You have a professional camera, a slew of lenses and other expensive equipment. You have a professionally designed website and blog. You even have a Facebook page and a twitter account dedicated to your photography. So, you’re a professional photographer, right? Well, do you have paying clients? It is hard to use the word “professional” if you are barely keeping that DBA bank account above $0.00.
No matter what brand of camera you are toting or who designed that fancy lens bag you are sporting, without clients, your business cannot grow. Your clients must be your top priority. Always. If you are like me, you may have thought that when you first started new clients would be beating down the door to get some of your aesthetic goodness. And if you’re anything like me, it definitely didn’t happen that way. I once thought that I was in the photography business but I quickly learned that I was actually in the customer service business. At the end of the day with all the things you have busied yourself with in the name of your business, if you do not have paying customers then you do not have a business. Your clients are gold, not only because they pay you for your service but also because they have the potential to become the greatest form of marketing you could possibly ask for.
I am sure you have all heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” Although I would actually argue the validity of that saying, I would definitely like to offer a spin on another colloquialism that I find very true; “If the client ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We have all heard horror stories of dissatisfied clients and unfortunately we have all been dissatisfied customers ourselves at some point. If you understand that your clients are gold then your goal should be to eliminate client dissatisfaction in your business. It sounds quite obvious but where do you begin? The key to client satisfaction is expectation.
In any situation, business or otherwise, expectations can transpire in one of three ways:
- Expectations are NOT met
- Expectations ARE met
- Expectations are exceeded
Just think about that. Although simple, it is profound. You really only have three choices. Which one of these options do you wish to emulate? Are you willing to make the commitment? If you are not at least willing to meet your clients’ expectations 100% of the time, then I am sorry to inform you, but you are in the wrong business. Many photographers use phrases such as “custom photography,” “custom art,” and “lifestyle photography,” which I love. These conjure feelings of individuality and grandeur. It makes the photography a very personal thing for the client. The more personal something becomes, the higher the expectations become and expectations go hand in hand with first impressions.
Do you remember what your high school guidance counselor or mother told you about first impressions? The reason that first impressions are paramount to any endeavor is because they help us to formulate our expectations. They answer the questions, “Is this person/business reliable?” and, “Will I get a good return on my investment?” We know that first impressions are developed in a matter of seconds, most times before a single word is verbalized. Think of how you present yourself and your business. Now, think of the first impression a potential client will develop from this presentation and finally think of the expectations that this client will formulate. Your goal should be that each potential client has GREAT EXPECTATIONS of you.
Presentation > First Impression > Expectations
Did that just send a chill up your spine? Great Expectations may seem very daunting but I encourage you not allow a fear of failure stand in your way of greatness. Mediocrity can be just as damaging as failure. It would be a mistake to believe that every client that seeks you out is an individual source of income, not connected to the past or future of your business. In actuality, realize that each client is part of the web of your business. Although they may never be a return client, they have the potential to offer you the greatest form of marketing you could ask for — word of mouth. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful and there is nothing you could write or say in an advertisement that could instill the sense of confidence that a recommendation from a friend can provide. However, a funny thing happens when you are mediocre… nobody talks about you. Do you remember your three options for client expectations? Well, think about how the client responds to the way you handle their expectations. Again, you have three options:
- Failure to meet expectations (disappointment) = They will tell many people
- Meet expectations (mediocre) = They will not talk about you
- Exceed expectations (greatness) = They will tell a few people
It’s a funny thing about human nature but we like to tell anybody and everybody who will listen when we’re not happy. If something simply meets expectations, people are rarely moved to talk about it. I recently watched a wonderful video featuring Seth Godin where he explained that to be successful you must be remarkable. He makes the point that we think the word remarkable means “neat” but it actually means “worth remarking about.” By exceeding clients’ expectations you give them a reason to talk about you. So, how do you become remarkable? You must constantly be gauging your clients’ experience.
The most important thing my company does to measure our customer experience is to give a Client Survey after our weddings. It may seem backwards but the survey should be one of the first things you are thinking about with each client, not the last. Although we do not hand the survey to the client until the end of their experience with us, being aware of our survey and the way we expect our clients to answer it helps us to ensure that we are providing each client with the best possible experience.
Think of the points you would like to address on your own survey, which can include everything from professionalism, to quality of products, to your artistic approach. Address the things that are important to you as a photographer. Then, step back and think of what would be important to you as a photography client (sometimes this can be a hard mind set for us to get into). Create 10-15 survey questions. They should cover not only one aspect of your interaction with the client but their entire experience with you.
Now, simply by being aware of your client survey, you will notice that you are more aware of each client’s interaction with you. Communication is key. Make sure along the way (as a wedding photographer, my clients’ experience with my company can be anywhere from several months to over a year; as a portrait photographer, this may be a few weeks or months) you are communicating with your client and anticipating what they will need and expect from you to have a “remarkable” experience. By anticipating your interaction with clients, as opposed to reacting to issues or problems as they arise, you will avoid many unwanted stressful situations. Furthermore, you should already know what to expect when they hand that survey back to you. By being aware of the key points of your survey, which in actuality are the cornerstones of your client experience, you ensure your clients’ expectations are not only met, but exceeded. By the time your client sees a survey you will already be quite aware of how they feel. The survey helps the client to reiterate – to themselves, as they fill it out – how they feel about you. It is a powerful tool!
In part 2 of “The Client Experience” I will go into more detail about our process for issuing surveys and what we gain from them. In the meantime, I encourage you to think of the expectations you have of yourself and what you would expect as the consumer. Consider how you are presenting yourself and your business and what impression this gives to potential clients. I truly hope that this advice was helpful for other photographers as I have found it essential for my business. You are welcome to visit our blog or our Facebook page where I’d love to keep the dialogue going, and of course – comments are great as well!
As always – I’m so grateful for my wonderful readers who submit Guest Posts!! If you’re interested in being a guest blogger you can find out all that you need to know right here. Thank you so much Moriah, make sure you leave some comment love to let her know how this post has inspired you.