October 2nd, 2007

Customer Service – handling complaints


So, after my two week absence from the market (been away because of the house-move), I’m officially back as “business-as-usual” with lots of happy baking.


I’ve been back at the market for two weeks since then, & almost selling out on both, so I’m chirpy enough. The new kitchen is actually not-so-bad as I’d nightmared about either. The electric hob manages to make great Tarte Tatins, & the oven doesn’t have heat-spots. I don’t even mind crouching for that oven that’s underneath the hob. – Although…, I guess the only qualm is that the new oven is 1/3 smaller (I can only make 4 cakes at one time, whereas before I could bung in 6), hence I can only produce 2/3 the amount normally, despite that it’s still the same amount of stirring & whisking involved. And crucially, I have noticed this difference when I count my sales at the end of the day…

But that doesn’t faze me too much – I can tell myself that it’s “okay” y’know, it could’ve been a lot worse, & I just have to devise a better working plan. However, what did faze me last week was when a lady customer said a small but rather unnecessary bitter comment upon purchasing a medium pear tarte that she felt was too expensive (it was £5.50). She surely could have then not bought the damn tarte right?, but instead buys it & says: “I should remember never to buy cakes from you.” It shocked me & I immediately apologized. All I could do was put on a slight weary smile & wait for response. The customer then just left (with the cake). – I don’t know how I let it, but it was a real ‘pull-me-down’. I guess it was because it was the end of the day, I was tired. I knew I hadn’t made as much sales that day & I was weak. What could have been just an insignificant comment turned significant in my heart, & at that point, for a moment or two, I toyed with the idea of quitting. – I certainly didn’t handle this well…

Sure, I could have said something bitter back to her I guess, like “You do HAVE the option of NOT buying, woman! Go buy cheapo factory-made ones with God-knows-what’s-in-it from the supermarket!” but I’m never the type to come up with clever lines quickly enough. I’m always the type that goes over what to say ‘after’ the event. Like, I should’ve said this & that…, looping the scenario over in my head. Besides, I try to stick to my belief system that talking back is not considered good customer service, however unjustified it may have been. Maybe that’s the Japanese in me – ‘the customer is always right’.

Later, this incident reminded me of Marco Pierre White, the 3 Michelin starred English chef & restaurateur, on ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen television show. The first show was on the 4th of September, the day I moved, & I pleaded my brother to set-up our TV straight away so as not to miss the show. I had never been rich enough to go to his restaurant, but having heard his reputation as a great chef, I wanted to see the show & be inspired.

But, instead of admirative ‘ooh-ing’ & ‘aah-ing’, I finished watching the show with disgust, & vowed never to watch the rest of the series. What I saw was a man with too much ego for his own good. – A customer had complained, & the chef took it bad, & told his staff to tell the customer to leave…!! When the gentleman-ly customer decided to go up to the chef to talk direct (in my opinion, it should’ve been the chef going to the table instead), the chef then seethes “You have two choices – apologize or leave” & shouted after the man leaving: “It will be the longest walk in history, boy. But you are taking it, aren’t you? Nice shirt by the way. Good evening.” O.m.g., this kind of customer treatment is really uncalled for. I tell you, even if somebody payed me, I wouldn’t go eat that man’s food. For me, dining out should be an experience of good vibes. That’s what makes a good night out. Not sitting in a stuck-up establishment, too scared to disagree. – I wouldn’t want to eat any food that’s been cooked with heartless & bad chi, in-case it rubs off!

On the other hand, I came across a good example of customer service just last weekend, when my family dined out at Matsuri restaurant to celebrate my mother’s birthday. The mini-cab they had organized for us for the journey home ripped us off – big time – & when my brother called up the restaurant to complain, Matsuri immediately phoned the cab-firm, & then phoned us back straight away, acknowledged the fault, apologized & would be sending us a cheque to pay for the difference of what should have been the right fare. – Now THAT gets gold for customer service!


To sum up, I think the key points that scored high was:

  • The restaurant had listened carefully to my brother’s complaint
  • Graciously accepted the criticism
  • Apologized & expressed regrets – did not try to make excuses
  • Resolved the situation immediately – offered satisfactory amends

Their response was proper & text-book worthy. We felt we were taken seriously, & our custom is not lost – we will go back to that restaurant again!


  1. Hi Coco,
    Welcome back ! I hope you will enjoy many pleasant baking moments in your new kitchen. I really missed reading your blogs. About that lady who made that bitter comment, well, just ignore her .. no matter how rude they are, unfortunately the customer is always right … just ignore her and dont let her spoil your day.

    Comment by Yew Ming - October 3, 2007 11:47 am

  2. Hello Yew Ming!
    Cheers! I really missed writing too…! And…, I feel so much better writing about stuff like what happened – it’s kinda therapeutic!

    Comment by tamami - October 3, 2007 1:29 pm

  3. Hi Tamami,

    Welcome back, you have been sorely missed. I can’t watch Hell’s Kitchen for the very reasons you pointed out, food and aggression do not go well together, at least not when the food gets to front of house anyway, the kitchens themselves are another story I guess!

    Hope you are no longer disheartened by stupid lady’s insensitive comment, she should be the one apologising and grovelling for more tarte tatin!

    Comment by Laura - October 3, 2007 3:28 pm

  4. Hi Laura! So good to be back ;-) I’m so glad you agree about the Hell’s Kitchen. Hate aggression…

    Comment by tamami - October 3, 2007 8:59 pm

  5. We used to get a customer who looked like Anne Robinson sucking on a lemon and made negative comments like ‘you call THAT a sandwich!?’ but, like your customer, would buy it and come back for more – Weird. I guess some people are just kinky like that . . .

