I've written a lot over the years about customer service. Making sure your business is service oriented is critical to your success, but it goes beyond your active customer base.
Let's talk about a friend who's a realtor. Here's the scenario: The real estate market is very similar to photography. It's all about people skills. It's about relationships, trust and communication. It's also seen its fair share of ups and downs riding the roller-coasters of the economy.
Realtors obviously want you to list your house with them. Every time my buddy loses a listing to another broker, which isn't very often, he calls the client and asks the following:
"I know you listed with another agent, but it would really help us a lot to find out what you felt we were missing."
Then he's quiet and just listens. Remember the line - "You've got two ears and only one mouth. So listen twice as much as you talk!" Well that's a big part of his success. It's about listening.
Back in my Polaroid days I wrote some pretty decent marketing programs. The truth was, none of the ideas were ever exclusively mine. All I had to do was ask any retailer or sales rep what they needed to double their Polaroid business. Retailers would tell me they needed better pricing, payment terms, and special programs to get more people into their stores. Sales reps would tell me they needed rebates for their accounts, new products and better advertising.
Today it's even easier to learn more about your target audience. All you have to do is ask and then listen. But, if you just sit and wait for somebody to put the cheese back, like the mice in Who Moved My Cheese? you'll starve. Go out and look around for new cheese and you'll survive, as well as grow.
Start talking to those clients who didn't hire you. Approach them in a way that's disarming, even helpful. At programs in the past I've suggested you start by sending them a thank-you note, even when you didn't get the job. Thank them for their time, consideration and wish them good luck. Then do a follow-up phone call a week later.
Most of you tend to think you lost a job because your price was too high. Remember that we're in an emotionally driven industry and many times it's not about pricing. Maybe the issue was establishing value. Maybe you didn't develop the chemistry during the "interview" process. Maybe they liked the albums they saw at another studio better. Maybe they’ve read or heard more about the other photographer they hired. If you’re a wedding photographer, maybe the other photographer offered them a product you don’t include, e.g. an engagement session, a Facebook page of images, a hybrid e-product video etc.
Take a shot and start to contact a client or two who didn't hire you - you might be surprised at what you learn. And, what you learn will help you create a blueprint for how to grow your business. Just like back in my Polaroid days - all the answers are out there, but you won't get them if you don't ask!