How to Respond to an Unhappy Customer: Templates for Tough Conversations
No matter how long you’ve been baking, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across a dissatisfied customer. Sometimes it’s wholly within our control, sometimes it’s due to miscommunication, and sometimes it’s simply a customer that’s difficult to please. Baking is challenging enough, but figuring out how to respond to an unhappy customer can be one of the biggest challenges of all.
It is easy to spend too much time agonizing over the perfect response that will achieve the desired effect, but who has time for that? And not to mention the stress!
While no two situations are the same, they do tend to fall under just a handful of categories. With these communication tips and tough conversation templates, you’ll be able to tactfully manage some of the challenges that may come your way!
Things to Avoid
First things first. Before we get to the templates, I’m going to delve into some things you’ll want to avoid doing during these difficult interactions. These strategies may go against your initial instinct, but they’ll ultimately help you communicate more clearly with the customer and avoid a never-ending back and forth.
This is two-fold. First, you don’t owe anyone an elaborate explanation. We (or at least I) tend to do this as a way to avoid insulting someone or hurting their feelings. We think that if we explain it well enough, they’ll understand. But sometimes we just end up backing ourselves into a corner instead.
Because over-explaining also offers them an opportunity to come back with a “but what if…” “What if I paid you a rush fee?” “What if you just deliver this one time?” “What if you make cream cheese frosting even though our state’s cottage food laws say you can’t because I promise I won’t tell anyone?” Surely, you don’t want to deal with conversations like this!
Unless something is genuinely your fault or you have done something wrong, there is no need to apologize. I’m a huge proponent of this in all aspects of life and it’s something I’m personally trying to get better at doing. There is a way to communicate empathy and compassion without inadvertently insinuating you should take any blame in the situation.
Failing to Set Boundaries
This can apply to a whole host of situations, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind. It could be that you don’t take orders with less than 14 days' notice, that you don’t use fondant, or that you don’t do weddings. If you don’t set any boundaries, you’re likely to end up in a situation you don’t want to be in. Which leads me to…
I was the QUEEN of making exceptions just to secure an order. You want me to recreate this extremely detailed design? Sure! You want to pick it up on a Thursday morning even though I work full-time? No problemo!
Don’t be me. All this did was stress me out, burn me out, and cause me to dislike baking! Something that I had previously loved so much.
If your gut tells you not to make an exception, then don’t! This isn’t to say you can’t take an order that’s slightly out of your comfort zone, will require a new skill, or will challenge you. There’s a first time for everything. But make sure that you are a) confident in your ability to be able to get the job done and b) have the tools necessary to do it.
There’s some nuance here for sure and there’s a fine line between accepting an order that will push your skills to the next level and one you will come to regret. I suggest writing down your boundaries or even including them in a policy or contract. This way, it’s all out there for the customer to see and you can reference it anytime you need.
This one can be tough. We all have different communication styles and levels of formality. Something that is very obvious to us may not be to someone else. This is especially the case for baking-related topics.
It may be obvious to you that an 8” cake couldn’t realistically feed 40 people, but they may have no idea. We know you can’t dye chocolate frosting baby blue, but this may not have crossed their mind.
In these scenarios, it’s important to take a step back, take your baker’s hat off, and imagine yourself as the customer. The best thing you can do with an order is set clear expectations. You can’t avoid all unhappy customers by doing this, but it goes a long way to quell any potential issues down the road.
The next time you find yourself in one of these sticky situations, take a look at these templates to see if they fit your specific scenario. These aren’t one size fits all, but can offer a starting point when you’re at a bit of a loss for words.
Scenario: A family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance wants to place an order for free
If you’re interested in making the order for free, then by all means! But if you want to be paid for the order (which you have every right to be!), then this response should relay that clearly.
Hi [name]! I’d be happy to make the [product] and I do have availability for that date. My [products] start at [dollar amount] and I require a [%] deposit at the time of booking to secure the date.
Based on what you’re looking for, my price would be [dollar amount]. Let me know if you’d like to go ahead and reserve the date with a deposit. I accept payment through [payment option(s)]. Thanks so much for thinking of me!
