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When customer service goes bad

"I'd rather have a mediocre meal with great waiting staff than an amazing meal with terrible service" was the verdict of a friend and myself as we discussed her recent experience on an evening out.

I was recently told by a local tradesman to 'start using my brain' as apparently the parking of his wagon, forcing me and my 4-year old into a busy road, was my fault and not his.

A year ago, KitchenAid tried to charge me over £100 for fixing something I had just paid them over £100 to fix.

VirginMedia continue to send me unsolicited information selling me their services at least twice a month despite the fact I've called them and asked to be taken off their lists.

And I'm sure we've all experienced the surly checkout operator, the terrible waiter or waitress that ruins your celebratory meal, or retail staff chatting to each other and ignoring you while you make your purchase.

Customer service MATTERS. It matters a LOT. And I care so much about it that I'm writing this blog about why I care about customer service, what you've told me about your customer service expectations, and how I run my business to meet and exceed your expectations.

Why does customer service matter so much?

1) What a feeling.... !

As one of my business gurus explained in a recent podcast, business is all about feelings. Stay with me, I'm not about to get all mushy on you. Yes, business is about exchanging goods or services for other goods or services. But it's also fundamentally about solving a problem for someone. We've all been in the position where we've had a problem solved but not experienced the good feeling that should come with it. Maybe you've had your car fixed and it's running fine again, but the mechanic charged you more than the original quote and made a rude comment about your driving when you dropped it off. You aren't going to feel good about that, although the problem has technically been solved. Business is about solving a problem for someone and leaving them with a great feeling about it. That's why even customers who've had a complaint with a business are 67% more likely to return to that business if their complaint has been dealt with well!

2) It drives brand loyalty - great for consumers and suppliers

Loyalty to a business is important for both customer and business owner. If a client comes back time after time, they are likely to get special treatment; for example, I might squeeze in a last minute cake for a client I know well, or offer free delivery if they're in a pinch and can't collect when they thought they could. My newsletter subscribers have just been given a discount code for Fathers' Day Cupcakes. Once I get to know a client (and often their kids!) I can come up with designs that suit them more quickly and effectively, and save them time by presenting them with options I know they'll like. Brand loyalty is great for customers.

It's also (obviously) great for business owners. We want clients to be loyal - it helps our order books fill up, means we are likely to be recommended to others and therefore grow, and means we can come up with ideas for business growth that we know will be well received by our 'tribe'.

The know, like and trust factor works both ways.

3) Because it demonstrates integrity

How can I ask people to spend money on my products if they can't trust me? I don't want to give anyone my hard=earned cash if I don't think they're going to treat me respectfully, deliver on time, and deal with any problems in a polite and fair manner.

Products and customer service are not separate; they are all part of the same package. There's no point me having the nicest cakes on earth if I don't treat you guys well. I'm not just selling cake, I'm selling an experience, so the customer service is actually part of the whole product. When I give you a price for a cake, that price includes a whole lot more than just eggs, flour and fondant. It includes that great feeling, that item on your list ticked off, that happy experience.

What have you told me about your customer service expectations?

When I sent a survey out to my Facebook followers a while back, the overwhelming response was that the most important factors in buying a cake to you are: 1) The taste of the cake [Amen]; 2) The 'wow' factor in how the cake looked and 3) CUSTOMER SERVICE! These all came out as jointly important to you. They beat price and locality as factors hands down. That means that most of my clients value customer service and quality of the product over a cheap price or a shorter pick up time. This just demonstrates how important quality is, both of the product and of the experience.

The very nature of my job means I am relating to people at significant, often emotional, times in their life. Whether it's a wedding cake, a 50th birthday or their child's 1st birthday party, the fact that someone is ordering a bespoke cake means the event is of great importance. This can mean that emotions are running high, and that perhaps more than in most industries, sensitivity and customer care is paramount.

My reviews demonstrate how much clients value good service in this area: "Bec was fantastic from start to finish. Her manner was so professional and she really helped us to create what we wanted. More than that, when we suffered a family bereavement and had to change the address, this was no bother for Bec. Her kindness and compassion shone through." - Gemma

"It really has been amazing customer service! Thank you for being understanding" - Jaci

"On Wednesday evening this week I contacted Three Little Birds for a cake I needed on Friday for my daughter's birthday, it was a huge ask with only 2 days to go as I was let down by another cake maker last minute. I am absolutely over the moon with the lion guard cake we asked for. Thank you again Three Little Birds, you really have pulled it out of the bag for us. Very professional, amazing service, great communication and without a doubt highly recommend." - Gem

5 ways I aim to give great customer service

1) I communicate

From the first time you message me to when you collect your cake or I deliver it, I aim to communicate clearly. If I can't answer a question or give you a quote that day I will message you to tell you when you can expect it, and then deliver on this. I make clear to my brides & grooms what level of communication they can expect from me and at what points in the process, so they are not left worrying or panicking about whether things are in hand.

When you buy a cake from me you are not just buying a cake; you are buying peace of mind.

2) I keep my promises

I have never, ever, let someone down on a cake order. It baffles me when I hear story after story (like the one above) of cake makers letting people down. I even suffer from a chronic condition I like to call feeling 'miscaken', where I often panic that the knock on the door is a customer coming to collect a cake I forgot all about. Thanks to point 1), this isn't very likely to actually happen! This is one reason I take a 50% deposit for all orders. It not only ensures that I won't be left out of pocket, it also guarantees that you will have a cake on the date you ordered it for.

3) I like to treat my customers

A macaron sample, mini=bottle of Prosecco, free delivery, a cupcake thrown in... I like to show the love to loyal clients and customers who order over a certain amount. As well as a lot of love that goes into each and every bake I create, of course. You are all sooo worth it!

4) When something goes wrong, I make it as right as I possibly can

I deal with any problems head on and don't shy away from addressing them. First of all I aim to listen to you and communicate with you effectively so that you feel like the problem is being acknowledged and I want to give you the best possible outcome. I'm not saying I always get it right, and sometimes things are out of my power to be able to 'fix', but I always want to make you feel like you are valued, listened to, and looked after.

5) I am accommodating

Snow, bereavements, illness... LIFE! Life happens, and sometimes it gets in the way of our cake orders. Yes, I do take deposits, but I am also (I like to think) a kind and compassionate human being and I take account of individual circumstances. That's always in slight tension in one way with running a profitable business, but in another, good customer service is part of growing a profitable business.

These 5 points are what I aim for. Sometimes I may drop the ball, but on the whole I hope I'm achieving these for you. I'd love to hear any feedback you have.

So what do you think? What part of customer service is most important to you? Have you had any amazing or terrible customer service experiences? Please tell us and join the conversation! To order a cake that comes with peace of mind and excellent customer service, for West Yorkshire (Keighley, Bingley, Bradford, Saltaire, Skipton, Ilkley, Menston, Guiseley, Silsden & beyond!) visit:

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