Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks "Confectionary Designs"!

I have been honored to have one of my blog articles reprinted on fellow caker "Confectionary Designs" blog in New Jersey. Pam and Stephanie are two very talented ladies.

Check out their blog and photos:


Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Customer Service Lessons

I LOVE Black Friday shopping! It is not the deals or the stuff or the doorbusters that make me feel great. It is the mother-daughter time I get with my girls as we make our annual pilgrimage to the stores, ending with a great breakfast at our favorite breakfast restaurant.

This year, with many stores opening at midnight and 1:00 a.m., the crowds were not a thick by the time we ventured out at 5:00 a.m. So I had plenty of time to do some simple observing while I stood by the parked cart, waiting for my daughter to search the shelves for a particular item. I share these observations for the benefit of business owners and customer service managers who may want to see how their own customer service training measures up.

Our first stop was a major toy store and the staff was super impressive! Staffers were stationed at points inside the store and we had access to an employee any time we had a question. We found these employees to be well informed, knowledgeable about the store layout and very helpful. In looking for a Buzz Lightyear item, we found an area of nothing but Toy Story items but the item we wanted wasn't there. A store employee, who was within ten feet of the area, told my daughter, "That item may also be in our Disney aisle (and she gave instruction on where that aisle was), but they will be bringing more inventory out to the shelves in about five minutes" so we made sure to hang close to see if her item was brought out. It was.

At our second store, a department store specializing in mostly clothing, we were looking for a certain football jersey for an 8 year old girl. The employee we asked (again, lots of employees within eyesight at all times!), the employee wasn't sure where these jersey's might be, but she located another employee for us, who walked us to the display where the jersey's were hanging. At the checkout we learned it was the first day for one of the two ladies manning the cash register. The store had hired additional staff just for the sole purpose of bagging merchandise for the cashiers, which helped the cashier get folks checked out faster which resulted in faster moving lines.

The third store was not as impressive. It's a huge national chain that carries everything from groceries to clothes to car repairs. In looking for another Toy Story item, my daughter is informed by an employee, "I don't know where they might be." Pointing to the long line at the register in the hardware department which was next to toys, she said, "You need to go ask the lady in hardware. She might know where they are." My daughter looked at the long line at the checkout and said, "I can't butt in line to ask a hardware cashier where the toys should be. Let's go."

This was such a contrast to our first two experiences where, at the first store, the staffers were well informed about the inventory and the store layout, and at the second store, even though the staffer was not sure where the item was, she personally handed us to another employee who walked with us to the display. But the third store? We were pretty much told, "I've no idea. Go ask someone else."

I do not fault the employees of the third store. What this business owner's eye saw was a lack of management care and interest to see that the employees were well informed and knowledgeable about their department, their inventory and their store layout on what is heralded as the biggest shopping day of the year. A good manager and management team takes the time and makes the investment to have employees who are ready to assist the customer, especially in this economy when everyone is fighting for the same dollar.

What I hope is taken from this article is that those in charge of training new staff and those in charge of major sales promotions and those over customer service functions will see that managers can not just hire someone and say "Ok, go help the customer." The employee needs the tools, the empowerment and the knowledge to be able to do that.

And that takes an investment of time and training, and a level of care on the part of management.

So decide today ..... will your business hand walk a customer through the problem solving process? Or will it be one of those "I've no idea ... ask someone else" stores?

It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pick Up Time is Not Party Time

Clients and businesses alike ... listen up.

When ordering a cake (or any product, actually), be clear about when the cake needs to be picked up.

Clients tend to talk to the baker in terms of what day the party will be. "We're having a party on Sunday ....." Bakers tend to listen to the conversation for a clue on when the cake is needed. "She needs the cake on Sunday." Confusion takes places when the client arrives on Saturday to pick up the cake (that she needs tomorrow) and finds the cake isn't ready. The baker is confused because her order form says the cake isn't due until Sunday.

Party Time and Pick-up Time are not the same thing. Both parties need to be clear on when the item is needed. I'm going to put the weight on the shoulder of the baker and suggest the business should have a place on the order form for day and time of PICK UP (or delivery).

The best phrasing isn't "When do you need the cake?" (they NEED it on Sunday for the party). What SHOULD be asked is "What day and time will you pick this up?" For some bakers/bakeries, there may be a specific window of time for order pickups in which case the baker should let the client know, "Your cake can be picked up on Saturday between 2 and 4."

It works the other way also, with clients who do things at the last minute. I had a client who was planning a Sunday party. I asked her "What time on Saturday do you want to pick it up?" She reminded me, "Oh the party isn't until Sunday."

I said, "I'm closed on Sunday. What time on Saturday do you want to pick it up?"

She said, "I didn't really want to pick it up before Sunday."

I said, "I'm closed on Sunday. What time on Saturday do you want to pick it up?"

In this world of 24/7 everything where nothing needs planned ahead and people are used to picking up things "on the way" to an event, details like pick up times need to be clearly stated up front so both parties understand what is expected from the other.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Doing The Math or "Going Math-Dumb"

There are a number of websites that help brides find vendors for their wedding. Just plug in a zip code and check off all vendors that you're looking for and the bride's request for information is sent to all of the vendors in her area. Sites such as Decidio.com and Respond.com offer this service at no cost to the bride and a minimal per-lead-fee for the vendor.

