“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
At the heart of marketing for any small business is word of mouth. Creating an experience that gets people talking about your photography business is the single best way to attract new customers.
But what too few businesses seem to realize is that it’s a double-edged sword. Every day I have experiences with companies that remind me that word of mouth carries risks as well as rewards. Let me share a few of these experiences — and offer three rules of the road for interacting with your customers.
Rule No. 1: Be helpful — not just some of the time, but all of the time.
With a new baby on the way, we are starting to think about buying a new car that has more room. So when I was at the Volvo dealership recently dropping off our current car for service, I approached a salesman.
He greeted me warmly, and I began to explain my situation. Sizing me up quickly, he recommended two cars that he thought would be the perfect fit.
But when my wife Cathy said she wasn’t interested in either of these cars, the salesman’s response was abrupt: “I can’t help you.” Our experience with him guaranteed he won’t helping us — and neither will his dealership.
Now, maybe he did have only two car models that could possibly fit our needs. But we’d have felt more comfortable with that conclusion if he had spent a little more time asking us questions about our preferences first.
Even if the dealership didn’t have the right car for us, he certainly could have let us down more gently.
Rule No. 2: Don’t talk down to your customers.
I recently purchased my first iPhone, and I love it. It does many of the things my computer does while providing the convenience of mobility.
However, the other weekend, mine broke.
The culprit appeared to be water damage. It looked to me like the phone would need to be replaced, so I decided to take it to my nearby Apple Store.
My experience at the store got off on the wrong foot right away. The salesman told me there were no appointments at the Genius Bar and that I would need to schedule something and come back another day.
In my mind, that was unacceptable. I asked why I needed to have an appointment to replace my phone.
The salesman responded that this was like “scheduling an appointment with the doctor’s office.” I insisted on sticking around and asked them to fit me in when an appointment was cancelled.
Before long, I had my turn at the Genius Bar. The tech went out of his way to tell me how lucky I was to see him. An hour later, I had paid for a replacement phone (water damage isn’t covered by the warranty), and I was out of there.
I’m no genius, but I know when I need a new phone. And I know when I need it replaced — not tomorrow, but today.
Apple should be there when I need them. And their employees should not condescend to me.
Rule No. 3: Offer something that your competition doesn’t — a great experience.
Southwest Airlines is by far the best airline I have ever flown. I appreciate every aspect of their approach to the customer.
They don’t charge for bags. The online check-in is easy and convenient. The first-come, first-serve seating is quick and efficient. The airline attendants are always pleasant and helpful. I’ve flown the airline consistently for the past four years, and I’ve never experienced a cancellation or a delay.
In the past four years, I’ve also flown (not by choice) several other airlines. Without fail, my experiences have not compared well with my flights on Southwest.
By devoting a lot of thought to the best way to interact with customers, Southwest Airlines has created an experience that their customers simply can’t find anywhere else. That, in turn, creates repeat customers and a referral base that doesn’t stop talking about how great Southwest Airlines is.
Every day we are customers somewhere. Use your experiences as a daily reminder of how word of mouth can help — or hurt — your photography business.