    Comment by Barny - October 3, 2007 10:19 pm

  6. Hey Barny. Good to hear from you. There really are ‘all-sorts’ of customers out there – I guess that’s what keeps this selling experience interesting I guess…

    Comment by tamami - October 3, 2007 11:26 pm

  7. Hey Tamami

    Don’t worry about that woman. She probably got out the wrong side of the bed. I think you handled it well! I’ve had the odd “nasty” customers making similar comments along the line of “why is this dress so expensive??”. One even went on to add “and it’s soo ugly!”. I felt like saying “well, look at what you’re wearing!” (She happened to be adorning a pair of multi coloured spandex leggings… ) So, I know exactly how you feel. You don’t want to but it’s hard not to take it personally when you’re so emotionally involved. But like your lovely customers, that was very very small percentage and most were such amazing, wonderful people. Please don’t let silly people like her affect your confidence because you really are a super patissiere!

    By the way, I am so impressed by Matsuri! That is what you call customer service.

    Comment by Keiko - October 8, 2007 5:33 pm

  8. Hey keiko.
    You’re right – it is truly because we put in so much in to it – that we are emotionally involved – it’s like ‘how dare you insult MY stuff!!’ (especially when I personally make it.) And as you say, on the other hand, most customers are amazing.. – Anyway, yup, Matsuri – they’re good. Also worth recommending to friends who ask where is good for Japanese food!
    C u next weekend. xx

    Comment by tamami - October 8, 2007 6:08 pm

  9. Dear,

    This is a very late comment but since I have been browsing your entire blog, I couldn’t resist to write a few words here.

    You are so right about respect with the client in the first place and that good vibes=good food experience. I totally agree with you.

    Don’t let bad people let you down. I have been dreaming about fly to London, a city that I love, all the way from Norway, to chat with you and try your specialties.

    When someone is bad to you think that there are people in the world who pay a plane ticket to visit you and buy your tarts!

    By the way, keep us posted about your attendance at the market.

    See you one day soon,


    Comment by Claudia - November 2, 2008 6:56 pm

  10. Wow Claudia, firstly, thank you for reading my blog!
    And also thank you for your very kind words! It’s amazing & encouraging to know that I’ve got kind people like your self taking the time to write to me. Your message comes when I’ve just yesterday had the most miserable market day ever (due to rain & recession).
    If you do ever come to London, please please do pop over to the market! I’d be soo happy to see you…

    Comment by tamami - November 2, 2008 10:08 pm

  11. Hi Coco:
    I am a HUGE fan of yours and I love every word you write. I totally agree with you about the rules of customer service. The customer may not always be right, but it’s never wrong to be a gracious seller, either.
    I applaud your ability to juggle all that you do, and with young children, too!

    Comment by Heather in Toronto, Canada - February 9, 2009 9:20 pm

  12. Hello Heather, wow, thank you for reading this blog!! hope to hear from you again!!

    Comment by tamami - February 10, 2009 7:54 am

  13. Oh I have too have issues with people telling me I price my cakes too expensive when I baked them personally. With LOVE and CARE that I don’t add nonsense to recipe.

    I thought I was the only one who had this problem of feeling down when someone tells me so. But I tip my hat off to you for not saying anything back to the lady. I wouldn’t have as much patience as you did.

    Comment by Erna Dyanty - September 24, 2011 5:02 pm

  14. Hello Coco,

    my name is Amela and i am reading your blog in Bosnia (you dont know where it is?!Dont worry i understand,no do I). I will move to UK next month, my future husband is British, however I love your blog and you are great support for me (your words) because I want to do the same in Ealing food market. I am 36 years old ex tv producer and mummy of two lovely boys 13 and 2 and mad about baking as well. I just want to thank you on your honest words and advices it means a lot to someone like me. All the best for next Saturday

    Comment by Amela - September 17, 2012 10:55 pm

  15. Amela,
    From Bosnia!? Wowwww!! :) So you want to do a market here in UK? Good luck!!! It’s difficult at the start-up, but I guess that’s the same in any business. – If you believe in your food, and especially in yourself, I’m sure you’ll make it in to a success! All the best with your new venture Amela, & keep in touch – let me know how things are going! T x

    Comment by Tamami - September 18, 2012 8:55 am

  16. I know it`s sounds crazy, but I have to try!

    Comment by Amela - September 18, 2012 12:06 pm

  17. Amela! It doesn’t sound crazy atall!! :) :) :) On the contrary, you’re being realistic to think ahead of what you want to do! Good luck! x

    Comment by tamami - September 18, 2012 4:04 pm

  18. Oh Yes! I agree with you. Customers deserve respect and care. That restaurant handled the siuation with aplomb.
    But having said that, as to your customer, the one who was so terribly rude: I’m very sorry you had to deal with that. I think being a customer does NOT give anyone the right to behave badly.
    I think some people are so stuck in their own psyches, they cannot even step outside themselves to see others and to think how they influence the world around them. Sad, but in the end, they have to live with themselves. Please do not think of her nor her mean comments anymore. Toxins are best avoided, or in this case, purged.

    Comment by Olive - November 29, 2014 8:07 pm

  19. Hello Olive!
    In the nine years working at the market, I can tell you, I get loads of different types of customers…! Mostly marvellous, but on rare occasion, rude, or even a bit nuts. The rude ones are the ones who talk down at you, like some unworthy worker. I still give them my confident smiley smile, and look at them direct in the eye and say thank you when I accept their money with both my hands. It’s my attempt/ weapon/ trick to makes them notice me as a person & say thank you back to me!

    Comment by Tamami - November 30, 2014 1:12 am


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