Top 10 Tips For Dealing With Difficult Customers

So you pour your heart & soul into your work and you’re super excited about the final result & feelin’ really good about yourself, until the customer turns around and tells you they’re not happy with it… or worse, they leave you a bad review without even contacting you first! What the heck?!


Welcome to customer service era 2020. Where consumers are used to a Walmart return policy and have uncommunicated expectations of epic proportions. I’m not saying high expectations are bad, but customers can sometimes expect things from you that they failed to communicate… Oh yes. It happens.


But you know what, it’s not just happening to you, it’s happening to everyone, everywhere. Yes, even your favourite businesses whom you couldn’t imagine not liking their products! So you’re not alone, we’re all in the same boat…


But what do we do? Are we doomed to stick with the “Customer’s Always Right” policy *insert evil voice here* forevaaaaaaaaaaaaa?


As Michelle Tanner would say “No way hosay”! 


Ok the thing is, you’re naturally going to take complaints very personal. Why? Because, you’re an artist. Art is perception & naturally, you’re your own worst critic to begin with. Let alone when a complete stranger tells you your product sucks & they hate it.


I was honestly surprised at how much this sucked when I first started. I used to work at Le Chateau and when a customer would come in to yell & complain, I was the first person to go and help them. Conflict & resolution was my jam, I am a naturally assertive person and have never had a problem upholding the standard retail return policy, even with the wackiest of customers (girl if you’ve ever worked retail you know what I’m sayin’). Except now, with my own business, it was different… customers are no longer yelling at you about returning the shoes from last season (that had clearly been worn a time or fifty) and all of a sudden they’re yelling at you about your own product that you put your whole heart into…it really does sting in a different way. I’ve been there & I know you feel it whether you sell cake, paintings, crafts, or do service work like hair, makeup or lashes… So I’m here to tell you, it will always sting a little, yes, but it DOES get easier!


1.Be a listener first!


Honestly, just be quiet & listen first. What are they saying about it? Analyze it & try to see where they’re coming from. This is actually a great opportunity to determine if there is any merit to what they’re saying. Maybe you genuinely forgot the sugar or accidentally used the wrong colours… When you have good listening skills, you will be able to learn a lot and maybe tweak and fix a few things to make your business better!


2. Is there a common trend?


I always look for a common trend when listening to complaints. If there is a common trend, it’s probably something you should consider changing… but only if it makes senses for you. For example, in the very beginning (when I baked from home) we tried using this vanilla cake recipe that I found out of a reputable baking book I bought from chapters (that shall remain nameless- you don’t want it anyway) & we would get about a complaint a week on the flavour (or lack thereof). For the limited amount of cakes I was doing back then, a once a week complaint was not what I was going for. SO, we changed it! Years later, our complaint rate is fabulous (out of literally hundreds of cakes a month) we might get one a month… sometimes not even. Plus, the cakes are all made in large batches, so if one person doesn’t like it out of hundreds of people that do love it…THAT’S a good ratio & it’s likely just that random person’s personal preference. An example of a common trend that we keep hearing but won’t be changing anytime soon is that we should be open 7 days a week. I know, it’s flattering that customers love us so much & want cupcake access all day, everyday, but we really do value two days off a week & it helps keep us happy & healthy. Even if we had staff running the store that day, it wouldn’t be a fully disconnected couple of days off to relax & rejuvenate. 


If it costs you your happiness, the answer is always no.


3. Is it genuinely your mistake?


You’re human. Mistakes happen. We aren’t perfect & our products can’t always be perfect either. So if you genuinely made a mistake on the flavour, or spelled the kid’s name wrong, you really do need to fix it! This isn’t the customers fault and you need to know when to take full responsibility when these things happen. Hopefully they don’t happen often (make sure you have systems in place to ensure the order is accurate) but when it does happen, I suggest you do everything you can to fix it & make sure the customer doesn’t feel bad about you doing that. We will always go out of our way to fix mistakes that we (or our staff) make. For example, if a customer calls because the name is spelled wrong on the cake, we will tell them to bring it back or we will deliver them a new edible banner to put on top, and oftentimes apologize with a free treat of some kind. If you’re not able to actually fix the issue for them, a full or partial refund is in order. You need to take responsibility for the mistakes you or your team makes (and then learn from them & find better ways to prevent them in the future).


4. Do you have it in writing?


Get your orders in writing. Every last detail. Repeat it back to them, e-mail it to them- whatever you have to do! Make sure they know what they ordered and you know what they ordered. This will save you from the “Oh, I thought I told you that” or “I told your staff this though”.


