business for 9 months..... if you are getting ALOT of complaints,( like what percent of customers are complaining) then I would start looking at the recipe instead of the customer.... If it is only one or two out of , say 100, then I wouldn't worry about it.......

Pookie59 Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 1:56pm
post #9 of 35

My sister used to hostess at one of the better (think "expensive") steak restaurants in town. They had a lot of people try to pull the "I didn't like my steak so I want it for free" routine. The restaurant's policy was that unless the customer sent back the steak immediately (at which point they would try to fix the problem), no adjustments were made. No way were they going to give away their very expensive meat after the customer had consumed most or all of it. That restaurant does not lack for customers.

Bethkay Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 2:03pm
post #10 of 35

icon_smile.gif Thank you everyone for your feedback. I agree, I don't want to get a reputation for being an easy mark.

In response to the question on how many complaints I have had, it has just been two out of probably 50 cakes. I've received way more compliments than complaints, so I am not that worried about the recipes. I do think it is a palette thing with people who are accustomed to grocery store cakes. As I mentioned before, the recipes are from a pastry certificate program I completed. We sold these same cakes week in and week out as part of the pastry shop we ran through the program.

CakeForte Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 2:59pm
post #11 of 35

Even one complaint still hurts because we work hard to make a nice cake. In 3 years I've had one disaster where I refunded the money 100% (and cried for days!) and one complaint that was a few weeks ago.

With the disaster...I handled that immediately and hand wrote letters to the clients. Even still, they appreciated how I handled the situation and still said the cake tasted really good and everyone ate it.

The second one didn't tell me her complaint until 3 months later! This was a bride i bent over backwards for too. Normally I respond, but I didn't this time because I really had nothing good to say and it was 3 months later.

Anyway...I have now updated my contract to say that they have 48 hours to tell anything wrong with the cake so I can start the resolution process. Be in partial refund, gift certificate, whatever. Yes, they will be leaving on their honeymoon...but if it IS THAT BAD , they can pick up the phone and leave me a voicemail. If i don't hear from them in that time. It is agreed that they got what they ordered and were 100% satisfied.

bobwonderbuns Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 3:04pm
post #12 of 35

Even though complaints totally bite I would be much happier getting a complaint rather than hearing nothing at all -- those are the people who can really destroy a business. At least if they are complaining they are coming to you hoping for resolution. If you hear nothing and there is a problem, then how are you to know? In the meantime they shoot their mouths off throughout the community and you are left defenseless.

Kitagrl Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 3:15pm
post #13 of 35

Its possible you may want to experiment with new recipes, "just in case"? I worked at a high end caterer for awhile and some of their recipes were wonderful, but others, frankly, reminded me of why people don't like wedding cake. They were truly upscale recipes, but I personally did not care for them. I'm picky I guess.

I pick and choose my recipes carefully...some are really yummy scratch cakes that are moist and yummy and rich and they are keepers. And a couple, are just doctored cake mixes! I'm not too proud to say it...and its what people like! I offered a bride three flavors of tastings... two scratch made and one yellow doctored mix, each with fillings of course...the yellow one just with a good brand of fruit preserves. The bride liked all of them...the groom LOVED the doctored mix (he didn't know it was a mix, I didn't tell). As a matter of fact, loved it so much, they switched the groom's cake to that flavor.

Most of my party cakes are doctored cake mix because that is what they like, that is what the kids like, and they rave over it (esp with the homemade buttercream). Then of course my scratch cakes are more for weddings or higher end cakes...basically just whoever requests them (I just made a flavor list too, so it will be easier to request things.)

All I'm saying is that if part of your target audience likes a "bakery cake" flavor...it doesn't hurt to oblige them! Again, people absolutely love my doctored cake mix cakes (just yellow mostly, sometimes chocolate for a party cake b/c my scratch chocolate is more expensive) and they would be disappointed if I gave them anything different.

So hey...save yourself some work and money...and if you can tell its a party where they want that type of cake...give it to them! You'll both be happy. I know sometimes its a pride issue "I never use mixes" but if it makes happy customers and keeps them coming back...then you haven't lost anything..and nobody has to know anyway.

Just a thought! thumbs_up.gif

Jewelsx19 Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 3:35pm
post #14 of 35

Coming froms someone who was the customer up until a few months back...I have ordered cakes from alot of different bakers all over the area. They are tasted different and yes, there was a few I didn't really like much, but I never asked for a refund...I never even bothered to complain. I figure everyone has different tastes, and not everyone will like the same cake so I don't expect to like every single thing I try.

