Business

How to Win at Customer Service

3 ways to increase your Facebook reach-3Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

Let’s talk customer service for a minute. I want to tell you a story about my studio management software experience this last year. Not familiar? Studio management software programs are basically a way for photographers to organize their businesses behind the scenes online. Need to send invoices people can pay online? Contracts people can sign online? Automate email responses to save you time so you can clean up your two year old’s spaghetti incident at dinner and still be on top of client communication? Need something that organizes you even more or automates your entire booking process with clients online? Well that’s what studio management software does.

First let me rave on automation for a minute. Anything you can automate to make booking easier for your clients or business easier for you is worth it. Anything that lets me take my life back is money well spent. I automate as many things as I possibly can. In this past year with my old studio management system I managed to finally automate email reminders to my clients. I had always hesitated in the past because I didn’t want my emails to seem impersonal and boring to clients, but my clients have raved this year about the email communications with reminders and tips for them. It makes me look better and also helps me keep on track with my clients and ensure all of them have the same great experience with me. I automate a lot of things, emails, social media, etc. To me that’s the biggest appeal of a studio management system, making things easier and more automated for everyone.

So, that brings me to the customer service story. I started with Pixifi ages and ages ago. Even though I was struggling with their system and technology I always stayed with them because Tim Hussey, the owner, was just such an awesome guy. I mean the customer service from this guy was unbeatable. He’s my customer service idol. I strive to try to do things as well as he does. He takes that individual one-on-one service to the next level. One time I deleted a client from my database and Tim spent a few hours with me going back and forth on Facebook until he fixed it just for me. I feel like so many businesses wouldn’t go out of their way to do that kind of thing. That kind of customer service is what always made me an incredibly loyal customer. So, when I left Pixifi for Tave it was kind of a big deal. I had always felt guilty for leaving Tim (Tim is Pixifi) and going somewhere else, but Tave’s system just worked and made more sense in my head at the time. Plus they cost the same (and still do).

But Tim spent the last year just making Pixifi better and better, and he takes customer suggestions to heart – seriously. I’d heard so many good things and I decided to give the trial a go again and see what was different. Man, it was such a different world. It was so much more intuitive. When I didn’t understand something and messed something up when I set up. Tim was quick to explain it and fix it for me. It was obvious that it was just even faster and more awesome than ever so I spent my free trial setting it up and booking a few clients through it, knowing that of course I was going to switch when the time came.

The time did come. I exported everything from Tave, deleted my account and responded to their “why are you leaving” question with customer service. I mean they weren’t really doing anything wrong, there was just something next level to what Tim does with his business.

That prompted this email from Tave:

“Hi Carrie, 

I saw that you just closed your account with us and mentioned having more personal customer service. Could you give us more feedback on that? 
We really pride ourselves on our customer service through our FB user group, in-app instant messenger, and free one-to-one video chats so any feedback you have on how we can improve that would be great.”
For the record I think it’s awesome that Tave is following up on lost customers. So I responded with a little bit more about my story:

“Thanks for the email. When I switched to Tave it was because Pixifi at the time didn’t have all the systems in place in an easy-to-use manner. It was complex to set up so when I found you guys it was incredibly refreshing, but I admit I was sad to leave Pixifi, because its creator, Tim Hussey, seriously has the kind of customer service that I’ve yet to encounter in any industry. Leaving Pixifi has always felt like a little bit of a betrayal because despite that they were missing what I needed at the time, I felt loyal to the company. The customer experience is what I always felt so loyal to with them. I own four businesses myself, one with over 7 million readers and I strive to have the level of service that Tim has with Pixifi. When his software had caught up in technology it was time to switch back again because I’ve always felt incredibly loyal to the community he’s created.