A few years ago, I personally took a customer's order where she showed me a couple cake designs & she said she wasn’t picky, only to have her call me after it was delivered to say she wanted hot pink and not light pink for her daughter’s first birthday. All the pictures she showed me were of light pink cakes, but… off I went, with my hot pink edible dust & paint brush in hand, over to her house to hand paint her cake that she imagined would be hot pink and not light pink like the pictures she showed me. I mean, she wasn’t picky right? She ended up being very thankful in the end & happy with her cake, so that made me feel good about it. Sometimes you just need a little empathy for people and know that they have a lot going on in their lives. They will sometimes think they said things but didn’t & it can leave you scratching your head. A bit of advice- get every last detail on paper or in e-mail for every order in case this happens (although even if I had it on paper, I would have still gone out of my way and painted it for her).


5. Is it the customer?


Even if you did everything the customer asked of you, they still sometimes, won’t like it. I know- crazy right? I like to approach this based on the individual I’m dealing with. Are they at least being kind and speaking respectfully or are they going cray cray & getting borderline verbally abusive over… a… cake? (yes it can happen). If they’re being kind and respectful I’m generally just as accommodating as I would be as if it were my mistake and try not to make them feel bad. I’ll ask what they don’t like specifically, and let them know we are happy to change or fix anything for them. Usually, these are the types of people who have an idea in their head that they forgot to mention or forgot to tell you their kids favourite colour is purple. We can all relate to that & even though it’s not my fault specifically, I recommend going out of your way to help fix it & make it right.


Now, if they are the latter of the two, and getting borderline verbally abusive over something… Absolutely not. You or your staff deserve to be treated with respect at all times & the fact that the customer doesn’t have self control over their emotions is not yours to try & rectify. People like this are impossible to please anyway & they are just generally bad customers that you wouldn’t want to serve in the future. Never get down to their level, instead be as kind and respectful as you can be & kindly dismiss them. We very rarely have to do this, but when we do, we really do. Just know that people that act like that are in no way a reflection of your product or business, they are a reflection of themselves.


A recent situation I had happened, a bride called me on her wedding day (usually not a great sign), to say we forgot to add the flowers to her wedding cake. Ok, rule number one with us- weddings need to go as smooth and perfectly as humanly possible. I hate the thought of the bride worrying about cake on her big day-no way! So we profusely apologized and said we would send someone over immediately to add the flowers for her… Only problem was, we had no flowers. Shoot. Did we lose the flowers? We tore up the London store, St Thomas store & had all the staff in search of this bride's flowers. We figured out which staff had helped them a couple weeks prior with the final details, turns out she was on mat leave…ring ring ring we had to call and ask where these flowers were. She said the groom came in to pay the balance and didn’t drop off any flowers. Omg. So we found the groom’s number and gave him a call telling him HIS bride called us and she said we were supposed to have flowers on her cake that you had dropped off when you paid the balance. Turns out, being overwhelmed with the pre-wedding jitters, he forgot to bring the flowers to us. My first thought was phew! Thank goodness this wasn’t our fault. My second thought was this bride really wants flowers on her cake. We could have easily said we did our part & flowers weren’t dropped off to us… but at the end of the day, that’s not how I roll. I asked the groom what their wedding colours were & told him that we were going to buy the flowers right now, add them to the cake at no extra charge. He was very thankful. Even when situations happen that are the customers fault, it speaks volumes to who you are & what you stand for when you’re able to go above and beyond & see past the incident and just want to genuinely make them feel better on a human level.


6. Customers have a choice to not work with you & vice versa


Did you know that doing business with someone is a two-way street? You woulda never guessed it based on the traditional “Walmart Customer’s Always Right'' policy (by the way I genuinely do love Walmart, even if they’ve created a few entitled franken-customers along the way). Customers have the choice to work with you or not, and you have the same choice when it comes to them! When I tell people this, they tend to look a little like ‘omg’… but it’s true. It’s even more true when you’re offering a service or a form of art. Not everyone will be the right fit for your products or your brand, so stop pretending and trying to sell them on it. You want customers who naturally love you and your style & will truly appreciate what you have to offer. I’ve had customers over the years send me super elaborate cakes that you could not pay me enough money to make & I just simply say “Thanks for reaching out to me but we don’t offer that style”. They’re usually fine with that response & generally go with something else I suggest instead. Rarely, I’ll get customers to try to push further with projects I’m not interested in, but the answer is always a polite no I’m not the right fit for that project. Also, you’ll have customers who you just get that vibe that they’re so picky to the point of telling you where to place the last sprinkle… you know they’re not going to like it no matter what you do (EVEN IF you place that last sprinkle where they told you to). Always be kind but be honest that you don’t think you can do what they’re asking & you don’t feel you’re the right fit for the job. You can even go a step further and refer them to other local bakeries/businesses in the area whom it may be a better fit for them.


