Providing good customer service should be a pillar of your photography business if you want it to succeed. When I was transitioning back into the world of work after many years off (due to my “old-man” back), I needed to get a part time job to test the waters and see if my back could take it. Long story short, I ended up working in a call center – a place I never expected to be. I strongly believe that we can take something from every experience in life, good or bad, and that job taught me a lot about customer service.
What Is Good Customer Service?
Firstly, we need to establish what good customer service is. Let me assure you, it is not believing that “the customer is always right,” nor any nonsense notion that positions our clients as infallible. The best way to think about good customer service is as an experience; a shared experience between your clients and your photography business.
Good customer service is ensuring that during every stage of this journey your client is taken care of, including, of course, providing an excellent product at the end of the journey. As photographers, we are often focused on the creative side of things, and so we should be. Unfortunately, there are so many other stages of the journey which our clients will need help with. However, there is a rather large added benefit to us if we get it right: a more successful business.
How Can You Provide Good Customer Service To Your Clients?
During my year and a half, while working at a call center, I dealt with thousands of calls, thousands of emails, and a few online chats (I didn’t like those). All in all, I can safely say that I solved over 15,000 problems. That experience gave me an excellent ability to put myself in the shoes of anyone, and the ability to do so is one of the four pillars of good customer service.
Putting yourself in your client’s shoes is so important. No matter what type of photographer you are, you have to recognize that, while you may have had thousands of clients and be bored to death of everything bar the photography, it is all new to them. We have to remember this with each and every job and provide every new client with a bespoke, caring service. Not only that, but we must be willing to adapt. No two people are alike. Don’t treat clients as though they are on a conveyor belt. Get to know them and you will gain an understanding of their needs.
Making your processes easy to understand and being upfront, is key to ensuring everything runs smoothly, and avoiding arguments. Again, remember your clients are going through this for the first time.
Consider online shopping. Site A is ugly, the relevant info is difficult to find, AND when finally getting to the payment page, they add on VAT/TAX and a huge amount for postage! Site B sells the same thing. Their site is clean, attractive, easy to navigate, and displays all the necessary info (including pricing) upfront. Who do you think has more satisfied customers?
One of the difficulties with our businesses is there can often be a long list of things we need to tell people about, from our policies to our pricing. Here are two quick tips with those. Firstly, keep it short. People don’t want to read long documents (and often won’t). Secondly, make life a little easier on yourself and use some templates to design beautiful documents, brochures, etc. to give out. These documents are a fantastic way for you and your clients to get all the information they need.
Being able to quickly, coherently, and skillfully guide your clients through every stage of their journey is invaluable. Clients want to be guided. Even those that seem as though they don’t, still do. But they will only take your opinion and follow your advice if they feel you are confident in what you do.
This doesn’t mean you need to be a super confident person, but it does mean that you should be prepared for every question and eventuality. Plus, you need to deal with every question and eventuality like an expert. If you do, your clients will trust you, and in turn, your policies, and your pricing.
4) Attention to Detail
This is the part that makes your client feel special; the bit that connects them to you. It may be sending out a surprise gift at the end of a shoot, getting to know them and bringing a special something to their session or taking the time to understand the needs of a company and providing that little bit extra. Going above and beyond will get you that next job.
How To Deal With Problems When They Occur
No matter how prepared you are, problems will occur. When dealing with issues and making decisions, keep two things in mind:
- What do I stand to lose?
- What do I stand to gain?
We may be irate that our policies, business, (and by extension, ourselves) are being undermined but does it help to get angry? Do we ever make our best decisions voices raised, stomping about the room?
Never get angry; no matter what. That includes backhanded language! You must always be perfect. Often, people are prepared for a fight. The last thing you want to do is give them a reason. The only result is damage to your business whether that be, at best, financial, or at worst, reputational. There is no point getting into a drawn out argument with a client. In all honesty, there are only two reasons why things will descend in that fashion; number 1: the client is a jerk (there are some nasty people in the world) or (and this is far, far, far more likely – there’re not too many nasty people), YOU failed at some point along the way. You did not provide good customer service.
An Example From One Of Our Own
“I had a client who wanted to print baby announcements herself using a picture I had taken. She was happy with the newborn session, and even ordered prints. But she thought I was charging too much for the cards. Since she was going to use ‘[her] design’ she offered me much less than what I was charging.”
Image by Judy Riggs Photography
This is a very common problem, and I’m thankful to Judy for sharing it. Having probed a little deeper, Judy told me that this was actually in the days of film and hence, her client did not have a digital file. As such, they could not produce the item themselves. To keep the example applicable to most photographers these days (shooting digital), let’s just say that Judy doesn’t sell digital files; as many photographers don’t.
At its core, the issue here is that the client does not see value in what you’re providing. It doesn’t matter what the product is; that is where the problem lies. I’m sure you’ve all come across this same issue in many ways: a commercial client thinking your rate is too high, a family being unhappy with what you charge for a framed print or a bride being displeased with her quote.
They key here is information and understanding. It is so valuable to be able to meet with your client before a session and find out everything about them and what they want. By doing so, you’ll provide them with a better end product, they’ll feel special and taken care of, and you’ll know what types of products they might be interested in. It also gives you an excellent opportunity to explain what you’ll be doing and show the value in both the physical items and your work.
Image by Judy Riggs Photography
As I mentioned above, customer service is, in part, about information and communication. Had Judy’s client known the pricing of these initially, it could have been dealt with long before this point.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume they did and, as people love to do, they developed a selective memory. I would explain the value in the cards.; things like: I personally design each card myself, have them printed at “x” amazing lab and so on. After that, I’d say that this is an important part of my process, providing artwork for my clients, and state that I’d very much like work with them and make this happen. Having said all that, I’d ask what price they feel is fair. Finally, I would negotiate and even be prepared to throw in a small product, a print perhaps, which has a low-cost value to me.
Now, many of you may be thinking I caved in. I gave them a lower price. For me, I return to those two simple principles; what do I stand to lose/gain? I don’t want any customer to go away angry as they could potentially become a bad review and lose me business. At the same time, I don’t want to severely reduce my prices. By politely highlighting the value, being a little bit flexible on the price (only a little), and throwing in something else (with a low-cost value), we’ve raised the perceived value of this item and have shown our clients that we want to meet their needs. This results in a happy customer willing to refer you to a friend, aka money in the bank.
[Be sure to check out Judy’s website. She has some lovely photos].
Think of customer service as a journey; a journey which you go on with every client you have. A good way to ensure consistency is to have a specific way of operating, a set of tasks your roll through for every client. If you opt for that route, be sure to leave room for adaptations. People don’t want to feel that are on a conveyor belt.
Always remember you are dealing with people. From providing an excellent, bespoke service for each and every client, to negotiating and dealing with tricky situations. In all of my 15,000 problems solved during my time in a call center, I came across very few people whom I could not somehow charm into having a good experience. Or, at the very least, make their bad situation a little less bad. If situations become heated, remember that the person who stands to lose the most is you; your business. Protect yourself, and your business, and always be the picture of professionalism.
Remember, all of this means nothing if you’re providing a sub-par product at the end. Make sure your skills are up to scratch by checking out all the excellent tutorials in the SLR Lounge Store, click here.