There was one cake only that I complained about, it was from a pretty well known baker in the area, she has a online store and everything. I ordered my son's first birthday cake, it was perfect...just like I asked. Until I cut into it, the bottom was BLACK, it was burnt so bad the whole cake tasted burnt icon_sad.gif I was very upset about it, seeing as I had this huge #1 cake that tasted burnt. When I contacted the lady later that day, she said she could only offer a refund if there was a slice or less missing. Well that didn't work for us, seeing as a couple of the kids had smushed up their cake, and a few adults threw theirs out before I said anything. So I never got a dime back.

Anyways, I wouldn't offer a refund...as a customer I wouldn't expect one for not liking it. I have ordered many meals at restaurants that I didn't like, or bought food from the grocery store I didn't like...I can't return that!

I would email her and ask her for her feedback on why she didn't like it, what you could change to make it better....and just remember in the long run you can't please EVERYONE!

terrylee Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 3:36pm
post #15 of 35

I did flowers for this bride....multi color gerber daisys.....I put mostly reds on the cake because it just tied the whole thing together......(in my pics) she wanted MULTI COLOR....she was unhappy.......
I don't know....do you do what they want even thought it doesn't look right.... or make a few minor changes and hope for the best...

some times you are dammed if you do and dammed if you don't....!

But I agree...some people are just looking for a discount...... You can't have your cake, eat it too and then want a refund!

CakesByJen2 Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 5:34pm
post #16 of 35

It sounds like it is mostly a palette thing. If you truly do not think there was anything wrong with the cake, then I would not give a refund. I would explain to them that scratch cakes from natural ingredients have a very different texture and taste and that they are just not accustomed to it. I would perhaps offer a coupon/gift certificate for good will, and they can try another flavor or another item that you offer. I would also be sure to stress to customers when they order that they are high-quality scratch cakes made with butter and they need to come to room temperture to have the best flavor and texture. Butter cakes usually get very firm when chilled, and do not have the proper "mouth-feel" and give the impression of being dry because the butter isn't soft.

You might keep track of which flavors you've had complaints about to see if there is any pattern. Who knows, you may need to tweak a recipe or two to suit the palette of your clientelle. And, like someone else mentioned, maybe consider adding a couple of mix-based flavors, especially for kids' party cakes.

Bethkay Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 5:55pm
post #17 of 35

Your point about room-temperature cakes is a good one. I always tell customers to allow the cake to warm up before serving it. In addition, I put a sticker on every cake that goes out of here telling customers to allow the cake to reach room temp before serving. I wouldn't be surprised if they haven't always done this and then felt the cake lacked taste or had a lousy texture.

Kitagrl Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 5:55pm
post #18 of 35

That is very true.... about cold cakes....

chutzpah Posted 2 Oct 2008 , 6:16pm
post #19 of 35

I always tell people to serve the cake at room temp. They don't need to leave it out all day, but at least an hour or two.

I wouldn't return a thing.... just because they 'didn't like it'. I went out to eat last week at my favorite restaurant, tried something new and didn't like it. Did I demand a refund? No. There was nothing WRONG WITH THE FOOD, I just simply did not like the dish. Will I eat there again? Absolutely. Will I order that particular meal again? Absolutely NOT.

By the way, the word all y'all are abusing so heinously is actually spelled 'palate'. A 'palette' has a completely different meaning! icon_wink.gif

littlecake Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 12:41am
post #20 of 35

taste is subjective, so it's really dumb to think you get a refund because it wasn't your cup of tea.

when you are new in business, the creepy scammers try to see if they can play you, to get a free, or greatly reduced priced cake.

add to that the nut jobs who you can't tickle no matter how long your feather is....they just need to up their meds.

indydebi Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 1:45am
post #21 of 35

I understand this is not feasible for all cakes, but the advantage I have in being at the wedding and being the one to cut and serve the wedding cake gives me the opportunity to see the reaction first hand. I see how much cake is served. I see the number of folks coming back for seconds. I see how many empty plates are cleared from the tables.

All of this totally deflates any bride who tries to pull the "nobody liked the cake!" bullsh**. (these observations have come in pretty handy on my catering side, too, when a couple of mothers tried this same tactic ... I was able to cite clean plates, no leftovers in the chafers, etc., as reasons why her claims held no water.)

loriemoms Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 7:28am
post #22 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by chutzpah

I always tell people to serve the cake at room temp. They don't need to leave it out all day, but at least an hour or two.

I wouldn't return a thing.... just because they 'didn't like it'. I went out to eat last week at my favorite restaurant, tried something new and didn't like it. Did I demand a refund? No. There was nothing WRONG WITH THE FOOD, I just simply did not like the dish. Will I eat there again? Absolutely. Will I order that particular meal again? Absolutely NOT.