Scenario: Someone who is aware of your pricing and policies asks you to make a product for free
It’s not uncommon to have an organization, charity, event, or someone you know ask you point blank to bake something for free. If it comes with promises of “visibility” for your products, I personally think this is a red flag.
You should be able to discern whether or not an opportunity will help promote your business to your ideal customer base. If, say, your local chapter of the MS Society asked you to donate cookies for a fundraising gala with hundreds of attendees, this might be the kind of visibility you want. On the other hand, if your neighbor wants free cookies to share with her book club with the promise of her friends placing future orders, this likely isn’t worth your time.
Ultimately, you alone can decide if and when you are comfortable donating your product or making it as a favor for free. If you’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart, more power to you! If you’re doing it to gain new customers, that’s great!
If you’re not interested in offering free products, regardless of the reason, this response will firmly set that boundary. Yes, it’s also possible to fib and tell them you’re already booked or out of town, but it may not be worth the risk of getting caught (it happens!). Plus, it won’t deter them from asking the same question in the future and you having to circumvent the situation again.
If it’s someone you know asking for free products simply because they know you
Hi [name], thank you so much for thinking of me for this, however, I am not able to make orders free of charge. If you are interested in placing an order, my [products] start at [dollar amount] and I require a [%] deposit at the time of booking to secure the date.
If it’s a charity organization asking for a donation and you are uninterested or unable to make the order
Hi [name], thank you so much for thinking of me for your event. I am only able to commit to a small number of donation orders and I have reached my limit for this year.
If it is helpful, I highly recommend you reach out to [fellow niche business]. They make fantastic [products] and are a joy to work with. You can find them on [social media] at [handle/link] or reach them directly by [email/phone] at [email address/phone number].
I wish you the best of luck for this event and do hope you will keep me in mind for the future!
Scenario: A customer asks for a whole or partial refund
These might be the trickiest situations of all. It’s devastating to learn that a customer isn’t fully satisfied with an order and it’s natural to want to make it right. When we’ve messed up, it is entirely reasonable to own it and do what you can to remedy the situation.
But there is also the rare occasion that the reason they’re asking for a refund is due to no fault of your own. In fact, sometimes it’s blatantly obvious that they’ve likely done something to cause the issue, whether it’s not keeping the product flat, not following storage instructions or even dropping it.
What are we to do in these situations? Offer the refund just to avoid any trouble or stand your ground and cite your refund policy? This is ultimately for you to decide, but whatever you choose, here is how you can communicate it…
Issuing a full refund when you’re at fault
[Name], I am deeply sorry that this happened. I take full responsibility and will issue a full refund for the [product].
I would also like to offer a [%] discount toward a future order. This [product] was not up to my standards and I would love the opportunity to make you a [product] that exceeds your expectations.
Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.
Issuing a partial refund
“Fault” can be tricky here, as these issues usually tend to have more to do with customer dissatisfaction over something that may or may not be out of your control. It is also highly subjective and what bothers one person may not bother another. If you do find it necessary to issue a partial refund, you can acknowledge the issue while also standing by your product.
[Name], I am sorry that you didn’t find the [product] met your expectations, as this is always my goal with each order. I would like to make this right by issuing a [%] refund for the [product].
Your feedback is appreciated and allows me to learn from the experience. Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.
Not issuing a refund after one is requested
[Name], thank you for your feedback. I did want to point out that this does not constitute a refundable order under the contract we entered into at the time you placed your order. [If possible, cite the applicable policy]. I appreciate your understanding.
You’ll notice most of these are short, simple, and to the point. That’s really all it takes.
Trust me, I know first-hand how anxiety-inducing these conversations can be. It’s never fun to deal with an unhappy customer, but there are ways to make it easier for everyone involved.
While these templates won’t apply to ALL customer complaints, they can be molded to fit a variety of issues you may come across. Don’t be afraid to reword them however you see fit. These are just a guide!
Is there a situation I’ve missed that you’d like me to cover? Let me know in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I love it when readers say hi ☺️