Creating The Customer Experience

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:

  1. Expectations are NOT met
  2. Expectations ARE met
  3. 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:

  1. Failure to meet expectations (disappointment) = They will tell many people
  2. Meet expectations (mediocre) = They will not talk about you
  3. 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.

  1. Kim Larsen says:

    Love this article! Can’t wait for part 2!! I have been working on designing a client survey, and have been struggling with making sure I am asking the “right” questions to make it worthwhile.

    • Leah Remillet says:

      Good News… A survey is included in the paper pack that I’m currently working on! It’s the next product release slated for Go{4}Pro!!

  2. Stephanie says:

    I couldn’t agree more on the importance of creating happy customers! I recently had an experience with a client that I just couldn’t make happy though. She was a bride who waited three months to order her photos, and was upset when she found out that my print prices have changed – even though I’ve posted it on facebook, twitter, my blog, my website, sent out emails, etc. I tried to do the right thing by giving her two weeks to order her photos at the old prices. But I still got a nasty email from her. I don’t know what she wanted from me, but at this point I think she’s trying to see what else she can get out of me at a discount or for free. But knowing that word of mouth is the best way to get new clients, I’m concerned what her negativity towards my business may to do my business. 🙁

    • Yana K says:

      Yikes, what an unpleasant experience for you… my only word of encourage is that if this
      is a client that is just trying to get a “discount or for free” then even if you pleased her
      with every thing she wanted and just the way she wanted it, she would at best recommend
      you to like minded people who are looking for a discount deal just like her. And as unpleasant
      as that may have been for you, you can learn more about what kind of clients you would like to
      attract for next time! (people who respect notices and prompt responses! – believe me
      there are so many people out there who value timeliness and would respect your notices). Anyways, that’s my take on unplesant experiences like that.

      • Stephanie says:

        Thanks Yana! I just keep reminding myself of that too. That I’m at least sparing myself from more clients that don’t value my business practices.

        • Moriah Riona says:

          Hi Stephanie!

          Ugh! Unfortunately I think we’ve all dealt with situations like that.
          But don’t let one bad situation affect your outlook.
          It sounds like she definitely just wanted to see how far she could push you
          and what she could get (freebies, etc.). This one bad experience won’t taint
          your whole word of mouth marketing. Just focus on all of your other clients so
          they can tell everyone how much they appreciate you.

          A lot of times I hear other photographers say that they “knew right from the beginning”
          that a certain client was going to be trouble and for some reason they worked with
          them anyway. However, I have definitely turned away business when I knew the
          client would be difficult. I would encourage you to do the same. No amount of money
          will make up for the difficult client because they will never be happy and furthermore,
          like Yana said, they will only send you like minded future clients – which you don’t want!

          Have faith in yourself, be firm and know your own value!
          Best!

  3. tamsen says:

    never thought of a survey for after the session! what a great idea! thanks 🙂

  4. Mary Boyd says:

    Thanks for your post! That is so true in any business, but especially when you are the product.

  5. Alison says:

    This is so incredibly helpful!!! I strive to exceed expectations for my clients, and my husband has a hard time understanding why I am so strict with myself about deadlines, presentation, products etc. I treasure every bit of feedback I get from my clients because they are my marketing, my income and my future! I look forward to the second part of this series!!! Thanks

  6. Moriah Riona says:

    Leah – thank you so much for choosing to feature my article. I am incredibly honored. Also, thank you readers for all of your wonderful comments. I appreciate it so much. This is getting me even more inspired to write part 2!

  7. Adrienne says:

    Thanks for the helpful post Moriah! Can’t wait for Part 2!

  8. Great post! I love the expectations vs. them talking about you tidbit. It’s always good to exceed expectations, and I think everyone knows that, but it puts a different perspective on it when stated like that. I loved it! Thanks!!

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