I’ve been in business more than 15 years. At the start of my portrait business, I often felt overwhelmed by all the hats I needed to wear, but at no time was I willing to sacrifice the personal touch customer service I provided my clients. So I started to figure out how I could create a one-of-a-kind and consistent customer experience that wouldn’t burn too much of my time, money or peace of mind. Over the years, I’ve learned what tasks I can outsource or delegate, but providing an exceptional studio experience is really up to me. The best part is that it’s not all that hard to do. Here are 6 of my best suggestions:
1. Make it easy
When I receive a fast response to an inquiry I’ve made, I’m more likely to hire that company. So when an inquiry comes in and you’re able to respond right away, do so. If not, I suggest replying within 24 hours (or 48 hours, if over the weekend). Part of managing your time well is knowing which tasks to prioritize; this is one of those moments.
2. Manage the process
Clear and steady communication translates into saving yourself a world of trouble and headaches down the road. A full-service boutique studio, we hold our client’s hand from inquiry through delivery. Each session includes a 15- to 20-minute phone consult to ensure clients know what to expect and make the session go smoothly. If you can’t do it by phone, use email. Confirm the date and time, the names and ages of all the subjects and the length and flow of the session; discuss clothing and what to bring along; and give clear driving directions.
I also ask if the client has any questions about our products, pricing and viewing session. I want to confirm that the client has reviewed that info so there’s no sticker shock. The viewing session isn’t the time for the hard sell, just for choosing favorite images and finalizing the order. We discuss our pricing before the contract is signed.
Finally, we reiterate the post-session timeline: sneak peek on social media in one week and invite to follow our page; within two weeks, the in-studio viewing and ordering session with a reminder to be sure all the decision makers attend; and delivery or order pickup four to six weeks after the session.
No space for viewing sessions? You can still deliver personal service. I suggest using ProSelect software to make a gallery and using Skype to interface with the client so you can guide her to the best display options. Try it! You won’t regret it.
3. Exceed expectations
Our clients are greeted with the scent of our favorite Anthropologie candle, a hot latte with their choice of milk made with our fave espresso machine (Nespresso Pixie and Milk Frother), and blueberry scones from a local bakery — with every single session. I want my clients to feel pampered and comfortable in their surroundings. I also want the process to be familiar, comfortable and memorable. This is just one simple way we provide something special that exceeds their expectations. It doesn’t cost a lot and it goes a long way.
4. Listen more than talk
When I first started my business I lacked confidence. When I got a prospective client on the phone, I spent the call talking about my business and what I had to offer. I didn’t ask any questions and I’d hang up with no idea what she was looking for. Needless to say, I lost a lot of leads in my first years. Learn to listen to your clients. Ask questions. It’s not about us, it’s about the client. You need to know what the client is looking for. She probably doesn’t know exactly, because she doesn’t know what’s possible. What prompted this inquiry? Special occasion or milestone? Did she fall in love with a particular collection in a friend’s home? What about it spoke to her? Where does she envision hanging the proposed collection? Ask about her family, her tastes. Your goal is to come to a mutual envisioning of what she truly desires. Now you can both enter the session with purpose.
5. Stay in touch
Handwritten notes are often looked at as a thing of the past, but they don’t have to be. How does a handwritten thank you note make you feel? It usually makes my day. I certainly appreciate it more than a one-line thank you via email. Order a pack of linen or cotton note cards with your logo on the front (Miller’s Lab is our favorite!) and have them ready to send after booking and photographing a session, thanking them for their continued support. You can pre-write these cards one night after everyone’s asleep, address and stamp them and drop them in the mail when the time comes. It only takes a couple minutes and your clients will definitely appreciate your effort.
6. Send gifts
In learning to be a better listener, I also learned to take good notes. As a mom, I’m always impressed when someone pays a little extra attention to my little guy. Mark you calendar with the dates of your client families’ birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions and milestones. At the beginning of each month, handwrite the appropriate cards and mail them. If you can, include a gift card to a local bakery or ice cream shop with the children’s birthday cards. To save time, buy these cards in bulk and keep a stack to grab and insert in the envelopes as the need arises. It costs only a few dollars but goes a long way in showing you care. You might consider as well co-marketing with another kind of business that serves your clientele and exchanging gift cards. Over-deliver by surprising your clients with personalized extras as well as dedicated attention.
I know how overwhelming running a small business alone can be. If you’re strapped for time, you might look to art students to intern with you and help with addressing cards and other tasks you can safely delegate. Outsourcing is not admitting weakness, it’s deciding to work smarter. This is doable. Now go spoil your clients!