By the way, the word all y'all are abusing so heinously is actually spelled 'palate'. A 'palette' has a completely different meaning! icon_wink.gif




I have only had a couple of complaints myself out of several hundred cakes (one I screwed up and put in the wrong filling..gave him a 50 dollar discount on the next cake..which he ordered a month later and loved it!) and another was from a mother of the bride who was CLEARLY looking for some money back (she didn't like the fondant, even though her daughter had tasted the fondant at the tasting) I told her Thank you for the feedback..

But back to restaurants...a couple of months ago, I ordered a salmon dish that was on special, and it was suppose to have a Lemon pepper on it. The salmon was COVERED in pepper...I took one bite and my eyes started to water! I told my DH I am sending it back. he said oh, just scrap it off and I said no, I am going to send it back. So I did. The waiter asked if I wanted something else, and I said no, just bring me some bread! (my tongue was burning at this point) The owner of the restaurant came by later and you know what? He didnt offer us anything...(I didnt have to pay for the salmon, but that was it) He didnt give us any discount, any free meal, he just wanted to find out why I didnt like the salmon and am I sure I don't want something else (didnt even offer it for free...) So I often wonder, why do people want their cakes for free, or a discount?? Especially since they don't even bother "sending them back?"

-K8memphis Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 12:12pm
post #23 of 35

My experience with cakes made with butter is that after being chilled they do not relax enough at room temp. Which is why I use oil based cakes for tier cake & sculptures because I chill everything that has to take a ride in the car somewhere.

Maybe your recipes are different--but it's easy to test this theory.

In all my customer service training I was taught that only 5% of dissatisfied folks will actually say something about it. And that those 5% are your best friends because they are showing you where you can improve--in a perfect world of course--I mean you have to weed out the people trying to get something for free.

Therefore I think two complaints out of 50 cakes is high for just starting out (if it is indeed the cake itself) and I would recommend for you to do the frige test and do some taste testing with a trusted panel of people. You can change your formulas you really can't change palates .

Some people want to develop a clientelle who would desire 'scratch cake only' for example people who love 'organic' would be in that group. So it's just a matter of deciding where you want to be.

So some business strategy thoughts for you.

SugaredUp Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 1:25pm
post #24 of 35

Bobwonderbuns and K8Memphis are completely right. I would figure out a way to conduct a little research w/ your customers since you are new. Maybe ask a certain number per week (choose different flavors) if you may call back and get their feedback. Then write down a list of questions to ask. Do this over a set period of time and then re-evaluate. I really feel bad saying this but even two complaints out of 50 cakes does seem like a lot since you've been in business only 9 mos. Take care of the issue now before it becomes a problem. Just remember that the customer is always right - and remember that when they come to you with a complaint, they are offering you a chance to resolve it. If you resolve it on the spot, according to the book I'm reading right now, 95% will come back to your place and also recommend you to others.

HTH!

-K8memphis Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 1:34pm
post #25 of 35

I would not use my customer base to conduct my research because I need to display utmost confidence in my product. I would use a trusted panel of folks who love me anyway and will be truthful for example family, friends etc. Have young and old and try to get different types of people to taste test for you.

Y'know have a tasting. Have a palate cleanser, milk or water and different types of cakes--some previously friged, some mixes some scratch, have it all prepared in advance--invite the folks, show a movie at home or some kids sports event or recital--take breaks & sample cake or something.

Or just make 'em sit there and cram it down their throats!!! icon_lol.gificon_lol.gif

ziggytarheel Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 1:41pm
post #26 of 35

As a consumer, I expect a refund or some type of adjustment when what I order isn't what I received. If I order something and determine that I don't like it after all, and it is not something you can take back to the store for a refund, well, that is my problem.

My husband once ordered a dish that had "chicken" in its name. After carefully going through the entire dish with his fork, he found one tiny piece of chicken in it. He brought this to the attention of the waiter who said, "yeah, that's the way that dish is made". He asked to speak to the manager, who basically repeated what the waiter said. He at least offered to let him send it back and get something else. Which my husband did...and we were charged the higher amount for the new dish.

In that situation, I thought it was a terrible way to treat a customer. He didn't get what he ordered, and what he ordered wasn't even actually available, since the dish was designed to be practically chicken free. It just seemed tacky to charge the higher amount. They were certainly within their rights to do so, but in that case, I thought it was a bad business practice.

We don't eat there any more.

