My wife and I recently had a date, and we made sure to pick a local restaurant we’ve heard others rave about. We heard how amazing the food was, and of course, pairing “I want food” to “We have amazing food” should be an instant match.
We arrived before the main dinner rush (having four children pushed up our internal need-to-eat-now clocks) and were pleasantly greeted by the host and then our server. The dinner really was delicious, and as the restaurant started filling up, we saw other plates coming around that made us want to plan another night out.
When we started winding down dinner, the idea of a desert started to sound appealing. So we waited for our server to return. And waited. While we were still having a wonderful time together, the need to return to reality (i.e., ensuring the children weren’t starting the house on fire) was beginning to enter the conversation.
When our server did return, we were handed given a dessert selection menu and then left once again to our own devices. Finally, it became too late, and we had to call it an evening. With a credit card on the table, a once upbeat server was more business-like – almost melancholy – closing our tab. We were wished a pleasant evening and left.
Before I’m accused of being a massive snob (the restaurant *was* getting very busy after all), there is a moral to this story. At one point in the evening, we were extremely impressed with the quality of the experience upon arrival and also the excellence of the food we ordered. AT yet another point in the evening, we were even ready to spend more money. On the ride home, we mentioned to each other that it was a shame we didn’t get to try more delicious options, and what was once “we must come back” became “maybe next time.”
We had three separate experiences with the restaurant: before we sat at the table, dinner, and the conclusion of the meal. Even though the first two were amazing, it was the last experience we had with them that we remember the most. At that’s a poignant lesson for any business: The ending experience is the most important because it the part that is the most retained by your clients.
Photographers should take careful note. There’s a lot of talk about having a positive and upbeat attitude when meeting clients and how to engage with them to promote a sense of confidence and connection. This helps our sales not only for the session but also for any additional prints, products, and future sessions that may come from these clients or referrals from them. We’re also working tirelessly to create the most beautiful, authentic, and connected product possible so clients can love and appreciate the product designed for them. We want them to have something they can cherish for years.
Yet, too many photographers fail their clients once the pictures have been photographed. We’re setting ourselves up for failure because not enough attention is paid to the final experience those clients are still yet to have – the receipt of their finished product.
Whether you do in-person sales, digital images, or a hybrid sales model, three expectations need to be clearly communicated to your clients:
- When will I receive my images?
- How will I receive my images?
- What can I do with my images?
You might be saying, “of course, I tell my clients all of these.” And it may be true that you’re communicating this after every session in some way. But likely, you’re setting you or your clients (or both) up for a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a beautiful session.
Take, for example, the when question. The quickest way to ruin client relationships is to miss the delivery deadline. Yes, everyone is busy and has too many commitments to count, but that doesn’t matter to a paying client who has an expectation of you.
It matters significantly less what the length of your delivery timeframe is, and it matters considerably more if you’re able to overperform your deadline. Avoid giving a range of expected due dates such as 2-3 weeks as clients assume you mean two weeks or less (and you may not.) Even better, use days instead of weeks as the more significant number creates some mental cushioning. ‘Fourteen’ (days) of something sounds bigger than ‘two’ (weeks) of something.
If you find you’re consistently unable to meet a deadline of ten days, then change your timeline to something longer. Being upfront with clear expectations will vastly reduce the possibility of negative client feelings.
Whether you’re a studio that sells prints and products at an ordering appointment or one that creates online galleries for clients to choose from at home, you have an established workflow you likely are following with every single gallery. Eliminate, then, all mystery surrounding that process so that your clients understand what expectations you have of them.
For example, if they need to set up an ordering appointment, do that before they leave your studio. Alternately, if they’re to receive an online gallery, show them the quality of the prints and products you offer after you’re done shooting. This is easy to do even if you don’t have a studio since you can pack a small sample pack of printing options right in your camera bag.
And don’t leave you or your client in a situation where there could be hurt feelings because of misunderstood expectations by either party. It’s all too common for someone to assume they can do whatever they like with your images simply because they are the subject. Equally, the phrases photographers use, such as “reproduction rights” or “fair use,” might mean something entirely different to someone not in the industry.
People work well by having clear and concise options available to them. (The music industry is a perfect example of this. By not having digital song options available, piracy was rampant and was virtually eliminated only by giving people a way to use something they felt they ‘owned.’) Instead of policing the distribution of digital files, offer different sizes of digital products to be used depending on the intended use. You know clients are going to want to share images, especially to vendors that helped create their look. Be the rare industry hero who works ahead of this and provides the content to vendors after the client’s delivery.
One final point to consider. As was mentioned before, you likely already are sharing all of the above at some point. However, you should be sharing it multiple times in multiple ways. Since you already know your workflow, the process of what to expect should not be a mystery to your clients. Outline your entire process – including what to expect when the session is done – in your package guide or website. Then, include this information again during the booking process and even include it in the contract. Finally, clearly re-state to the clients what, when, and where to expect the images you’ve processed can be ordered. You can use something like our handy What’s Next’s cards to hand to clients too.)
The creative and beautiful images you produce will take your business far, and having managed expectations that you meet will make it soar. This all assumes you have a workflow, and formalizing that (such as with a studio management software) is a fantastic place to start. Holding yourself accountable to a reasonable process will drastically improve your client experience from start to finish, and you and your business will be the better for it.
Douglas Weittenhiller accidentally became a photographer when his wife’s growing hobby forced him to quit his real job. Thankfully, he didn’t completely suck. With his newfound love of not having a boss (other than his wife), he applied his nerdy background in science to learning everything about the craft. He’s at his best with people who enjoy a good laugh, a tasty beverage, and an interest in the world around them. You can follow Doug & Twig & Olive on Instagram & Facebook.