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As this is our third-anniversary issue, I thought it would be appropriate to touch on “taking customer service to the next level,” because that’s what we do here at Shutter Magazine.
Customer service has always been at the core of everything we do with each of our brands. As time has gone by, that customer-service experience has evolved. We are constantly striving to take it to the next level. And this is a struggle we as photographers and business owners constantly face: how to evolve and keep the pace.
After eight years in business (and teaching the industry our way of operating), many studios have started to resemble Salvatore Cincotta Photography. They follow our standards of customer service and often implement the exact programs and practices that we employ.
We show up at bridal shows, and suddenly our booth no longer stands out—it looks like everyone else’s. Now we’re faced with how to address the situation. How do we stand out now? We have to change. We have to evolve, but what does that evolution look like? Our clients love what we currently provide—we don’t want to lose that, but at the same time, we cannot remain stagnant.
Dealing with this issue forced us to ramp up customer service and take it to an entirely new level.
Big & small changes
Some of the things we have implemented are small, easy changes. Others are more significant, while for others, we’re changing everything.
When a client booked us for a wedding in the past, we sent a contract. Now we send a handwritten thank-you note plus the contract. Simple change.
Now that we’ve cut down how many weddings we shoot in a year (due to Sal’s entrepreneurial addiction), we’re able to be more flexible with shoot dates for engagement sessions. We’ve become more accommodating to clients’ needs.
For bridal shows, we are completely reworking our booth. We have always gone with a down-and-dirty, get-the-job-done, simple setup. Now that every other photographer’s booth looks like ours, we are changing the game. We’re building wooden walls, and incorporating acrylics and canvas. The wood wall speaks to our brand: industrial, raw, trendy. The acrylics and canvas are part of the fine-art products (including our albums) that set our studio apart. Metallic prints make images look great; acrylic makes images look amazing.
I know incorporating these changes will draw even more traffic to our booth and make us appeal to brides more than before. It will help our booth and studio stand out in brides’ memories.
While this may not be a customer-service change, it is an evolution in our marketing.
SWOT are you afraid of?
Owning a business is scary. Changing what we know for the unknown is even scarier. But change is necessary to survival. Everything has to adapt to make it in this world. You evolve as a shooter, perfecting your craft, so why wouldn’t you evolve your business too?
Every year, our team performs a “SWOT” analysis on each of our businesses. That stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” By analyzing what is working and what isn’t, we’re able to make our business stronger and healthier. We’re able to increase profits by examining where clients are spending money, and cutting products or services that aren’t catching on with clients or that are costing us money.
We’re able to hone in on what people love about our studio and take it to the next level (customer service) by offering more gifts, being more accommodating, returning calls quickly.
We can set goals for new ventures we want to pursue (offering headshots) by examining current and potential opportunities.
While we do this SWOT exercise annually, that doesn’t stop us from adapting as needed throughout the year. If I see the same objection occurring in my sales sessions, I’m going to analyze the situation immediately and recommend a change.
Give a little
Another customer-service change we’ve made is giving more gifts. Every now and then, an order shows up wrong—there are two 8x10s instead of one, or something got damaged in shipping—so a replacement is sent. In this case, if I don’t need or want the product as a studio sample, I offer it to my clients as a gift. This builds a ton of good will, and costs me nothing.
We’ve also started sending editorial images to local magazines to be used for free. We’ll send vendors images with our logo after the wedding for free use on their website and social media. This builds good will, but now with vendors and publishers, not just brides.
And now that we’re retiring our old booth setup, I will sift through the used prints from our display and give those to vendors as gifts as well. This also evolves our marketing by building good will with vendors and by having our images and prints all over town for brides to see.
We’re also reconnecting with reception halls, reestablishing relationships. We meet for lunches, do free headshots and hold free promotional shoots for their ballrooms.
Look to the pros
When searching for ideas regarding customer service, why not look to the professionals that have it figured out? Louis Vuitton and Starbucks have always been inspirations for our studio. While Louis Vuitton provides a very high-end experience that exudes luxury, Starbucks provides a comfortable and familiar experience.
Whenever we personally have a good or bad customer-service experience, we take note. I repeatedly have a poor customer-service experience with Quickbooks. It takes forever to get a person on the phone, and email takes 10 times longer. I never want our clients to have that experience with us.
On a positive note, I was recently invited to sign up for a Visa Black card. A few months after I did, a gift arrived in the mail: a Cross pen with my name engraved on it and a thank-you note that also described the pen. The gift was completely unexpected and very much appreciated. I was blown away to have been sent such a lovely, unprompted gift, for no reason other that I was appreciated as a customer.
After receiving the gift from Visa, I started thinking about how we could incorporate a customer appreciation gift of our own for our studio clients.
Innovations like these keep our business healthy and nimble in an ever-changing and competitive market.
The key to evolving is to constantly be aware and open to change. Look for better ways of doing things. Draw inspiration from your own experiences and surroundings, and think about how you can incorporate those experiences into your own business.
If you’re not evolving, you’re probably dying. Put practices into place that enable you to evaluate your business and take it to the next level.