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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Customer Service Lessons From a Cupcake Shop

You’d be surprised how unhappy people can be at a cupcake shop.

When I first started my summer job at a cupcake bakery, I was prepared to be every customer’s favorite person. I mean, I was selling them cupcakes, for goodness’ sake! Sugar, spice, and everything nice.

In reality, it can be a war zone in there. People are impatient. People are indecisive. Some people are just flat out angry about cupcakes (“Do you really make these from scratch? This has way too much icing on it. You want me to pay how much for that?!”). At times, all I wanted to do was hide behind the glass case and wave my little white apron in defeat.

But I stuck out my time there, and I’m glad I did—because now I feel I’ve learned the best customer service lessons I could have asked for. Here are some of the biggest ones I picked up on the job.

Treat Every Customer As If You’re There Just for Her

My first day on the job, my customer service training consisted of this: “Have you ever been to a Tiffany’s?” asked my boss. I nodded. “Whenever a customer walks in here, you treat them like they just walked into Tiffany’s.” What she meant was to give every customer your devoted attention. Think about it: when you walk into a jewelry store, the salesperson is at your side, ready to help in every way they can. They get you things, they give you opinions, and they don’t go onto the next customer until they’ve given you your time.

While we weren’t selling overpriced rocks, we were selling overpriced baked goods, so our customers deserved the same level of attention. Even when we had lines out the door, we all had to do our best to make each customer feel special. We would patiently help them choose flavors, ask about their days (and actually listen to the answer), throw in a free cupcake or fun topper for the kids every once in a while. And all along, we would act like, “of course, I’m doing this just for you!”

Even if your product is great, a bad experience with your business will leave a sour taste in a customer’s mouth, and a good experience will make it even sweeter. So, even if you are rushed, never make your customers feel like you’re rushing them. Make them feel appreciated by giving them your attention (and the occasional perk), and they’re far more likely to keep giving you their business.


Give the People What They Want

Okay, I’m about to share an unpopular opinion: I think red velvet cake is disgusting. My boss felt the same way. “I just don’t get it!” she would tirade while she dumped red food coloring into barely-chocolate batter, “It doesn’t taste like anything, why do people like it?” Finally, one day, she decided to take it off the menu for good.

It wasn’t long before the red velvet lovers began to rain down upon us. “Where’s the red velvet?” they would ask, their expecting eyes peering at me through the glass case. “Oh, we’re not selling it anymore,” I would have to explain. They looked so sad. Some walked out without buying anything, despite my attempts to sell them any of our delicious alternatives. Finally, we had to put the cake back on the menu, where it now remains as a daily staple.

No matter how stupid you think something is, if enough customers ask for it—and it’s feasible for you to do—you should do it anyway. Certainly, there are limits to this. If customers are asking for something that is just not within your ability, or totally goes against your company’s mission, it’s understandable to politely say you can’t give that to them. But if it’s a simple request that is really no loss to you (besides being willing to put your stubborn opinions to rest), then it’s probably not worth the lost customers.


Be Prepared to Explain Things—Over and Over Again

You haven’t experienced monotony in life until you’ve explained a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting to hundreds of customers a day. But we had to do it, and sound just as excited about the simple little cupcake every single time. Even though we were intimately familiar with every cupcake (seeing as we’d baked and iced them all that morning), our customers were not and wanted us to explain every detail.

When your customers come to you, they see you as the expert on your business. Be prepared to answer the same things over and over again (sometimes multiple times for the same customer). Some questions may seem stupid to you because you’re so immersed in your product, but try to think from your customer’s perspective, and answer as patiently and enthusiastically as possible every time.

In the end, the most important thing you can do for your customers is to keep smiling. When you keep your spirits up, your customers are more likely to be forgiving of any situation. You’d be surprised how many of even the unhappiest customers will keep coming back when you’re sweeter than a cupcake.

Photo courtesy of banditob.