7. Take a look in the mirror


How do you handle yourself when you’re not happy with a product or service? I certainly hope it’s the way you would want to be treated. Weather or not you actually get treated the way you would want to, is irrelevant because karma is there- watching. I’m not always happy with every product or service I buy either, but how do I handle it? Exactly how I would want one of my own customers to handle a complaint they had about my product or service. This is especially important when you have a business and you know how it feels to get complaints. They are never fun to get. Make sure you’re doing your own ethical complaining in a genuinely kind & compassionate way. Be understanding & know that just like you, they aren’t perfect either.


Also know that they may not rectify the situation the way you want them to either. Maybe you feel they should fully refund you for that botched hair cut & they don’t even offer anything- not even an apology. Well, acting a fool ain’t going to help your hair cut either Karen! You always have a choice, you never have to go back there again if you don’t want to (and if they didn’t offer to fix it with an apology, I wouldn’t be back either). Always remember to be kind, because how you act is a reflection of yourself & not them. I’ve also had lots of experiences where I wasn’t happy with a product or service but that company or person really did go above & beyond to make it better. You better believe I kept going back! Sometimes, how people or businesses handle the not-so-happy situations actually shows you everything you need to know about them.


8.The bad “reviews”


Oh hay 2020- the era of keyboard tough guys & internet bullies. Look at them typing away leaving you a bad review like a maniac & just imagine their evil cackle as their negativity seeps through the keyboard! 




K, but seriously. Most negative reviews are left by people who can’t properly deal with the issue they’re unhappy with like a normal human being. Then there’s their friends who join in because, well, that’s what friends are for? …Not really, but try to have a little sympathy for them, they just don’t know how to deal. They don’t know that a simple phone call or e-mail to the company would likely result in a happier, more desirable outcome for them.


This situation is always an interesting one too- when a customer picks up their order & is happy & excited about it to your face only to leave and write a negative review about how much they hate it? It’s really telling of the times that people have a hard time with social interaction & feel fearless in front of a computer. It’s a sad reality.

Rarely, you will actually get a negative review that makes sense. Maybe they genuinely didn’t enjoy your product or service & they did reach out to you but you weren’t able to help them or maybe the staff they tried complaining to was not friendly or helpful. Maybe they just didn’t like the taste of your cake or the vibe of your shop. Not everyone is going to love you & that’s ok. Sometimes we get bad reviews that I’m like ‘ok, we kind of messed that up & even though we tried hard to fix it we just couldn’t’- it happens. But, a lot of our bad reviews are from friends of friends of unhappy customers or friends of ex-staff. It’s just the way it happens these days. Could you imagine if your friend asked you to write a bad review about a company you’d never heard of just because your friend didn’t like them?! Cray Cray people! 


Don’t do it. It’s cray cray.


Don’t get too worked up over the bad reviews. Encourage your happy customers to leave positive ones & try your best to fix the situation when someone is unhappy. Also, think twice before leaving a bad review yourself. Ask yourself if its something you can address with the company directly or do you feel it deserves a bad review? If you do feel the need to leave a bad review, make it factual and don’t get carried away within the confines of your keyboard, you might just run into that person at some point-awkward.


9. Get used to it


I know complaints suck & they always sting a little, but it’s literally part of every business, everywhere. They don’t have a “Customer Service” department at every large corporation for people to call and gush about how happy they are… Am I right? If it helps, just know that all your favourite businesses you go to or look up to have someone, somewhere, complaining about something they’re doing too. I think about that sometimes or come across negative reviews about businesses I KNOW rock and just think to myself, “HOW on the EARTH can A-N-Y-O-N-E hate on this amazing business?!” But there they are, in all their troll-ing internet-keyboard-bully-ing-glory doing it.


The sooner you come to the realization that it’s going to happen no matter how amazing you are, the quicker you’ll be able to move on from it and not let it bother you so much! Just know that there are all kinds of people in this world- negative people, positive people, friendly people, bitter people, nice people, mean people, honest people, sketchy people- all kinds to make this beautiful world go round. When you’re open to the public you really get to know all of them! Learn to accept this & surround yourself with kind, positive people the majority of the time & always try to be one of the good ones yourself!


10. It’s not just about the product or service, it’s about you


Ultimately if you’re consistently going above & beyond to make all your customers feel valued & special, you’ll get mostly positive feedback (plus you’ll feel happier yourself too). Remember that whatever your doing- creating art, crafts, cakes, hair styling, lashes, that at the end of the day the service you’re offering isn’t going to make the world a better place, it’s you as a human being that has that power. Channel that power & use it to benefit and touch the lives of customers through your service. There’s no such thing as too generous, so find the opportunities to go above & beyond everyday & make it happen!


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