Redefining the Client Experience

Redefining the Client Experience

Redefining the Client Experience with Michael Anthony

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The quality of images you provide your clients is paramount to your long-term success in the industry. Throughout all stages of my career, I have strived to perfect my craft by attending workshops, seminars and trade shows. I have purchased books, online courses and every little gadget you can imagine.

While all this helped, it wasn’t until I recognized that our clientele was coming to us for more than just incredible imagery that I fully understood what we have created in our business. Our brand has become synonymous in our local market of Southern California with luxury photography.

In the beginning, we tried to be everything to everybody. If the Knot was publishing articles showing rustic wedding images, we were out there shooting rustic wedding images, which is clearly not the type of photography we do today. It’s scary ignoring the trends, but in an industry as crowded as ours, staying true to you will help you to stand out from the herd.

In addition to the photography you offer clients, the experience you give them is just as important to your success.

But what exactly defines the client experience? According to Wikipedia, the customer experience is “the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.”

That means the client experience is dependent on every single interaction your client has with your entire brand. Every interaction your client has with your business influences their experience with you. I want you to understand what that means for a second. If you list your hours on Google Places as 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a client calls your studio at 10:10 a.m. and doesn’t get an answer, that has a negative effect on your client experience. If you promise a two-week turnaround time but you don’t get them an open appointment until week three or four, you have negatively affected your client experience. On the flip side, if you are delivering images earlier than expected, you are positively influencing the customer experience.

In redefining the client experience, the one thing I have noticed after photographing hundreds of weddings is that there is a direct correlation between the experience your brand lends a client, and their satisfaction with the actual imagery produced. It may be subconscious, but there is rarely an occasion where we have left a client completely happy without making any mistakes along the way, later to find that they have complaints about the actual imagery produced.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure a perfect client experience from start to finish.

Step 1 // Get organized.

This step is the most crucial in developing your client experience. Nothing will cause you more problems than lack of organization. It’s no secret that our studio consulted with Sal and Alissa midway through last year. While the common perception is that we did the consulting to better our marketing or photography, our biggest pain point had to do with organization and internal tracking. This one area of our business was running into problems and causing a terrible client experience. Had we failed to get this under control as our business grew last year, we may very well be out of business today.

Here are some of the things we have learned through our time running a higher-volume studio.

Get a dedicated client relationship management (CRM) system

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Great client tracking is crucial to your success in hitting deadlines and keeping your calendar organized. Most CRM systems allow you to automate much of your work, so those time-sensitive emails get sent out immediately. We have used all the studio management software. The easiest one is 17hats. It’s extremely easy to set up and use. It features workflows, which offer an intuitive way to automate tasks like sending emails and setting reminders. In addition, 17hats offers accounting and lead management. More importantly, the customer service at 17hats is incredible.

-Outsource your editing

You cannot take care of your clients if you are sitting behind a computer fiddling with white balance and tint sliders all day long. Our studio has been outsourcing editing from day one. Pick a company like Evolve Edits to outsource to, or hire an in-house editor. The latter is more expensive by far, but may be necessary for some types of studios. Just make sure you are free to do the things that make you money and allow you to focus more on your clients.

-Take control of your shoots

Clients lose trust in your ability to document their day if they are doing most of the planning. Our clients should never have to ask us what happens next. On a portrait shoot, a client should never be asking me, “What do you want me to do?” As the creative director, those decisions should fall on you. If you can handle that type of pressure, your clients will feel more confident in your ability to handle the day.

We created a timeline worksheet that we use for every wedding. Our photo timeline is much more detailed than the timelines our planners give us. They allow us to map out each aspect of the day, down to five-minute increments. This keeps us on track (and our clients at ease) so we don’t miss anything. Make your wedding timeline six months before the wedding. A good time to do this is right after the client’s engagement sales session.

Step 2 // Refine your details.

