My career is built on a foundation of respect for Customer Service. In the 70's I was in Polaroid Customer Service when the first SX-70 cameras had a 300% defect rate. We offered walk-in service, phone support, written responses and if all else failed roving-rep calls. A roving rep call was essentially a house-call by a rep to help a consumer understand how to use the camera.
But you're not dealing with a 300% defect rate on your images. So, here are some ideas on how to avoid anything that feels catastrophic:
- Answer your phone quickly and always with a smile. You can tell, even on the phone, when somebody is smiling and willing to help you with a challenge.
- Listen, listen, listen! Before you assume you understand what the problem is, give your customers a chance to vent. This is where you get to empathize, and it can be as easy as just starting out the conversation with:
- Respond quickly to email, letters and even callbacks you have to make to clients. It's human nature always to assume silence is bad. When a consumer doesn't hear back from you quickly, they assume the worst and the frustration starts to build. Keep away from the Verizon commercial syndrome, "Can you hear me now?" Don't let your clients think something is wrong just because you haven't responded.
- Come up with solutions of value. When you do have a problem, resolve it with ways you know your client will feel have value.
- Delegate authority! If you have staff, give them the authority to make decisions in resolving issues. Giving them the authority will speed up closure and increase customer satisfaction.
- NEVER argue with a customer. You don't have to agree, but don't add fuel to the fire by fighting with them. I know there might be an exception here and there. Not every client is reasonable, but you'll accomplish nothing in an argument or worse yet a screaming match.
- Do a few fire drills! Role playing can be incredibly effective in helping you develop your Customer Service style. Take the time and think about all the things that might go wrong during a portrait sitting, delivering prints, shooting a wedding, etc. Here's where it's okay to be negative. Each scenario will help you strategize and think through your potential solutions.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. This is where your network comes into play. It's those relationships you've worked hard to build outside your business that can be helpful when you're stumped on a solution, especially with a customer problem.
My buddy Tony Corbell, talking about his first studio once said, "I wasn't the best photographer in town, but I was determined to be the nicest." The best way to handle Customer Service challenges is to establish a great attitude on the front end. Even the best business models sometimes hit a "speed bump", but building a reputation based upon exceeding client expectations is the best way to put strength into your brand! Just remember always to go the extra mile!
There are no traffic jams on the extra mile!