Great cakespectations

Great cakespectations

Today is my eldest son’s ninth birthday. My youngest is four. Between them I’ve made 13 birthday cakes. Each bespoke, on demand, and made at the last possible moment to allow for the very likely change in requested theme. And each time they’ve been wowed and delighted by the on-trend presentation.

I’m no expert cake maker. But I’m generally crafty and competent. And willing to experiment. I’ve also invested annually, over the years, in some other new little tool or support stand or somesuch. There’s very little I wouldn’t turn my hand to, if either of my offspring requested it. (Though I did draw the line when this request was made during the “Transformers” obsession…. – and within a year I made a play area with moving see-saw instead…).

I’ve made a rod for my own back, though. Each birthday, I want to make something at least as good as the last birthday. My boys don’t pressure me to do this, directly. But, the expectations and excitement are high, and so I try and match them. Most years, luckily, I have.

There have been some near misses. Last year, I had to make a last minute rescue as the top of an open Pokemon “pokeball” cake started to glaciate away from the lower half.

Panic-striken, I had to call in reinforcements. First, personnel, in the form of my husband, to temporarily hold the offending segment while I lined up a more permanent solution. More support, more materials, and, you might say, more expense.

This year, the cake has been simpler. Number One Son has chosen a smaller gathering with a couple of friends, so the cake need only cater for four kids and a few adults. His theme this year is also the helpfully-blocky Minecraft. Cue a few simple cuboid cakes, stacked up in a pleasing manner. I finished it this afternoon, unstressed, and he was as impressed as ever.

As well as making cakes, I also like to draw unexpected parallels. And today, I’ve pondered how this birthday experience imitates some service experiences.

It’s a common mantra in service scenarios to exceed your customer expectations. But, in doing so, you need to be sure that what you are attempting to exceed is reasonable and achievable. Aim ever higher with no clear direction or careful management, and customers will expect extra bells and whistles in every interaction. That’s a risky strategy because, inevitably, you will overreach the capabilities of your resources (technical, financial, logistical and more).

Finding that balance between wowing your clients in sufficiently useful and valuable ways, within your means, and with an eye on the value and relevance of what you are doing is far more beneficial to all concerned.

For example, prompt service is usually of more interest to customers than high-touch service. That’s why live chats, mostly initiated by bots, are now the support channel with the highest average satisfaction ratings. And why my son only needs a small cake for his small gathering.

Accurate and relevant service is more valuable than diving too deep to solve problems that aren’t there. My son really didn’t need that motorised Optimus Prime cake.

And, finally, managing expectations and being able to deliver them well within planned resource limitations is infinitely better than a last minute scramble and a call of all hands on deck. That’s why I should have weighed the top of the Pokeball before committing it to its gravity-defying feat.

What cakespectactions would you like to see a service achieve?

This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications in September 2018