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a blog by Chris Barrow

Cupcakes and customer service

A guest post by Suzanne Stolberg


Anyone who has heard Chris’s approach to not tolerating dental patients who are looking for the cheapest deal will be familiar with his fabulous script for not treating them. It’s a great business version of the “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to letting go of a commercial relationship that would never work due to very different expectations of the dentist and the patient.

Sometimes I don’t realise just how much of his advice I’ve absorbed over the 15 years that I’ve known Chris, but last week was a perfect example of how his advice works well in any business environment, not just dentistry.

Although my ‘proper’ job is in marketing, about five years ago I discovered a passion for creating vintage-style cupcakes. I’m not really an arty sort of person but I loved this new hobby and so did my friends – orders started coming in and I set up a Facebook business page to showcase my work and through word of mouth referrals I’ve been kept busy.

True, I’d earn more money per hour stitching clothes for Primark in some awful sweatshop factory but I enjoy creating bespoke cupcakes and the pleasure on a customer’s face is wonderful. My prices cover my costs and a little bit extra, certainly not as high as you would pay in Selfridges or one of those posh cupcakes shops.

Earlier in the week I get a call from an interested customer, a referral from an acquaintance. She runs a small café about five miles away and was looking or someone to make three dozen cupcakes to celebrate their business anniversary. She normally bakes herself but wanted to outsource this to someone more creative. Now it’s a nice order for me but not the biggest I’ve ever had, however she dangled the possibility of me providing regular supplies for her shop, which would have been a good move for me.

I e-mailed her my prices, photos of what I had done before and a link to my Facebook business page so she could see examples of my work. I also mentioned that as I work from home the price was for collection only but I am happy to deliver if she wishes for a nominal £5 charge.

The next day she calls me back to say she wants to go ahead with the order but launches straight into “we feel that as we’ve given you the order, you should deliver free of charge.”

It was one of those moments when I actually realised the value of what I do. Calmly I replied that the price for the cupcakes was already very competitive and I was happy for her to collect them from my home, but if I drive over to her café then it’s my time and my petrol and therefore I would need to make this nominal charge.

Her response was to say that what she was looking for was a deal and suddenly Chris’s coaching was there for me!

I said that I understood where she was coming from, that clearly she was looking for the cheapest cupcakes she could source for her business. However, this was not my business model, that what I provided were bespoke cupcakes that were competitively costed, with my time factored into that price. Therefore I was grateful for her enquiry but on this occasion I was unable to meet her requirements and I hoped she was successful in finding the right supplier.

She was shocked and accused me of starting an argument, so I said that I was simply saying on this occasion I was unable to meet her expectations in terms of the price she was prepared to pay, so many thanks but I won’t be accepting her order.

Then I ended the call.

I cannot begin to tell you how empowering it felt.

She will no doubt find someone to supply her with cupcakes and not charge for delivery. Maybe if she had approached me in a different manner I may have waived the charge anyway.

But this week I understood the value of my work – and that’s priceless.

If you want to see what I do, you can find it here

Suzanne Stolberg MSc MCIM


Marketing Communications and Branding Consultancy

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