Remember, the client experience comes down to every interaction they have with your business. Look at every point of interaction your clients have with you, from the moment they inquire to the moment you deliver their final product. Make sure your website loads quickly and that all your contact information is on your contact page. If you think that is basic information, visit the websites of competitors in your area—I bet many of them have a form on their contact page, but no email address or phone number.

Make sure you are accessible. If it is not feasible for you to answer the phone during all hours your business is open, hire a studio manager or VA, and if you are a 17hats user, I highly recommend their studio management service, Ally, which provides live human beings who answer your phone for you.

Having a dedicated meeting space at your studio gives you the homecourt advantage. Don’t squander it. You are your brand. Dress for success. Keep your studio or meeting space clean. Make sure it smells good. Have relaxing music playing. Sensory perceptions influence impression, and you want to give yourself every advantage you can. Remember, part of providing a good experience is giving clients confidence that you can handle their expectations and needs. When clients walk into your meeting space, they should be overwhelmed by your imagery on the walls.

Step 3 // Perfect your pitch.

The type of pitch I’m talking about here is the verbiage you use on your shoots to put your clients at ease and get the reactions you want out of them. Repetition is key because, once you develop your pitch, you will sound more confident. Your clients will feel awkward and stiff in front of the camera for the first time, so it is imperative that the direction you give puts them at ease. Encourage them. Show the client the back of the camera if you nail a shot to put them at ease.

You are a professional photographer, but clients and all their friends and family are amateur photographers (everyone is these days). Your ability to control a scene and art-direct is vital to the client’s perception of your professionalism, and ultimately the perception they form of your brand.

Step 4 // Overdeliver on their expectations.

This step is the icing on the cake that can turn clients into long-time referrers. Whenever your client is expecting something from you, deliver it better and faster than expected. You will constantly analyze your target clientele and adjust accordingly.

A great example of how we have made changes to our process has to do with delivery. Many of you know we started our business using Sal’s model exclusively. Over the years, we have had to make many adjustments, but one that was particularly hard for me to make was the delivery of prints. Clients would spend up to $2,000 on a product collection, and when it arrived, we would inspect and package it for pickup like many photographers do. The argument is that if you package a client’s order in your branded packaging, you are delivering a gift rather than a commodity. But now we drop-ship directly from our lab.

Our target clientele is millennials. In every study done on consumer behavior of millennials, the need for convenience outweighs the desire for human interaction. Our clients’ prints would sit on a rack at our studio and collect dust until our clients finally got around to driving over to get them. In Los Angeles, if you live outside our suburb, “driving to get them” means a two-hour round trip or a weekend, which is hard to schedule because we are always out of the office.

We decided to satisfy our clients’ need for immediacy and drop-ship prints directly to their door within five days of their order being placed. Sure, it is not wrapped in fancy packaging, but the product they paid a lot of money for is being delivered right to their door. We calibrate our monitors to the lab directly, and rarely run into problems with prints. It’s better for us to send our clients their images much earlier than they expect them. In this way, we overdeliver on their expectations. It cuts down on time spent packaging, along with the money we spend on materials. It improves the client experience because we are meeting the needs of our target client.

Now, if you live in a town with no traffic and short commute times, hand delivery might be feasible. If not, find ways to adjust.

Another way to ensure you overdeliver on your client’s expectations is to give longer lead times. We tell our clients album designs are done in four to six weeks, but we deliver them in fewer than two. We use that extra buffer time to account for any mishaps in the design process; when there are none, it’s a nice surprise when clients get their designs early.

Give your clients a gift when they are not expecting it. A month before the wedding, our clients receive a $25 Starbucks gift card in the mail along with a handwritten thank-you card telling them how excited we are to work with them. The day after the wedding, they receive another thank-you card. Our system then sends them automated emails outlining the next steps in the process.

The client experience doesn’t have to be complicated. You’ll get a handle on it through shear repetition. Focus on making the client experience perfect from start to finish. If you don’t perfect it before your business grows, any problems you have will be exacerbated, which is what happened to us. Define your own studio’s client experience, and you won’t need expensive advertising because your clients will be your mobile sales force.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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