That’s not to say that your customer service is bad. You guys are doing okay, but it’s missing a more personal element to me. I’d love to see you guys get more invested with getting to know your customers personally. Did you know that today 80% of businesses believe they deliver ‘superior’ customer service and polls show that only 8% of customers agree? Customers are looking for that more personal element. FB groups are great and so are video chats, but I’d love to see you guys get more heavily involved with the photography community. With so many different choices out there in companies the one thing that truly distinguishes any company from another is having an extraordinary customer experience. I can’t put into words what I think you guys are missing, but I don’t feel as loyal and more than ever in today’s world customers are looking for companies that make them want to be loyal. I’d highly recommend you guys read the book Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans by Peter Shankman and start thinking about how you can differentiate your customer service and experience to develop your own loyalists. ;)”
Maybe it was an overboard response, but I just wrote what I felt (and threw in some facts I’d learned from Zombie Loyalists). If it helps anyone great, but mostly I want people to realize how much customer service means to the customer. Tave didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just Tim has such a great way of instilling loyalty in his customers that I couldn’t help but go back. I know I’m there to stay. It’s so important to make sure we’re offering the kind of customer service that makes our customers into loyalists and not just happy customers. Loyalists refer us to their friends with such passion their friends can’t help but be curious. If you want to build a business on word of mouth, the best place to start is with your customer service.
I guess this blog post doesn’t leave you with steps to win at customer service, but I wanted to give an example of amazing customer service. That said, Tave and Pixifi both offer incredibly solid products and services. I was happy with both, but I’ll always want to put my money in the pocket of the company that feels equally, if not more invested, in me. I’m hoping to find some ways to collaborate with Tim this coming year where I can get him out and teaching more on customer service!

If you’re at all interested in using Pixifi after this I highly recommend it (obviously). Here’s a few blog posts that have been written about Pixifi (or related stuff) on PA over the years. We’re lucky to have Lisa Otto writing for Pixifi over here because she works for them and has a ton of insight and experience, so if you’re ever having trouble she’s a great person to ask for help. While Tim’s customer service is next level, Lisa Otto is a huge part of that!

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Business Goals for Next Year

setting business goalsIt’s time to start planning for 2016. I recommend doing it now because you may have had too much eggnog and champagne after the holidays to truly do some deep and crazy planning. This blog post is a step-by-step way for you to create business goals for the next year. I’d recommend getting out a notebook, using Evernote or however else you like to plan to take some time to do this little project with me.

  1. Reflect on your business this year. What were its strengths and weaknesses? Write them down. As an example, maybe your strengths this past year were lots of bookings, client communications, and blogging. Maybe your weaknesses were photoshop, meeting editing deadlines, and your social media presence. Write down as many as you can think of in both categories. Don’t worry, you don’t have to share them with anyone. This is just for you.
  2. Take those strengths you’ve written down and decide which ones you want to keep doing for the next year. When it comes to the weaknesses I want you to divide them up into the following categories: get legit, marketing, camera gear, posing, and social media.
  3. Now I want you to make a plan of action and goals out of these weaknesses and strengths. The strengths you want to keep good at I want you to make into goals. Example: “I’m really great at client communication and this year I want to keep doing what I did last year to maintain that.”
  4. Next come your weaknesses. Go through each category and each weakness and write down what your goal is to make those things better. Example: “I want to edit sessions in a 2 week time frame next year instead of 8 weeks.”
  5. Now you’ve actually written down goals, but goals are nothing without a true plan of action. Simply writing down statements of what you want can’t actually make them happen. You have to make them happen. Under each goal I want you to write down things you can do to make these things happen. Example: “I want to edit sessions in a 2 week time frame next year instead of 8 weeks. To make this happen I’m going to schedule one day each week only for editing. I’m going to learn how to use Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop to batch edit my photos. I’m going to learn to let go of perfecting each and every tiny detail in editing and practice getting things right in the first place when I take the photo.” For those strengths which are still goals here’s an idea. Example: “I’m really great at client communication and this year I want to keep doing what I did last year to maintain that. To do this I need to keep up my membership with Pixifi to schedule automated email reminders for my clients. I need to schedule a time every day to check my email and I need to make sure I have no distractions while I do so.”
  6. Once you’ve made these goals for the next year in business it gives you something to work toward. I truly believe that goal-setting is the motivation many people need to actually accomplish things in their business. Goal-setting is also the only way you should be measuring your success. In other words, against the expectations you set for yourself and no one else. Goals are a way you define what success is and success looks different for everyone. Take these goals and make them look pretty, color on the paper, make something magical out of them in Photoshop, and print it out and pin them up somewhere that you’ll see them on a regular basis.

