We’ve all been there: You’re innocently scrolling through social media when BAM, it hits you — you see photos of a past client on another local photographer’s page. You try to look away, but you find yourself staring, analyzing and wondering, “why didn’t they come back?” When this first happened to me I spent far too much time wondering what went wrong. I knew they loved their images because they raved about them. So why, two years later, did they not come back when their second baby was born?
I spent a lot of time thinking about what I loved about certain local boutique businesses. What I realized was that it wasn’t any one thing that made me frequent the same local coffee shop every week or spend more on flowers at the world’s cutest nursery that’s practically next to a big retail nursery. Rather, there were so many little things. It was a feeling. It was an exceptional client experience that made me a loyal customer willing to tell everyone else about those businesses.
A great experience is what’s going to keep photography clients coming back year after year, too. Yes, beautiful final images are extremely important. But if you don’t couple that with an exceptional client experience you are losing out on lucrative repeat client business and referrals.
How to create an exceptional client experience.
Over the years, I’ve developed the perfect formula for my clients to have an amazing newborn session experience. Basically, it’s vision + ease + transparency + understanding + attentiveness + fun = exceptional client experience. Okay, that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but I’m telling you, it works. My clients truly appreciate that I make them feel special. And that translates to client loyalty and referrals.
1. Communicate your vision.
It’s impossible to know where you want to go without a clear vision statement for your business. Here’s mine:
Julie Kulbago Photography will be the premier newborn photographer in the Pittsburgh area by exceeding client expectations in all areas of the photography process (inquiry, pre-shoot communications, session day, post-shoot communications, delivery of product, lifelong client relationship).
My vision statement gives me focus. I’m not trying to be the premier photographer in Pittsburgh. If I attempted that I would most likely fail miserably. Remember the saying “Jack of all trades; master of none?” That is not for me. By clearly knowing where I want to position myself in my market helps me focus my equipment/prop investment, training, SEO efforts and marketing. When I’m deciding on whether or not to invest in a new piece of equipment or to take on new training or even to take a certain client, I evaluate it against my vision statement and then decide if it makes business sense. It’s amazing how many times I’ve saved myself money and headaches by using this technique.
When I’m fine-tuning my business, I look at my vision statement to hone in on which areas need perfecting. It took me a few years to come up with a vision statement that felt right for me. If you don’t have one yet, I highly encourage you to sit down and write one for your business and then use it!
2. Make it easy.
People are busy. Most of my prospective clients are dual income families trying to balance work and family. I keep that in mind at all times and strive to make every aspect of the process easy.
My client’s first encounter with me is usually my blog. I have designed it to load fast, be intuitive to navigate and be easy to use with streamlined menu bars and limited text. I know it’s a greatly debated topic but I also believe in providing baseline investment information up front. This way, there is no wondering or assuming that I’m too expensive. There’s no need for them to get frustrated by looking for something that isn’t there.
I keep my collections simple. I have two main offerings. They can add products after the session, but they can very easily see my minimum price and don’t have to analyze a complex menu of varying options.
When a potential client contacts me, I always respond within 24 hours (most often I respond in 12 hours). Most people ask the same questions and I have developed canned responses I easily can copy/paste to allow me to respond quickly. I also keep booking simple. Clients can pay online and fill out a simple client questionnaire online. Don’t make your clients work!
3. Establish trust.
I have a video explaining my passion for newborn photography and explaining the process. This serves multiple purposes. My clients get to see me, hear me and begin to trust me. They can see that I’m not a “thing” — I’m a person, I’m a mom. They see that the baby is not crying and that she is sleeping peacefully while I gently pose her. They see another mom trusting me. Through video, clients can virtually meet me and see the studio. This reduces ambiguity and makes moms comfortable before they even come in. I can’t tell you how many people say they loved the video, cried when they watched it and knew they had to work with me.
This transparency is as beneficial for them as it is for me. Clients know exactly what to expect and feel satisfied that I met and exceeded their expectations; but equally important is that I’m then getting the right clients for what I do. Depending on your business, I would strongly encourage you to allow clients to peer into your world — whether that’s an official video or just frequent behind the scenes videos or stills on social media.
