Four Tiers Reveal An Unspoken Promise To Exceed The Expected

Rumor has it the bride shed tears when she first saw her wedding cake. Unfortunately . . . they were not tiers of joy.

The outcome emphasized the importance of understanding what matters most to your client, unique expectations that accompany the choice of your product or service.

When blended seamlessly with your talents and flawless execution, the resulting experience can create magical, memorable moments that last a lifetime.

Miss that all important first step, and you’ll be answering a lot of uncomfortable questions, beginning with:

Why do these things always happen when I’m on vacation?

A Hummingbird Masterpiece

I was the 2nd Shift Supervisor of a commercial baking facility that supported a collection of Farmer’s Markets in the Atlanta area.

I noticed the order during a pre-shift review. It was a little short on details, offering minimal description beyond requesting a three-tiered Hummingbird Wedding Cake to accommodate between 60 – 75 ppl, for pick-up later that afternoon.

Hummingbird Cake is a popular dessert throughout the southern United States. Featuring a flavor profile of bananas, pineapple, and pecans, it has the dense texture of a carrot cake and is traditionally covered in cream cheese frosting.

A great seller, the first shift produced dozens of these cakes each day. Execution was as basic as it gets: two whole cake layers, covered in frosting, decorated with pecan halves arranged on top like a sundial.

This special order arrived earlier in the week while I was on vacation. I turned to the departing first shift supervisor to verify its completion. “Is this Hummingbird Wedding Cake in the cake team cooler?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “The GM wanted Jean Luc to handle it, so it’s in the pastry shop.”

My spidey sense began to tingle.

Jean Luc was our Pastry Chef. Originally from Paris, he is an extremely creative, classically trained talent capable of working buttercream like the Impressionists worked oils.

Walking into the pastry shop, I witnessed Jean Luc’s talents on full display.

Before me was a four-tiered wedding cake (Jean Luc insisted it have a topper). Each tier was constructed of four thin layers of hummingbird cake, visible through the exquisitely thin covering of frosting.

Using the cream cheese frosting like buttercream, he artfully encircled the tiers with cascading ribbons of rosettes, creating colorful pastilage flower petals to accentuate the fountain effect.

It was breathtaking.

Jean Luc had created something you would expect to see in the window of a French Patisserie.

The clients were expecting something better suited for the cover of Southern Living Magazine.

Father of the Bride

The father of the bride walked into the pastry shop at that very moment.

“What’s that?” was his first comment.

My spidey sense had been right. I went into full blown Service Recovery mode, anticipating uncomfortable questions from both sides of the decorating table.

As it turns out, the father was quite civil about the matter, although he kept repeating “This is not what we expected.”

Explaining the customer’s disappointment to Jean Luc proved more difficult.

The order had been passed to him without additional direction or guidance. When asked to create a wedding cake, he naturally assumed the customer would appreciate his artistic expression.

I researched the origins of the customer’s initial order. They were planning a very low-key event, and originally asked how many Hummingbird Cakes they should buy to feed about six dozen guests.

It was the store’s Retail Coordinator that suggested one multi-tiered cake, gleefully committing to a mondo-sized version of the original design. One of the last comments noted from the family was “Remember, nothing fancy.”

“Then why pass the order to me?” Jean Luc questioned, as he muttered to himself in French, most of which I am unable to repeat in this professional post.

Like I said, a lot of uncomfortable questions.

A Four-Tiered Promise

Loyalty within every relationship is based on unspoken trust.

This includes the relationships you share with customers, guests, patients, and clients. There is an unspoken promise that begins with attraction but requires a deeper level of awareness to generate lasting loyalty.

It all begins with a choice . . .


Why would someone choose your product or service?

This is a great first question, an inherent understanding necessary among your team and throughout your organization.

It establishes the foundation of a relationship, the natural laws of attraction.

Appreciate that choice reflects perceived value.

Many external factors appeal to your target customer and influence choice, such as websites, marketing efforts, social media, etc.

Beyond that, the responsibility for securing the relationship transitions from marketing efforts to front line performance.


What do they expect?

Diners choose a restaurant because they’re hungry. Guests choose a hotel because they need lodging. Patients choose a physician to mend, heal, or maintain wellness.

Bridging the gap between tangibles and intangibles begins with exploring the hidden potential within an experience . . . determining what truly matters most.

It’s not just a meal or a hotel room, it’s a moment captured in time. This is your opportunity to create something magical, but you must first fully embrace why you do what you do.

Then strive to understand the unexpressed needs within the original choice. Use that insight to determine what steps to take next.

As we learned through our wedding cake experience . . . communicating those next steps to all involved can be the difference between success and a lot of uncomfortable questions.


Commit to meeting expectations

Standards of Execution and Performance reflect the basic expectation of your customers.

Hot food hot, cold food cold. A feeling of security and genuine care. A vehicle that gets me from Point A to Point B.

I expect to feel better or be healed.

That is why standards are standards, and not suggestions. They must be enforced without hesitation to protect the integrity of your brand.

This includes having the right talent, in the right position, at the right time.


Exceed basic expectations

This is when the magic happens. When you venture beyond basic needs and explore unexpressed wishes and desires.

Much of your success will reflect Empathic Empowerment, acknowledging that you are able to embrace the sentimentality within the moment.  This is the best possible option.

Leveraging your knowledge and talent becomes your competitive advantage, fulfilling an unspoken promise to truly engage the heart and soul of those you serve.

And those you employ.

Cut the Cake

It’s hard to imagine not loving a cake that was crafted by an artisan, one that began at beautiful and worked upward from there.

At least that’s my perspective, which is only half of the equation as we learned from our Hummingbird Wedding Cake.

Follow our Four-tiered Promise to see what truly separates the memorable from the mundane.

It begins with understanding why a customer will choose your product or service. Build on that knowledge by embracing what they expect. Do not overlook this step . . . it’s not how it looks, but how it works that will be critiqued.

Then commit to basic service execution, become brilliant at upholding standards. Only then will you be free to exceed expectations, generating true and engaging loyalty.

And avoid too many uncomfortable questions.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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