If you feel inspired, share your goals for next year with your business in our Facebook group!

The #1 Way to Avoid Angry Clients

avoidangryclients

Now, before you get too worried about that title, know that I’m not about to give you an entire article filled with tips like “change your name” or “move to the outskirts of North Dakota” or something. This isn’t about avoiding those problem clients after they show up, it’s about avoiding a situation where you create an angry client.

 

If you’re on any social media based groups for photographers, or if you’ve spent any time at networking events and photography conventions, you’ve heard all about THOSE clients. You know, the ones with the absolutely ridiculous requests – nay, DEMANDS! The ones who practically want you to abandon your children to the wolves while you slave away around the clock to do the impossible just to keep them happy. The ones that make you want to crawl into the corner with a giant box of wine and a straw and just have some grown-up juice box time (possible with a tub of moose tracks ice cream in tow).

 

We’ve all had them. Or at least, any of us who have been doing this for even a short period of time have had our version of that experience a time or two. Maybe something went wrong at the shoot, or maybe everything went absolutely great, but they thought their session fee included an album and all the digital files. Maybe they booked a mini-session and want to know how in the world you can live with yourself charging more than $.50 for an 8×10 print (the horror)! But no matter what the issue, there is a way that most of these issues can be avoided before they even come up.

 

It’s a little magical thing I call managing expectations.

 

Ok, so I didn’t make up that term myself (I totally would have given it a sexier name). But it’s the best preventative weapon in your entire business arsenal. Want to avoid pricing/payment problems, overload your clients with the relevant information every time you have a chance. Tell them the pricing in the response to their very first inquiry. Email it to them in a follow up. Send it with their session reminder. Confirm with them that they received it. Ask them what they’re thinking about investing based off of your pricing sheet. Send it again before the ordering session. And for crying out loud, have a printout at the actual session too. If your client still says “I didn’t realize the prints were extra/that price/not included/etc” after all that, you may need to confirm that they have a pulse and aren’t actually a rock in disguise (no offense to rocks). Utilize every single opportunity to communicate with your clients and prep them for every step of the way.

 

Call them.

 

Yes, actually speak to them on the phone (deep breaths, I know it’s terrifying to many of us, but I promise it gets easier). Provide multiple email reminders. Do a consultation in person or over Skype/Facetime if you can and say the words again. And this applies to more than just pricing. Have a client angry that their images are taking more than .95 nanoseconds to get their finished images? Prevent it in the future by providing timeline expectations as many places in the correspondence as possible and ask them if they saw/heard that information.

 

Ultimately, I think the bulk of angry client issues boil down to perceived communication. Note: I said perceived, not actual. This is the difference between how many times I tell my 6 year old to put his clothes actually inside the hamper instead of just on top vs. how many times he hears it and actually does it (#canIgetanAMEN). Saying something, writing it down, texting it, emailing it, none of that guarantees that the client actually saw it or understood what was said. Make all of these elements a part of the conversation – the actual back and forth of the communication between you – and you’ll be able to completely avoid so many potential issues.
PS, this totally applies to when there are major problems too (i.e. the hard drive crashed, the CF card was formatted and the images have disappeared, equipment broke, etc). It will be uncomfortable to talk about, of course, but keeping communication happening not only prevents the anger from boiling over, but also opens up the opportunity for you to handle the problem in a way that can win you a client for life. Think about it. If I go to a small jewelry store and buy a lovely ring, only to have that ring lose it’s stone 2 days later, I’m going to be ticked. They screwed up. I spent a lot of money and they didn’t do their job and make the product I was expecting. So I go back in to complain. I’m angry. I’m ready to yelp them from here to next week. Now imagine that they not only replace the stone and fix the ring, but they upgrade me to a larger stone, or maybe even give me my pick of those drool-worthy necklaces I was eyeing last time? They’ve not only fixed the problem, my yelp story just went from “OMG, I can’t even, they’re so awful” to “They not only fixed my ring, they gave me a necklace for my trouble!”. Opportunities, friends. Opportunities.

