I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thicker Skin

I don't have a thick skin. I take everything to heart and I react emotionally to things which probably don't need much emotion in them. It's taken me this long to blog about this incident because it still weighs heavily on my heart, and stupidly some itty bitty piece of my heart lacks confidence. I'm sharing it because I think there is a lesson in it.

A few weeks ago now, a client ordered a cake for her son. This son has extreme dairy, egg, soy, nut, and wheat allergies. I explained that I can meet some of those dietary needs but not all of them (very hard to do a good gluten free cake with no eggs, IMHO.) She told me she had rung 5 other bakeries, all which flat out refused to help her. I explained that I might be able to help her if SHE provided the cake receipe and we just decorated it. After MANY conversations, she asked if I would be willing to bake up a box cake mix (which her son could eat) and then decorate it for her. She wanted a pretty simple design, and so I agreed to do it. She was gushing loads of gratefulness over the phone.

Note, only a crazy person would agree to taking in an unknown cake mix, baking it up (and thus slowing down our normal production), and hope it would bake up okay for decorating purposes. The risk factor at every level of this job was pretty high. But I am a bleeding heart and I really felt for this woman and her son - he can't eat much of anything at all. I also under-charged her - again a symptom of my bleeding heart nature. Anyway we did it (and it was a pain in the butt but came out very cute) - and her husband came to pick it up. I showed it to him and said, "Isn't it cute?" and he said, "Yes, thanks so much!" and drove away.

Two days later I received an email from the client's Mum. It is by far the most vile, hurtful, and personally insulting email I've ever gotten. I won't put it all here, but suffice it to say she accused me of, among other things - writing my own testimonials, letting a 3 year old decorate the cake (because "clearly it was not the work of a professional"), lying about my qualifications and experience, and ruining her grandson's birthday. She also told me the cake was disgusting, and she could not believe I would actually proudly present that to a client. She goes on to say that she and her daughter took it to 2 local bakeries, both of which refused to 'fix it' for them. They then went to the supermarket, bought icing, and redecorated the entire thing themselves until 3am. Apparently the only silver lining to come from it was that now 2 bakeries were "re-thinking" their offerings in terms of allergy-friendly cakes. I could go on, but I won't because I think you get the idea.

So I wrote back, simply saying I would call her daughter directly to discuss this. I called about 4 times that day, but there was no answer. I then got a second email from the grandmother telling me that her grandson was sick so her daughter was not available to talk, but I could call her to discuss it (meaning I could call the grandmother.) I politely wrote back and said I preferred to speak directly to the client. I called the daughter again and left a friendly voice mail, saying I would like to discuss the email I got from her Mum. (Friendly because I believe in good customer service, and being polite in the first instance, and that means discussing it like adults and not coming out guns blazing. Clearly this grandmother was not of the same belief.)

The client never called me back, and I've not heard anything since then from anyone in that family. I have a sneaking suspicion that the daughter was happy with her cake but that (for whatever reason) her Mum was not so the daughter just caved in to the madness.

It has taken me several weeks to get over this. I am just not thick-skinned, and I took everything about this situation personally. Her email to me was a very personal attack - so it's not really a surprise that I've taken it to heart. Still, it's much easier for me to focus on this ONE horrible email than it is for me to remember the hundreds of happy (repeat) clients I've got, and the many, many, many happy testimonials people have written for me not only personally but in public forums as well.

I'm sorry to report that rather than see this as one crazy lady among hundreds of normal ones and shrug it off, it's made me reconsider my stance on allergen cakes, and on doing people favours in general. It's really taken the shine off what I considered to be a situation in which I was providing exceptional service, and it's made me very wary of helping people out in the future.

There will always be unhappy people in the world, and just by law of averages I'm going to come across a few of them in the course of my business. I've just got to get better at dealing with them when they come into my life. So - I'm aiming to grow a thicker skin. I'm not entirely sure how one does that, but I'm going to try. All suggestions welcome.


Claire - Matching Pegs said...

Oh Em,

I am really sorry to hear this.

My skin is not very thick either - I would feel very hurt too.
I don't really know how you do become less affected by negativity, without becoming someone else in the process.

adele said...

Grandma sounds like she has Issues. Dairy, egg, soy, nut, and wheat allergies? I'm not a professional, but going by the allergen/dietary restriction baking I've done, I'd think your client was being a bit unrealistic. There's only so much you can do to modify a cake for allegens - beyond a certain point, it's no longer a cake.

You deserve some sort of "courage under fire" pastry chef award just for agreeing to give that cake a shot!

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

Claire - you are so right, I probably should just embrace the fact that a bleeding heart is who I am. To be someone else would be silly...maybe the lesson is to be a bleeding heart with more confidence so I believe more in my product and less in crazy people!

Adele - I think I could have handled it if she was complaining about the cake, but her complaints were all about the icing we had done. I took ZERO responsibility for the cake inside - that was the packet mix the Mum provided. And as for the award, yes, I think I do! Today I delivered a cupcake tower and got abused by a restaurant manager (because the client failed to book a cake table.) Sometimes, the mind just boggles!


M.B. said...

I am so sorry, Chelle. Like you, I have a feeling the daughter was pleased with the cake and is bullied by her Mum. I am surprised that she was able to come to see you without her Mum along, maybe that is part of what has her so up in arms.

I don't know you IRL, but I know enough about you virtually to know that while this has hurt you, it will not reduce you in any way. I would agree with you regarding maybe not doing allergen cakes, but truth is, this could have as easily been about a non-allergen cake. The problem was not the cake...it was the grandmother's lack of tact.

As for developing a thick skin, I hope you never do. The silver lining of having a thin skin is that we tend to be more patient with others. Ok, so maybe we still get annoyed but we do consider the feelings of others and may put a sock in our cake hold rather than hurt someone.

Anyway, I think you are the cat's pajamas for how you handled the situation. Your clients had the cake decorated as they requested and then caved to a bully. That is no reflection on you. <3

Jewel said...

***hugs*** ... You are definitely a super star for handling this so well. Don't ever change, the mum was just jealous for not being asked to make the cake.X