I had originally started this post with a different topic, but after a recent airline trip I wanted to share a few observations about customer service and customer loyalty. The thing about customer service is that we all understand its importance in theory — but we sometimes forget to implement it in practice, in the heat of our daily work lives. That’s why it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves occasionally of what good service is and why it’s in our best interests to provide it.
My Airline Nightmare
In the case of my airline experience, the airline was having quite a few problems that day. But it was the way they handled the issues, more than the issues themselves, that bothered me.
To begin with, my flight was an early morning departure and the aircraft had to be brought in empty from another city, and for whatever reason they were going to be late. This would cause me to miss my connection.
The ticket agent — with a laugh — offered me a choice of waiting to depart the next day or taking a flight with myriad connections. Since I needed to be in Florida that day, I finally accepted taking a connection that would get me to my destination four hours later than planned. I also explained to the ticket agent that I did not see the humor in the situation.
Next, I was told I would need to pay an additional $15 for my checked bag. I countered with the fact that I had paid the $10 via their Web site to pick my “preferred seating” and perhaps I could just pay the difference or, better yet, they could waive the fee since they were causing me to arrive four hours late. I was told that was not an option; I would have to pay.
So now, simply because the airline failed to have the proper equipment in place to service me, I was inconvenienced, forced to miss part of a conference I had been looking forward to — and worst of all, I was not offered a thing to mitigate my frustration, not even so much as an apology.
Adding insult to injury, the airline employees acted like they were the ones being inconvenienced.
As I spent the morning watching frustrated passengers dealing with apathic employees, I realized that I would never give this airline another chance to frustrate me. It also made me think about my own clients, and how I needed to do all I could to make their experiences good ones.
Mistakes Are Opportunities
Mistakes can and will happen. It is how you handle them that shows your customers how much you care about their experience.
Have you ever had a bad dinner at a restaurant, and the manager offers you a free dessert or a coupon for a free appetizer on your next visit, or perhaps even comps your meal? This customer service strategy acknowledges the mistake and makes it clear that the restaurant wants you back.
And from a purely financial standpoint, if offering you a $5 dessert or $20 dinner is enough to earn your business next month, that’s a bargain for the restaurant, too.
In my photography business, we are constantly making new relationships. In some cases, clients have had bad experiences with photographers in the past, and we have to work a little harder to earn their trust.
What I have found is that most of these clients just want to be heard. They want to be listened to, and to know that you value them. That is usually all it takes to get them past their concerns, so you can begin your relationship without the baggage of what has come before you.
Valuing Your Customers
Our customers are who keep us in business. They are the folks who are spending their dollars for our work, which allows us to do what we enjoy and make a living. If you are a full-time photographer, these folks are the reason we exist. Without them, where would we be?
The big lesson here is to take care of your current clients even as you seek out new ones. The clients you have now are your best source for new leads and new work. I don’t know the statistics, but I know that the old saying is true that it is easier to get new business from old clients than to find new clients.
That only holds true, however, if your clients like what you are giving them.
Are you servicing your clients’ needs? Are you asking what else you can do to make their experience with you better?
Or have you fallen into a rut, thinking they will choose you for their next project because they always have?
Let me tell you, you aren’t the only game in town. New photographers are springing up daily to do your job, and probably for less. Your clients ultimately will search out someone who will give them the attention they deserve.
Saying Thank You
Clients who like your work and like you are your most valuable asset. They become your advocate and help you to grow. Their raves garner leads. But if you give them a bad experience, they will tell people about that, too.
If your client says you made a mistake, find out where the problem was and get it sorted out so it doesn’t happen again. Try to see it from their point of view. And give them a chance to vent.
If, on the other hand, you dig your heels in and get defensive, you’re probably in for a fight you can’t win. What’s worse, you may never learn what the ultimate cause of the problem was — which opens your business up to similar issues in the future.
You don’t need to fawn all over your clients. You just need to respect them and put yourself in their shoes from time to time. And it wouldn’t hurt to send your clients thank-you cards for the business they bring you. I can promise you the return will outweigh the investment.