 

But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that, for most policy and regular business type things that cause frustration (“can I have the RAW files”, “when will I get my photos”, “why do I have to pay for prints”, “how come you’re so much more expensive than walmart’s prints”, “I thought you were going to photoshop every photo of me to look like ScarJo”…) can be completely avoided by managing the expectations up front. And that means happier clients and a smoother-run business. And as fun as grown-up juice boxes can be, I think we can all agree a smoothly run business is way more satisfying.

 

Happy managing!

5 Reasons You Need to Use Contracts and Deposits

photography contracts and depositsYou’ve probably been there at some point in your business. You know what I mean…a client “books” you, but you don’t have them sign a contract until they arrive at your session, and you don’t require deposits (or retainers as it’s recommended you call them in your contracts). You got stood up and feel your time is wasted. It’s happened to everyone and there’s a few things you can do to prevent that from happening to you. I believe every photographer, new or experienced, working for free or for the big moulah should be using contracts and deposits in some form and here’s why…

  1. Contracts help clients take you seriously as a business owner. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like your clients don’t take you seriously as a professional, then contracts will help. If you treat your business like a professional one, your clients will too and a contract is a quick and easy way to present yourself and take yourself seriously. You shouldn’t be afraid of using them. A contract protects both you and the client (when done well) and if someone doesn’t want a contract, I’d seriously be questioning their motives and would avoid working with them. A contract will help your clients respect you as an authority at what you do and they’ll take the time they spend with you a lot more seriously.
  2. Contracts set expectations for your session, payment, and liability. Contracts aren’t just some legally binding set of papers full of jargon people don’t understand, they actually have a purpose. They are a written agreement that lays out the expectations of both you and the client. Both of you are coming together to work on a project that requires collaboration and cooperation. The client expects for you to provide them with the images they are paying for, and you expect them to pay. There’s a lot of other expectations in there too. A contract is a tool that outlines all the expectations for everyone’s behavior, as well as payments, and liabilities. You need to be using them not only for weddings, but for anytime you exchange money with a client. I even used them when I was portfolio building for free, so my clients would take me seriously and the expectations of both parties were signed and in writing.
  3. Deposits mean people are serious about using you and less likely to waste your time. Take a deposit to reserve your time (call it a retainer in your legal jargon on your contract). If someone doesn’t put money down to reserve their time with you they’re a lot more likely to cancel, and you could have booked something else in their place. Always take a deposit. I try to make the deposits something worthwhile and not just small transaction. Make it something significant so your clients are invested. Half your session fee is pretty normal. However, I prefer the entire fee up front. You can structure it however you’d like, but you’ll have a lot less cancellations and clients who are far more invested when you’re taking deposits.
  4. Contracts protect you legally. Being a photographer isn’t just about taking pretty pictures. When you’re offering a service to people it means you’re a business owner, and that means you stand to lose something if anything goes wrong. Client breaks an ankle walking through a pothole while you’re shooting? They think you should pay for the medical costs? Contracts help ensure that these legal expectations are laid out in advance. You should ALWAYS use them because they protect both you and the client legally from anything messy.
  5. Your time is worth something. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new photographer or and old hat at this stuff. Your time is worth something. Respect yourself and your business and make sure your clients know that your time is worth something too. Get those contracts and deposits in advance. Don’t hold a date without them. The more seriously you take your business, the more seriously your clients will too, and from there you can only get better!

Need some contract templates to start off with? We’ve got some in the store! Better yet, if you want a service that will allow you to sign contracts online with your clients and send electronic invoices, try out Pixifi. Not only does it do those things, but it does a whole lot more, like manage all of your clients information, allow you to send out automated emails to remind them of sessions (and other awesome stuff like that), tracks your accounting, and it even has booking pages where your clients can select and book automatically with you online.

