We’ve already talked about how important it is to exceed your client’s expectations to create buzz about your business and get your clients talking about you in this previous post on customer service.  What we haven’t talked about yet is some of the consequences of mediocre customer service.

All of my clients receive a new client questionnaire, built by machform, that they simply fill out on a page through my website.  In addition to details about the subject and questions about products and where they plan on displaying their art, I  also ask if they have ever worked with a professional photographer before and what they thought of that experience.

That one little question tells me so much.  It’s a question that has been very eye opening recently as two of my new family clients last month have come to me from other photographers.

The first client was disappointed in her previous experience because her first photographer was a part time photographer that over-promised and under-delivered.  Please hear me that being a part time photographer is NOT the problem.  The problem is that this person seems to be over-committed and unable to keep up with the details of her business.

Determining how many clients you can schedule and still sleep is an important task for any photography business, but I think that it is even MORE important for part time photographers.  If I find myself over-extended I can put some of my projects on the back burner and really focus on getting these clients taken care of.  If I was working full time in my day job a HUGE portion of my week is already committed so it is much more challenging to be able to find the time necessary to make up the work.  I encourage everyone to really break down how much time you spend on each client from beginning to end of the process and how much time per week you have to devote to your business.  If you have only 10 hours a week to devote to your business and you average 8-10 hours per client, then you should really only take 1 client a week.  Simply think of all the things that go into each client: scheduling, consults, contracts, prep for shoot, shoot, download, edit, prep for ordering, ordering appointment, prep ordered files, order, package and deliver final products – those things add up quickly!

The second client had a 7 month old baby boy and a session scheduled for July (when he was 6 months) with the photographer that photographed their wedding and newborn pictures.  They enjoyed their previous experiences with this photographer but the July session had to be rescheduled and she couldn’t fit them back into her calendar until October, when the baby would have already been 9 months old.  Mom didn’t want to miss out on documenting this time in her babies life so she came to me and even though I was actually scheduling for the end of September and early October I was able to fit her in the following week.  She was thrilled.

Reshoots happen, it rains, someone is sick, a client has a work item to attend to, etc.  You MUST make sure you have room in your schedule to accommodate reshoots in a timely manner.  Even if you are booking new clients 6 months down the road, if a current client needs a reshoot they should not have to go to the end of the line.  Also, the basis of our business is to offer a service that fulfills a need.  Listen to the people that contact you.  If someone has a legitimate need see if you can offer a solution to it, they will become a customer for life if you treat them right!  This can easily be transferred to a pet client that calls because their animal is sick and not doing well.  They may not be able to wait 2 months to get onto your calendar.  If you can squeeze them in (without drowning in too much work as referenced earlier) then you certainly should!

I think that one of the biggest areas that people get into trouble with client expectations is failing to under-promise and over-deliver.  It sounds so simple but it’s really not…..at least it wasn’t for me.  I really struggled with this as I want to please my clients so much that when I was at the ordering appointment I would just blurt out that the images should be here in two weeks and your frame will be here in four.  I didn’t want them to feel like the wait was too long for their images, despite the fact that it’s spelled out in my contract that prints take up to 4 weeks and frames and albums can take up to 6-8 weeks.  I was setting myself up to fail.

If there was a minor delay in any part of the process (for instance, if I thought that I placed that order but I really didn’t and didn’t realize it until I was thinking “hmmm…that order should be here by now”.  Not that I’ve done that.  *wink*), my clients would be disappointed.  My goal is for my clients to be 110% thrilled with every bit of their experience and this was a major issue.  It took some work but now I am perfectly comfortable stating that prints take 4 weeks and specialty items take 6-8.

I encourage you to really examine every step of your business and see if there are places in which you are vulnerable to disappointing your clients.  There are more photography options for the consumer then ever, so we must work even harder to keep them happy and loyal!