4. Make it personal.
The very first thing my clients see outside my studio is a welcome sign with their baby’s name. So many parents have told me how much they loved that simple gesture. Most clients stop and take their baby’s picture next to the sign. It also helps clearly show them they are in the right place and that they have the right time and date — further reducing their stress levels!
In my client questionnaire, I ask photography questions, like what poses the client likes or dislikes, colors they like, etc. But I also ask other things that will allow me to be attentive to their needs. I ask about other siblings, pets, and whether they like bagels versus donuts. If they have other children I always prepare a small gift bag for the sibling. They adore this! It’s nothing fancy — just a bag with the child’s name written on it (kids love seeing their name!) — with non-messy candy, crayons and a coloring book, and small trinkets. If they have a pet I usually include a treat for the dog or cat as well!
5. Be understanding.
My clients are hormonal, exhausted and stressed. I need to make every step of this process easy and enjoyable. Remember when I asked about donuts versus bagels? Yep, I have their choice ready for them because I know they may not have eaten before they come! Here are a few easy ways you add to that exceptional client experience by showing that you understand your clients’ needs:
Give them easy instructions.
I’m in the process of moving my newborn photography session prep instructions into video form. New parents are tired and short on time and may not have the time or energy to read lengthy instructions. People are more willing to watch a how-to video than to read.
Have extra wardrobe items and supplies.
Understanding also means not asking clients to do very much! Even though I suggest how they can prepare I have back-ups. I keep diapers, wipes, unopened pacifiers and even a few new plain white adult t-shirts in case the client gets hot (or peed on) and wants to put on short sleeves. I stock a small supply of beautiful dresses for moms, because I know the last thing she wants to be doing is shopping with a newborn.
Let them know they can relax.
I have a separate section of my studio with comfortable couches, reading material, beverages and extra snacks that clearly shows I want them to relax and let me do all the work. I always greet my clients at the door and offer to help bring bags in (same when they leave). These little touches absolutely thrill my clients.
Even if you don’t photograph newborns, you can still come up with unique ways to understand your client. If you photograph families, maybe it’s having a small cooler of drinks and snacks available in case the kids (or dad) need a break during the shoot. Have a small supply of emergency items, like bug spray, sun block, hand wipes, mirror, safety pins, bobby pins, and extra barrettes.
6. Be attentive.
Similar to understanding is getting to know your clients as people. I normally talk to my clients a lot during sessions (on occasion with a jumpy baby I might stop talking if baby is unsettled but for the most part I can talk, and mom can talk, and the baby is fine). I learn about how they met, their wedding, where they are from, their extended family, how parenting is going.
If they ask for parenting advice (and they normally do once I say I have four kids), I tell them what worked for me. I always compliment them on how they are doing so far with their newborns (new moms need to hear that).
Normally a topic comes up during a session that I’m then able to follow up on later. For example, I often send them a link to a book or store we talked about or a certain baby item that I liked. If I know baby has a follow-up doctor appointment I flag it in my calendar so that I can check to see how it went. The point is to show you were actually listening and truly care.
Again, if you don’t photograph newborns you can still learn about your clients and show you care with a follow-up email regarding whatever subject you learned about.
“I always compliment them on how they are doing so far with their newborns (new moms need to hear that).”
7. Make it fun.
My sessions are fun! If a client asks if they can bring grandma, I say, “yes!” Everyone is excited for a new baby. Can it be annoying? Sometimes. Do they appreciate the extra hands and grandma being included? Absolutely. If my clients want to take pictures of me working, I let them. I still can’t figure out why people hang “no pictures” signs in their studio. Nothing is more unwelcoming than a “do not do this” sign. The newborn photography world is so transparent. There are no “secrets” that will be uncovered by my client taking a picture.
I laugh, we joke and have a great time. I find I can de-stress new parents just by talking.
Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While none of the above steps are truly earth shattering, I find that the combination of all of them creates an exceptional client experience that keeps clients coming back and provides me with a constant stream of referrals. After all, it’s less expensive and more efficient to retain a client than to find a new one!
All photos by Julie Kulbago
Read more about how Julie creates an exceptional client experience and makes her photography clients feel like family in the March/April 2019 issue of Click Magazine.