3 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Photo Business

3 Things

There are a lot of things about the photography business that took me totally and completely by surprise. Some of them have been awesome (you mean people fly me to exotic and cool destinations just so I can make pretty pictures?!), and some of them have been less than awesome (what do you meeeeeean I never take a day off?!?). But after 10 years as a professional in this industry, there are a few things I really reeeeeeally wish someone had pulled me aside to tell me when I first hung out my sign and opened my doors. Take a peek (and maybe consider passing this on to other newbie photographers in your life).

 

  1. Taking pictures is only about 10% of what you do as a professional photographer. And I’m totally serious. If you’re a new at this business, you may have visions of taking pretty pictures of pretty people and pretty places as many days of the week as people will let you (doesn’t it sound grand! I can practically hear the music playing!). But the veterans in this business – the ones who actually have and pursue a true business – know that’s not how this works.  If you want to generate an income, you are committing to running a business. And there are so so so many more things that go into a successful photography business than taking a “like”-worthy photo. Most of your time will be wrapped up in not only the editing of those lovely images, but the day-t0-day business tasks like emailing, marketing, order juggling, website building and updating, haggling with your insurance, finding, organizing, and maintaining all your gear, managing clients, networking, submitting, and the ultimate time-suck: social media. And when you can, hopefully you’re filling up a decent chunk of your time with education and furthering your mad skillzzzz. The actual shooting? That’s icing on the cake. And of course we all love it. But learn to love owning and running a business if you want to be successful at this and move out of the hobby category.
  2. Super-tilty photos are NOT COOL. Or “artsy”. Or impressing anyone. Trust me, friends. I fell into that same horrible hate-to-even-admit-it-now hole and it’s a dark one. Learn to keep your horizons straight (use your grids in your viewfinder if necessary). Super angled photos are a distraction from the subjects, they’re the farthest thing from original, and it’s the ultimate hallmark that screams “I’M A NEWB!!!” to the rest of the photography community (and discerning clients). Skip that (horrifying) step all together and you’ll get to maintain a bit more dignity than the rest of us when you look back on your early work later. (PS – this applies for both selective color images and overly-hazy/blurry filters as well).
  3. Make your own work. This is probably the biggest thing I wish I had realized sooner. Too many of us, especially when we’re starting out, sit around waiting for the phone to ring, the contact form to appear in our inbox, the facebook message to chime… And it’s not how work gets created. The busier you look, the more in-demand you look (and the more you’ll show up in feeds). This makes you so much more desirable. The subconscious message is that people should want to book with you because, hey, it looks like everyone else is already doing it! The bonus of this strategy is 3-fold as well: a) you get to create work that sets the table for YOUR aesthetic, showcasing and eventually attracting the types of looks in shooting that you love and WANT to be shooting in the future, b) you can often-times generate publication by submitting your TFP (trade for photos) work, further legitimizing your business and your pricing structure + desirability, and c) you get a ton of practice with your gear, new techniques, posing, networking, etc.  Phone isn’t ringing? Don’t make another facebook ad, get out there and contact models, vendors, friends, strangers, ANYONE, and set up a shoot. Look busy to stay busy. As they say, the dream is free but the hustle is sold separately.

Ultimately, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s ok. The only way to succeed is to fail (I thought about making that one it’s own point, but “4 Things I Wish I’d Known…” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, ya’know?). Everyone one of us who has had any level of success, any amount of positive cash-flow, and sense of pride in what we’re doing and the people we’re providing and awesome-sauce service for have failed our way there. You can’t succeed without failing. So jump out there, get some tips and tricks, take lessons, watch courses, beg, borrow, and grovel for those assisting and interning positions. Learn from as many other successful photographers’ failures as you can, and then make your own. Someday you can pay it forward and help other aspiring photographers coming up behind you to stumble their way into an incredible business of their own. Because this job IS the best in the world. And it’s worth hustling for.

But still don’t take tilt-y photos. Seriously. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat.