I have seen a lot of posts on Facebook groups recently asking about “stuff”. Client gifts. Brochures, personalised wedding magazines. You name it, someone is probably thinking about wrapping it up and sending it to a client. But good customer service is not about stuff.
There seems to be this idea that delivering good customer service means showing your clients with a barrage of “tangible” items. Free prints, free chocolates, gift vouchers for booking. Anniversary gifts- to name a few. I know that wedding photography is a fairly saturated market and that as such, everyone is looking for new ways to stand out and make themselves different or more appealing to clients. It used to be that it was your work that set you apart, your style. Your branding and the way you presented yourself and your business to the world. It was the service you delivered.
Our identities are being downloaded rather than lovingly created
This is becoming increasingly difficult however in the current market. A market where many are using the same presets. More than ever it’s difficult to tell one photographers work from the next. Many of us are using website templates and blog templates and free font or graphics packs. More than ever our identities are being downloaded rather than lovingly created. Business identities now seem to be formed according to whatever is popular at the time instead of being something thats intrinsically “us”. It’s all disposable. When the next big thing comes along, download a new template and off you go.
Whilst that is another post for another day, it is relevant. It’s relevant because customer service is a skill. It isn’t something you can buy or download or copy and paste. And of course, as a result some people are really struggling. How do you make yourself stand out for all the right reasons? How can you ensure that you’re liked by (prospective) clients? Creating a good, lasting impression and being memorable is important in business. Especially in a field such as wedding photography where there isn’t much of a market for repeat custom. For some the answer to all of those things is client gifts. High end suppliers in particular use gifts as part of a carefully planned marketing strategy. But lately, it seems that newcomers and more budget friendly suppliers in particular, are using client gifts with the idea in mind that this means they are delivering good customer service. It doesn’t.
Gifts doesn’t equal good service
Whilst the initial “aww a gift” will no doubt cast you in a positive light with a couple, at least momentarily- it’s everything else that you say and do that truly creates a lasting impression. A £10 Starbucks gift card and a few prints isn’t going to cut it if they’re waiting 7 days for a reply to a basic question via email. A box of chocolates isn’t going to make everything ok if you deliver only half of the agreed number of photos.
I use this quote by Maya Angelou a lot, but it rings true for so many situations. Including this one.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”
And making your clients feel special and feel important is key to good customer service. For me, high end suppliers aside, client gifts are often very much like locking the stable doors after the horse has already bolted. All well and good, but in no way a solution to the issue at hand. Customer service should be ongoing and consistent. Good customer service starts right from that initial point of contact, through to the day you deliver those photos. At the very least. Great customer service begins way before that and ends long after.
Great customer service begins with things like making your website user friendly and accessible. It means basic things like making sure you’re easy to contact. As well as being good business sense, it’s also part of the service you’re providing. Have you ever tried to contact a company only to find it near impossible to obtain their contact details? The type of company where you have to jump through hoops and click a million boxes asking what your enquiry is about before you’re presented with a phone number….when all you actually wanted was an email address? It doesn’t create a good impression does it? In fact, if you’re anything like me you’ve closed the website and gone with another company before it’s even got that far.
Great customer service begins before they’ve even got in touch
Great customer service is things like timely, personal email replies. It’s positive, engaging correspondence. It’s how you speak to people and how you make them feel. Unless you’re out of the office shooting or away on holiday never use auto generated replies for enquiries. When we were looking for our own wedding photographer we contacted a very high end, well known photographer and received a reply that was clearly an auto generated response. From that moment I lost all interest in using their services. The photos were great, but if you can’t be arsed to invest 5 minutes even pretending that you care about our plans, i’m not going to pay you several thousand pounds to not be arsed on my wedding day too.
As a small business owner you have the opportunity to create a fantastic, positive first impression in an email alone. You don’t need to throw free magazines at people just for getting in touch. Just give a crap. It’s actually that simple. Care about peoples plans. Care about where they’re getting married, or whether they’re planning to have an outdoor ceremony. Ask and engage. Build a relationship and create a connection. It makes a huge, huge difference.
Ask and Engage
And if you still don’t believe me, here’s a genuine anecdote. I spoke to a lady once, who after finding out who I was, mentioned to me that she and her husband had actually been interested in booking us for their wedding. I saw an opportunity to learn here so I asked her if she would mind sharing with me why they didn’t book. She told me that we’d been on their short list, but before they’d had the chance to contact us they’d spoken to another photographer via email who they really clicked with. So they booked her. That photographer had created such a wonderful first impression and engaged with that couple so much that they didn’t even bother to contact the other photographers on their list. It is possible to sell yourself with your words. They don’t need to be laced with anything else. You just need to choose them carefully.
Now this isn’t a post about how to deliver great customer service, so I wont continue to bore you with strategies and so on. (Blah blah another post for another day) But I do want to stress that stuff is not the answer to all your business ills. It’s certainly not a replacement for good, consistent customer care. If customer service is an area you feel you’re lacking in, invest heavily in improving it. It’s free and will stick with you for life. It will be relevant in every business you ever own or every job you ever have. It is priceless.
Invest in yourself first.
If you’ve worked gifts in to your marketing strategy, great. If it helps you sell more prints or book more engagement shoots, fantastic. But otherwise, I would honestly advise you to save the ££ and invest them in other areas of your business. Invest more heavily in yourself and improving your skills. Your clients will thank you for it.