So, you always have to weigh these things. In your situation, it seems as though you are providing what is "on the menu". If it is baked appropriately and edible, then you have done your job. If these people just don't like your recipes, then they know they don't want to buy from you any more. But if I were in your shoes, I would definitely take the advice of others to have some rather thorough taste tests and consider adding another recipe or two to your selections.

indydebi Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 9:46pm
post #27 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by SugaredUp

Just remember that the customer is always right -




Whoever made that phrase up never had to deal with customers on the front line. icon_confused.gif

Because no, they are not.

Case in point ... I was told food for 100. They increased it to 125 three days before the wedding. They had 170 guests (they were trying to do it "on the cheap".) The ONLY food I ran out of was meatballs. The "customer" (using the term loosely because this particular mother was NOT one of the mothers who actually gave me a check!) told me that *I* should have planned better.

They tell me food for 125 ... they have 170 guests .... I think I did pretty good by feeding 170 guests and only ran out of meatballs with about 15 guests in line ..... and "the customer is right" that DEBI should have planned better? icon_confused.gif

I dont' think so, Tim. This chic was as wrong as she could be!!!

SugaredUp Posted 3 Oct 2008 , 10:24pm
post #28 of 35

Ok, the customer is not always right. That's true. I guess what I'm trying to say is not to just dismiss what they are saying, especially since both complaints were the exact same. You should always listen to your customers even if you don't like what you're hearing sometimes. Don't you agree? Listen and try to see things from their side...

AsburyArt Posted 5 Oct 2008 , 1:36pm
post #29 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by chutzpah

I always tell people to serve the cake at room temp. They don't need to leave it out all day, but at least an hour or two.

I wouldn't return a thing.... just because they 'didn't like it'. I went out to eat last week at my favorite restaurant, tried something new and didn't like it. Did I demand a refund? No. There was nothing WRONG WITH THE FOOD, I just simply did not like the dish. Will I eat there again? Absolutely. Will I order that particular meal again? Absolutely NOT.

By the way, the word all y'all are abusing so heinously is actually spelled 'palate'. A 'palette' has a completely different meaning! icon_wink.gif




I agree.

You know when you give refunds? When they return the uneaten portion. As if. I offer an anecdote:

My PITA business neighbor ordered several (chocolate, oil based cakes) from me. So on another day, she comes in to order a vanilla butter cake with white chocolate buttercream. She walks over to pick up the cake and I tell her "serve it at room temp, it'll take about three hours to warm up..." She nods her head and off she goes. She was back in less than half an hour complaining the cake was dry. A bomb went off in my head. I immediately asked her if the cake was cold... having been a half hour out of my fridge.

She asked me for a refund and I asked her for the uneaten portion in return. She told me the cake was so bad they only ate the buttercream. She hemmed and hawed and stormed out. She hasn't been back. I am sorry to have lost her business but I'll take this one for the team... so to speak.

An ice cold butter cake was dry. Really? Who'd have known...

Anyway, if you are confident in your product, don't take any tihs from people who ask for refunds. Be nice, be professional, be firm, but if that cake was eaten it wasn't all that bad.


I feel cake makers in general are held to higher standard than others in the food business, but that is just my humble opinion.

AsburyArt Posted 5 Oct 2008 , 1:44pm
post #30 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by indydebi

Quote:
Originally Posted by SugaredUp

Just remember that the customer is always right -



Whoever made that phrase up never had to deal with customers on the front line. icon_confused.gif

Because no, they are not.

Case in point ... I was told food for 100. They increased it to 125 three days before the wedding. They had 170 guests (they were trying to do it "on the cheap".) The ONLY food I ran out of was meatballs. The "customer" (using the term loosely because this particular mother was NOT one of the mothers who actually gave me a check!) told me that *I* should have planned better.

They tell me food for 125 ... they have 170 guests .... I think I did pretty good by feeding 170 guests and only ran out of meatballs with about 15 guests in line ..... and "the customer is right" that DEBI should have planned better? icon_confused.gif

I dont' think so, Tim. This chic was as wrong as she could be!!!




Right on Indydebi- you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater just because some yahoo complains. And 99% of the time, the ones that complain can't be satisfied.

I've had brides order "100 serving cakes for 175 guests" in order to save money and then come back and complain the cake was too small. Were they right? If the logic is the customer is always right, were they right?

"The customer is always right" should be changed to "the customer always gets my respect". Because they aren't always right, but I will always respect them and be professional with them.

And to Ziggytarheel- do you know how subjective "what I ordered isn't what I received" sounds? That argument can be made for every cake from every baker ever made infinity. (i.e. That shell border is too big, I thought it's be smaller, it's not what I ordered I want my money back)

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