When a client isn’t happy, how do you handle it? Here’s how to leverage client feedback to build a healthy, successful business.
Turn client feedback into pure inspiration
If you’ve never sat across from a client as they ripped your business to shreds, well, let me tell you: I do not recommend it.
Unfortunately, you can’t always anticipate how someone will respond to your photos, your personality, your contract, or your nose ring. You can cross every t and dot every i, and someone will be bothered by the color of your pen.
Let’s discuss how to get constructive feedback from every client that will help you build a successful, sustainable photography business.
#1: Gather customer feedback in person
“But can’t I just email a customer survey?” you may ask. Yes! You can, and you should!
But written surveys only capture a portion of the feedback you need—and response rates can skew toward clients with a complaint.
It’s not enough to learn what your clients think. You need to know why.
#2: Ask for feedback as often as possible
You know what’s awesome about getting regular feedback? When you get accustomed to collecting customer feedback, it stops feeling scary—even when the feedback isn’t 100% positive.
Stay organized by asking each customer similar questions. You’ll begin to notice patterns in your clients’ responses. These commonalities will help you prioritize which changes to implement first.
Here’s a list of open-ended questions that represent each segment of the typical photography client journey map:
CLICK to make your own Client Journey Map!
- OVERALL: “How would you describe your overall photography experience with me to a friend?”
- INQUIRY: “What drew you to my product and services?”
- PRE-SHOOT: “Prior to your session, what did I do that was helping, confusing, or concerning?”
- SHOOT DAY: “When you think back on your session, what feelings do you have?”
- POST-SHOOT: “After your session, how did you feel about the experience?”
- DELIVERY: “What was your initial reaction when you first received your photos?”
- REFERRAL: “What can I do today to earn your business again in the future?”
#3: Keep feedback conversations low-key but intentional
You want to keep the feedback process friendly and comfortable; but you also need to approach it with intention. Don’t just toss a feedback question at your client when you cross paths at the local Shop’n’Save.
If possible, schedule a follow-up chat before you even take their photos. That way it’s on their calendar as an anticipated part of their overall experience.
This is important: don’t ask for in-depth feedback via text or email!
It’s not that you can never get valuable feedback in writing. But if you’re going to make feedback research part of your business growth plan, it needs to be done LIVE.
Schedule a virtual meeting, and let your client know you’re going to record the conversation so you can replay and learn from their feedback.
ShootProofPRO Tip: Record the right way
In many places it is illegal to record someone without their knowledge, so be sure to get their buy-in on the recording. After you hit “record,” remember to say, “Now we’re recording,” then begin the conversation.
#4: Don’t get defensive
In all likelihood, your clients will say mostly wonderful things about you and your work. But even the happiest clients may have a bit of constructive criticism for you.
Prepare to listen ONLY. This meeting isn’t the space for you to defend your position, clarify your actions, or even correct misconceptions. Feedback conversations should be entirely focused your client’s honest, personal assessment of your business.
Don’t be a sponge
During a feedback conversation, don’t absorb the feedback like a sponge. It can overwhelm you and make it hard to continue the conversation productively.
Instead, approach the conversation like you’re talking about someone else’s business. Take on the role of an interested observer, and you’ll be able to gracefully accept whatever they have to say.
Remember: just because certain processes were pain points for your client doesn’t mean you’re actually doing anything wrong. You’ll need to review the feedback before you know what truly needs to be changed.
It’s time to revive those “active listening” skills! Make eye contact, nod in acknowledgement, restate what your client says, and prove that you are truly hearing them.
#5: Exude gratitude
Customers have many reasons for wanting to share feedback.
Stay focused on your reason for requesting client feedback. You want your business to thrive, and you want great word of mouth. And you know the best way to achieve these things is to pursue great ideas for improvement.
Even if a feedback conversation doesn’t leave you with warm fuzzies, you can still practice gratitude for the opportunity to learn and grow. Express that gratitude to your client with sincerity.
“I’m so thankful for your time and candid feedback!” you might say. “I’ll take your insights to heart and research ways to make my business stronger.”
#6: Put together an action plan
You’ve braved your first feedback conversation. Now comes the fun part: creating an action plan to evolve and improve your business!
Start by making a spreadsheet
Create a spreadsheet or a hand-drawn grid that works something like this:
Name the columns after themes from your meeting such as Booking, Gifts, and Prices. As you conduct more and more feedback conversations, you can add more themes. (It’s okay if not every client references every theme.)
Calculate your overall rating
You can use ANY ratings system that works for you. For our example, I made both a five-star rating scale and a percentage rating scale.
The Percentage Rating scale
To find your percentage rating, calculate what percentage of the client’s feedback is positive. For example, the client Smith gave feedback in five areas, and only one of those areas was an “opportunity” (negative feedback). This means that 80% of that client’s feedback was positive!
Color code your feedback
On our spreadsheet, we made the positive feedback green and the “opportunity” feedback blue. It’s super important to view negative feedback as an OPPORTUNITY!
Our Jones client gave only opportunity feedback, which we color coded in blue. This feedback could mean:
- You did everything wrong. (It’s pretty unlikely that you did everything wrong, so take a take a breath. You’re gonna be fine.)
- This client was a poor fit. (This is very likely. Ask yourself how you wound up booking a poorly-suited client, and what you can do to prevent that from happening again.)
Prioritize your opportunities
What will you work on first? Choose up to three opportunities to begin with, and decide how you’ll adapt your processes.
- What tools or systems might you need to invest in?
- Is there anything you need to outsource?
- Do you need to invest in additional gear?
- What email and marketing templates do you need to update?
- Does your website need an overhaul?
- How will you improve communication so you can underpromise and overdeliver?
#7: Keep learning and growing!
Eventually, if you follow your action plan, you won’t have any more blue squares on your feedback spreadsheet. You’ll be booking your ideal clients and delivering a fantastic customer experience every time.
When that happens, throw yourself a party because YOU ARE AMAZING. Then begin digging into your positive feedback (the green squares) and look for ways to make those experiences even better!
Meet your clients’ needs, establish healthy business boundaries, and your photography business will sustain you for life.
Written by ANNE SIMONE | Photographs by MANDY LIZ PHOTOGRAPHY