Gerhard Jenne deals with two different customer reactions and ponders whether the customer is, indeed, always right.

The saying “The customer is always right” is a phrase pioneered by the likes of Mr Selfridge himself. More than 100 years ago Harry Gordon Selfridge and his contemporary retail magnates coined all manner of phrases to set standards of service and in this case wanted their staff to take customer complaints seriously and treat them with respect. This became a global standard and, in Germany, the phrase goes “The customer is always king!”.

At Konditor & Cook we have a good track record of making amends when something has gone wrong. Our aim is always to turn something negative into a positive.

I can recall one occasion where one customer’s small brownie order was left out of her carrier bag, but she had not time to come back to get them. They were important to her as they were meant to be a gift, so we immediately send someone to deliver them on foot. In fact, we gave her some extra ones to share around the office. She was delighted with our gesture and has brought her colleagues into the shop ever since.

Last weekend I got caught in the crossfire of two customer complaints. One was a special celebration cake based on a very particular design given to us by the customer. Sadly, somewhere between the initial consultation appointment – that left the customer with high expectations – and the collection date, something had gone adrift.

The execution by our decorators was lacking the detail expected and the decorations, although all doing what it said on the tin (or order form), just didn’t quite add up to the ‘wow factor’. As I explained to our cake decorators later, for us it might be one of many orders piling up on the order clip, but for the customer it was the one and only! A really good decorator’s knack is to give that extra love and attention to every cake.

Luckily I managed to calm the situation by listening to this customer’s query, then offering some clever fixes, which, in the end, left her very satisfied, even smiling. The day was saved - well almost…..

As one drama was solved, another had already started to unfold. This time it was a customer questioning the quality of the frosting on her birthday cake order.

Our best-selling cake is a dark chocolate one, filled and frosted in a cream cheese frosting featuring real vanilla beans. Naturally, the frosting features the little brown specs associated with vanilla. I will admit there was also one loose chocolate sponge crumb trapped in the frosting that was visible, but I felt even Merry Berry would have turned a blind eye on this one. Not so said lady! She was adamant that previous orders of what is our best-selling cake didn’t have the brown specs in them and that she wanted us to re-do it. She even showed me photos of previous cake orders on her smartphone.

I was kind of helpless, in that I really didn’t know what to offer in terms of an explanation. My reply that the quality of the photo doesn’t allow the detailed showing of any vanilla seeds didn’t go down well, nor did my suggestion that it might have been lemon cake she last ordered. She insisted her last cake was speck-free! When I took an even more defensive attitude and proclaimed that I had been making this cake for 20 years and that it always featured real vanilla (and naturally the seeds) it raised the temperature by a few degrees.

Before the scene turned completely into something out of Fawlty Towers, I offered a fresh cake and added an extra layer of frosting, making sure not a singular sponge crumb had gone astray. And I re-wrote the inscription with all the flourishes you would want for a teenager’s birthday!

In the end the customer did show some appreciation and left reasonably satisfied, but by golly, in this instance I really did ask myself, “Is the customer always right?”