I've received a number of inquiries from these sites and the one thing that always astonishes me is how brides can't seem to Do The Math when making a request. One example (and trust me, it's not the only one I received like this!) is the bride who checked off:
- "I expect a cake to cost $2-$3 per serving."
- "I need 250 servings."
- "My budget is $150."


I am not making this up. I really received this lead info. Even at the lower end of the price range, $2 per serving times 250 servings equal a minimum of $500. How in the WORLD does this bride expect to get a custom designed cake for her very special wedding day at a price that is less than a pack of Twinkies? How did she come up with a budget of $150 for 250 servings at $2 each?

Do The Math.

What is a shame is that this bride, who obviously needs help planning her wedding, isn't going to get it. Because when I receive a lead like this, I just delete it. I am NOT paying $2 to $5 per lead just to get her email so I can tell this poor bride that she is being unrealistic in the $150 budget. And I'm not the only vendor who thinks that way.

Do. The. Math.

Part of the problem is that people are not used to planning food and entertainment for 100+ people. If I tell someone that it will cost them $10 per person to take 6 people out to dinner, they can do the math and figure they will need $60. But when planning an event for 100+ guests, they seem to go math-dumb. Tell this same person that it will cost them $10 per person to feed 100 guests at a wedding and the only thing going through their head is .......


Yes, folks. A Thousand Dollars. Do The Math.

A relative asked me to look over the cost for her son's rehearsal dinner as it seemed high to her. As I looked over the menu and did some price comparing in her area, I found the prices were really a great bargain. But I told her, "It only seems like a lot of money because you're feeding 50 people. And 50 people times $20 a head comes out to a thousand dollars no matter how you calculate it."

Back when postage was $0.35, one of my brides turned to her dad during the consultation and said, "Oh, Dad. When we leave here, we need to go by the post office. I'll need $70 for stamps."

Dad went thru the ROOF!! "SEVENTY DOLLARS!!" I held up my hand and said, "Dad .... do the math. She's mailing 200 invitations and 35 cent stamps times 200 comes to $70 no matter how you add it up." Dad calmed down, but it's a great example of the reaction of people who are not used to planning events for 100 or more people.

Another common reaction is to focus on the total cost rather than comparing a per-person price. For example, when a bride gets a quote for $3/slice for a wedding cake to serve 200, she tends to focus on the total of $600 and some make comments about it being "just a cake" (oh don't EVEN get me started on THAT one!) and she can't see why it's so much. And I tell them ....

"Darlin', it's not a $600 cake. It's enough cake to feed TWO HUNDRED PEOPLE!!!"

A $4 cup of coffee doesn't seem like a lot of money .... until you have to buy 200 of them.

This is frustrating to everyone. It's frustrating to the bride because she thinks no one can meet her budget, when the truth is she didn't Do The Math to see what she would really need to budget. It's frustrating to the vendors because we WANT to work with the bride but we can not work with an unrealistic budget.

Here are some recommendations that a bride should do (and questions vendors should ask) when figuring a budget:

- What is the total dollar amount available to spend?

- How much will be spent on the wedding and how much on the reception?

- How many guests are you wanting to invite? Divide this into the reception dollar amount to get a per-person budget.

- Tell the vendor how much you have to spend. If a bride has only $2500 to spend on the dinner, the caterer will not try to sell her the $7500 package but will work to come up with a presentation that will fit inside that budget.

- Be realistic. I've had brides offer a per-person budget that was so unrealistic that I have honestly said to them, "Darlin' you can't get Happy Meals for that amount."

If the per-person budget ends up in the fast food range, then the bride should consider simpler ideas such as either reducing her invite list to a number that her budget can accommodate or having a cake-and-punch reception instead of a buffet or plated dinner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"But I Don't Like Sales......"

I hear it frequently. There is someone who loves making cakes, who loves creating artistic displays of sugary art, who has every friend and relative encouraging them to start their business. So they start the process. They buy business cards, they get a website, they set up their facebook page. They are ready. They are "in business".

Then it hits them. They have to do "sales". They have to talk to people. They have to promote their business and promote themselves.

And they hate that.

I mean, all they wanted to do was make cakes. That was their passion. That's what they loved. They wanted to be a baker. A cake creator. Yes, even a business owner. But a salesman? Ah, geesh, THAT wasn't part of the deal, was it?

Well, darlin', I hate to break it to you but yes .... it is. And it's a 24/7 job.

Once you hang an "Open" sign in your door, you are a salesman. Unless you're selling, you have nothing to bake. Selling is all the time, every time.

Every time you hand someone your business card, you're doing a sales call. Every time you mention "I make cakes", you're doing a sales promotion. There's a rule of thumb that you have to knock on ten doors to get one person to listen to you. So a baker who needs to sell twenty cakes a week has to talk to two hundred people. Hand out two hundred business cards. Send an emailed promo newsletter to two hundred email addresses. Shake hands hundreds of times.

In one week. And next week you get to do it all over again.

I love encouraging new entrepreneurs who are starting their business. I revel in their excitement and in their grand openings. I celebrate their victories and when they hit their goals. I love it.

But as much as I encourage the free spirit of capitalism, I have advised people "Don't go into business .... get a job at Walmart in their bakery department." Running a business is tough, hard work. And sales is Job One. You either throw yourself into that part of it 1000% ..... or you don't do it at all.

So before investing thousands of dollars into a commercial kitchen or even into business cards, decide up front if you're cut out for sales. Because if you can't take the heat of sales, you should definitely stay out of the kitchen!