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How To Handle A Negative Review

It is inevitable that we will have an unhappy customer at some point.

As bakers we put so much time and effort into producing our products that it can be devastating when a client isn’t satisfied with an aspect of our work.  A negative review left publicly on the internet can leave your confidence in shambles and have you ready to give up on your business.  I’m here to promise you this day will pass, your business will continue on, and you will recover!  Follow these steps to handle the situation gracefully and professionally. 

First of all, it’s tempting to ignore a negative review and pretend it never happened. However, as scary as it can be, addressing the review is important.  Answering a negative review humanizes you and reminds readers that behind your business there is a real person.  Responding professionally to a negative review also shows potential future clients that you care about your customers and take action to make things right.

1. Take a moment to collect yourself 

A prompt response does not need to be IMMEDIATE.  Take a moment to collect yourself and make sure that your reaction to the situation is neutral and professional. The manner in which you respond to a negative review can change or alter the opinion of anyone reading the review so it is important not to respond defensively.

  • PRO TIP: Taking a moment to collect yourself so you can respond professionally is also okay if you receive an unexpected phone call from an unhappy client.  If a client catches you off-guard with an unhappy phone call and you need a moment to gather your thoughts it is totally acceptable to say:

 “I’m really sorry about this situation.  It is not typical feedback we receive.  Let me take a moment to look over your order and I will call you back by the end of the day with what options are available for you”.  Then you can hang up, take some time, and call back when you are ready to handle the situation calmly and professionally.

2. Address the problem

1. Acknowledge the customer by name and thank them for their feedback. 

2. Sympathize with the customer Use phrases like

“I’m sorry, I want to make things right.”

“I’m sorry that was your experience, it is not common for us to receive feedback like this.”

“I apologize, this is the first time something like this has ever occurred.”

  • PRO TIP:  It is okay to gently remind your customer that negative feedback is not your typical order of business, and that you are as disappointed as they are about it

3. Offer to make it right – this is where you as the business owner need to choose what you feel is right remedy the issue.  You could offer to replace the order, offer a partial or full refund, or you could simply thank them for their feedback and move on. 

  • PRO TIP: I do not recommend asking the client open-endedly what they want in order to make things right.  This most often leads to a complete refund which I think is VERY RARELY warranted.  Unless you truly messed up, there is typically some smaller mistake (like misspelling a child’s name on a birthday cake) which doesn’t negate all the hard work you put in and that the cake was most likely still happily enjoyed by the guests. Instead,  YOU decide what is fair and offer this to the client.  Typically, I offer one or two options and let the client pick so that they feel like they were in control of the decision. This in my experience has always resulted in a satisfied client.  (If I offer only one option – to remake another cake for the client in the future for example, I would let them choose the date for pickup.)  In any case, allowing some choice helps satisfy the client on a psychological level. This practice will reduce the amount of unwarranted refunding on your part. 

3. Take action to avoid similar situations in the future

In the aftermath of a negative customer situation, take time to evaluate what you can do to prevent a similar situation in the future.  There is ALWAYS something to be learned from feedback, both good and bad. Look at this as an opportunity to refine your business practices for the better!

I’ve put together a few examples of situations that typically warrant client complaints and example responses.

MISCOMMUNICATION – This is where the vast majority of complaints occur.  Clients are not professional bakers and can often use misleading terms, not understand order lead times, or even how to transport or store your products.   It is important to clarify any details of the client’s order that could be potentially miscommunicated. 

A quick example – a client shows you a fondant cake image and you can do the same design cheaper in buttercream.  Don’t just assume the client would be okay with buttercream and give the lower quote.  Some clients might specifically want fondant!  Say, “This design could be done in buttercream, which would be a little more budget friendly for you. Would you like that option?”

Another quick example – clients confuse cake layers and cake tiers all the time!  It’s very important to clarify if a client asks for a specific number of “layers” to be in a cake, whether they are expecting layers or if they actually mean tiers.    

An extra five minutes on the phone during a clients order to help educate and discuss the little details can save you a world of hurt later on down the road! If you do end up with a situation where miscommunication led to a negative review, you can respond with something like this:

“Dear (insert customers name here) I apologize,  we’re normally known for our exceptional attention to detail, and we regret that we missed the mark.  We would love the opportunity to make things right.  Please email us at (insert your email address)”

UNMET CLIENT EXPECTATIONS –  If you are starting out it is important to have a decent understanding of your skill level and try not to overstep.  Practicing on your own time instead of on your clients is important!  Being honest with your clients about your skill level and experience at the time of order placing can help alleviate unmet expectations.  There is no shame in this!  Even now, with well over a decade in the industry, I am occasionally presented with inspiration images that are either hard to decipher (poor photograph or only one angle) OR are just insane!  My go-to phrase is “I am happy to make something like this, but I do want to point out that this cake was designed by a celebrity cake artist (insert their name here) and my work does look a little bit different.  We can take a look at my portfolio to help get an idea of how my work looks in relation to the inspiration image.”  It is also totally fine to not accept orders that are beyond your comfort zone.  I often turn down 3D sculpted cakes as I really, really do not enjoy making them and they are just not my strong suit (and that is okay!!)!

In the event that you do end up down the tragic path of not accomplishing an order to the standard of the clients expectation you can respond with something along these lines:

Thank you for your feedback, [Customer Name].  We’re sorry to hear that we did not meet expectations.  As this is not typical of our business, we would like the opportunity to speak with you more about what happened in order to better understand the situation. Please reach out to us at (insert email address here) so we can chat further. 

CLIENT IS FISHING FOR REFUNDS FOR A PRODUCT THEY WERE ACTUALLY SATISFIED WITH –  Not every case of an unhappy client warrants a refund,  particularly if you suspect a client is fishing for discounts/refunds on work you feel strongly was perfectly executed OR in a scenario where the client is trying to pin blame on you for something that was not your fault. 

Example: Once I had a client complain that their fresh baked cupcakes were horrible/inedible and after asking some questions discovered that she had let them sit on the counter for an ENTIRE WEEK before serving them at a party the following Saturday (gross!).  This was despite my website having clear instructions on shelf life and suggested storage of all of my products.   

Honestly, this is the rarest type of complaint and it is always best to give the client the benefit of the doubt.  That being said, these types of clients do exist in every industry.  In this scenario you can keep your response short and simple:

Dear (insert customers name), we always aim to deliver quality fresh baked products, and we are disappointed that we didn’t meet expectations.  I will use the feedback to make our processes better and to ensure this doesn’t happen again


I hope this information helps you through any tough situations regarding negative reviews!

Ready to kiss those negative reviews goodbye and start getting those good reviews rolling in? Read my blog post on how to ask happy clients for reviews! I’ve also made a video on how to get a short link to your google reviews page to make it even easier for your customers to leave a good review. Watch it here!

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