I've written a lot about Customer Service. In fact, regarding grammar, it doesn't need to be capitalized, but from a business position, it's as important as your name! We're a service-oriented, word of mouth business, and nothing can turn the community against you faster than a lousy reputation for Customer Service. It's as critical as your skill set and understanding exposure and composition.
I found this post by Kay Eskridge going back to 2012 in Marathon's archives. Unlike technology that's changing all the time, not a thing has changed since Kay wrote this. You not only have to exceed client expectations in the images and services you provide but in handling their issues, concerns and complaints.
Why? Because with the Internet today, one angry customer can touch thousands of people in your target audience. Here's a great example:
Facebook recently pulled my account because I couldn't prove my name was "Skip". I sent them all my legal documents, but my name on all of them was "Steven". However, since birth I've been known by my nickname, "Skip." Every workshop I've taught, book I've written or presentation I've done, not once was I "Steven".
They locked me out of my account at 3:00 pm and thanks to the support from thousands of friends on Facebook and Twitter, they reinstated me and apologized at 10:00 pm. During that seven hours, I estimate there were over a million raw impressions on Twitter and FB, thanks to friends who started their own campaigns to get me back in.
Here are some statistics thanks to McBeeStrategic.com from 2013:
Today, there are roughly one billion active Facebook users, 343 million Google+ users, 200 million LinkedIn users and 500 million Twitter users. Now, let’s change the word “users” to “influencers.” That’s more than a billion influencers who have the power to help or harm your business goals.
The article went on to say:
The opinions of friends online play a big part in an individual’s information gathering and purchasing behavior. In fact, a 2012 Market Force survey found that 81% of U.S. online consumers reported friends’ social media posts as moderately-to-highly influential on their purchase decisions and 60% said they gather insights on companies from their friends’ social media posts.
And, if the data from the 2012 survey was at 81%, imagine what it is today, four years later!
Building a strong Customer Service philosophy is easy, but being consistent takes practice and dedication. It's a vital component of your growth and brand. You know how to hold focus on your camera, but are you just as focused on your customers?
No business is impervious to the struggles faced as a result of today’s challenged economy. Experiencing the same frustrations of other photographic studios, Kay Eskridge’s business, Images by Kay & Co. knows the secret to keeping a business not only going, but growing. She is a firm believer of practicing ‘extreme’ customer care. . . you can think of it as customer service on steroids.
Here are her top 10 tips to help you amp up your customer care department and examples of how she executes them.
- Understand that the ‘people’ aspect of business is really what it’s all about. You need to think of customers as individuals and realize that your business is your customer, not your product or services. Putting all the focus on the products or the retail options leaves out the most important component: each individual customer.
Example: We are by appointment only so we know who is walking through our door next . . . we greet them by name, ask questions about their family, their pets, their jobs, their community involvements, etc., ask them if they would enjoy a beverage and take a few minutes to be kind to them. It shows that we really do care about ‘them’ and not just their business. We treat our clients as we would like to be treated . . . a simple yet powerful “golden rule.”
- Evolve your customer care effort into a proactive format versus reactive format. Make outgoing calls checking in on services and products offered by your studio as opposed to
reacting to situations that put your business in a defensive mode.
Example: At the beginning of the holiday season we call clients to remind them that it’s time to start thinking about this year’s Holiday Card session. They appreciate the ‘heads up’ reminder
and options for prime time session appointments instead of settling for whatever the holiday crush season allows . . . and it helps fill our schedule early in the season.
- Customer care is best when the customer and business both know what the customer should expect. If you walk into Tiffany’s in New York, you expect incredible customer service and are willing to pay the significant premium to access that level of customer care. On the other hand, you can walk down Third Avenue and have a jeweler produce a Tiffany-esque
piece of jewelry. It is clear that you will pay a much smaller premium but will also receive a very different level of customer care and product quality.
Example: We provide each client with a Client Welcome Kit filled with our pricing index card, What to Expect Next form, Purchasing Options card, Appointment Reminder cards, a card discussing our commitment to quality and the value of the investment they’re making, special Portrait Program cards with samples of our images, etc. . . everything they could possibly need to know prior to their session. We believe the experience of working with us begins long before the actual session occurs.
- Identify and anticipate needs. Customers don’t buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical. The more you know your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs.
Example: We activate our Client Profile Form that is filled out during the initial phone call to help gather the appropriate information for each client and then refer to it every time we communicate with them. This makes their experience with us personal and they remember and appreciate our efforts.
- Customer care starts at the top. Senior management, the owner, or “person in-charge” needs to set the tone and culture – it usually doesn’t happen organically. This is very important in our current tech environment where it’s much easier and common place to communicate via email.
Example: The “lost art” of communication through personal phone conversation or hand written notes is called ‘lost’ for a reason. We’ve revisited this through personalized stationery notes and business cards for all of our studio staff for any client connection opportunities.
- Say YES! If a customer makes a request for something special, do everything you can to say “yes.” The fact that a customer cared enough to ask is all you need to know in trying to accommodate them. It may be an exception from your customer service policy, but try to do
Example: When a client asks for something outside our standard studio guidelines we try to remember that we’re only making an exception for one customer, not making new policy. If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.
- Go the extra mile. Include a thank-you note in a customer’s package; send a birthday card; clip an article when you see their name or photo in print; write a congratulatory note when
they get a promotion; include an image from a recent session on your blog; include an image from their session as one of your portraits of the month on your website. There are all sorts of ways for you to keep in touch with your customers and bring them closer and more loyal to you.
Example: We LOVE using Thank You notes and Gift Cards . . . not only does it make our clients feel appreciated, but they love sharing them with friends and that helps our client base grow. When we know one of our clients has just had a baby we send a Gift Card to the baby letting them know we look forward to working with ‘them’ soon. The parents love it!
- Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. Compose a “How Are We Doing?” card and include it with each completed order. Ask things like: what they like; what they don’t like; what they would change; what you could do better; about their latest experience there; etc. To ensure the customer sends it in, have it pre-stamped. Example: We’ve designed a Please Refer Us bookmark that we include with each
finished order. We list several online review sites (localGoogle, Kudzu,Yelp and Yahoolocal) and have been very pleased with how many clients want to help spread the word about their experience with us. Your clients want you to succeed . . . they WANT you to be there for them the next time they need professional photography. These internet reviews have also helped our search engine ranking.
- Know how to apologize. When something goes wrong, apologize. It’s easy and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done. As much as we dislike
it, it gives us an opportunity to improve.
Example: Our customers know we’re not perfect, but they do expect us to fix
things when they go wrong. Our studio motto is: Customer service is not a
department, it’s an attitude!
- It truly is ‘the little things’ that make a big difference and will set you apart from your competition. Example: One of the smartest things we’ve ever done is to provide hospitality
stations for our clients. In our dressing suites we have snacks and breath mints, hair products, first aid kits, makeup, shaving kits, a changing table and diapers, etc. In the Theater (projection room) we have snacks, water, mints, note pad and pencils, tissues, etc . . . our clients appreciate that we have taken into consideration the needs they may have beyond our photographic services.
What’s the bottom line? Your talent as a photographer will only get you so far in your career. You need to focus on customer service, treat your clients as you would want to be treated and remember . . .
“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”