Even the best businesspeople encounter challenges. Here’s how to manage conflict and rebuild trust with a difficult photography client. (Photographs: SAVANNAH AVRIL PHOTOGRAPHY)
If you’re lucky, it’s only once in a while that a difficult photography client comes along and wreaks havoc on your best-laid plans. Your best course of action? Being prepared.
When you’re armed with knowledge, skill, and patience, any conflict with a difficult photography client can be turned around quickly and positively.
Choose the Right Clients
You’ve heard it before, but selecting the ideal clients for your business is always the very first step.
If you’re a newborn photographer who’s just decided to accept a job shooting a wedding in a dark barn in a town you’ve never visited with 450 guests in attendance, you’re setting yourself up for failure from the get-go.
Similarly, if your prices are in the tens of thousands and you shoot film, working with a family who wants digital files for $20 is also likely to cause problems.
Know who your ideal client is, and know that it’s best for your business (and your sanity). Then be sure your clients fit that description – even if it means turning down a potential job or two.
Put It In Writing
Even though that client seems like the nicest person in the world, you’re still representing a business. You must make sure you’re covered in case that sweet attitude turns surly.
Always, always, always use a contract to document the expectations both from you and the client.
If you don’t purchase one drafted by a lawyer, have it looked over by one to be sure you’re protected legally.
Set expectations from the beginning so all parties know what they’re expected to do in each part of the job, from planning, to shooting, to ordering. When a question (or demand, or concern) comes up, refer back to the documentation.
Know Your Stuff
The in-person ordering session is not the place for you to be Googling the difference between deep matte and lustre papers.
Would you buy a car from someone who didn’t know the safety features? Or order a laptop from a company who couldn’t tell you about the storage space? When you know your facts, others have little ability to argue meaningfully.
Begin every client conversation with in-depth knowledge of your products, the benefits of each, and their prices. Bring samples, and let them do the talking.
Come armed with facts about light and shadow for when Dad requests a beach session at noon in the dead of summer. Learn to explain aspect ratio when Mom wants that closely-cropped shot as an 8×10.
Provide intelligent explanations and be the expert you are, and let your clients know that you are a trusted authority.
Take A Deep Breath
Sometimes, no matter what precautions you’ve taken, you will encounter a truly difficult photography client. Instead of losing your temper, take a deep breath and walk away for a break.
We all know it’s harder to think like an adult when you’re angry or frustrated!
If you’re responding to an email or a scathing Facebook post, write the response but don’t send it. Give it two hours, then come back and see if your newly-leveled head wants to edit what you’ve written.
PRO TIP: Avoid the “To” Field
If you’re writing a response you don’t plan to send, write it in a document, text file, or on paper, so you can’t accidentally send it. A sure-fire way to take a situation from bad to dreadful is to send a response that’s all gut-reaction with no head or heart involvement.
Standing in front of your angry clients and can’t exactly leave the room? Use the tried-and-true technique of breathing slowly, and counting backwards in your head from five to give yourself some time to think rationally before speaking.
The more you practice being calm in a sticky situation, the better you’ll become at it.
Connect With Your Clients
A long delay in your reply can fuel the fire and make the situation worse. Once you’ve been thoughtful about your response, be sure to respond in a timely manner. Words can come across harsher in writing than you meant for them to, so pick up the phone and give your clients a call.
Simply treating your clients as human beings can ease tensions quickly.
Offer A Solution
Identify the client’s problem, and show some compassion.
Statements like, “I understand why you want those digital files. They’re important to you and your family,” can go a long way when someone is feeling unheard.
Next, offer some kind of solution. Note that offering a solution doesn’t mean “giving in” or going against your business policies. It simply means that you should find a way to make everyone happy.
“The digital files aren’t included in the package you ordered, but I’m happy to work out the prices for them a la carte, and we can even look at moving you up to the next package if that works out to be a better deal financially.”
Learn how to say no while saying yes, and meet your clients’ needs while educating them.
Feel, Felt, Found
The Feel, Felt, Found technique has long been used in sales to acknowledge customers’ points of view. Try it the next time a client gives you pushback.
Say that you empathize with them, mention that others have felt the same way, and explain how the solution you’re suggesting worked for them. For example:
“I understand how you feel about the digital files. I’ve had other clients who have felt the same way, but they found that the quality of prints they got through me and my professional lab was far superior to anything they could print on their own.”
Own Your Mistakes
It’s equally as important to be honest with yourself. Was it your screw up? Then make it right.
Think of how you’d want to be treated as a customer, and act accordingly.
Remember: you “difficult photography client” is just a person who is unhappy with your business. And unhappy people will always share their negative opinions more readily than those who are happy. So do your best to fix the situation and satisfy the client – especially if it was a misunderstanding or miscommunication that you should take ownership of.
Improve Your Tactics
After a particularly hairy situation has been resolved, be sure to do some serious reflection to figure out where everything went wrong.
- Did you forget to give the client the price list at (or before) booking?
- Were your packages unclear?
- Did you make a mistake when you described a product?
- Were you willing to cave to the client’s demands instead of standing firm in choosing the best locations or times?
- Did you neglect to use a contract?
If it was something that can (or should) be fixed, take the time to do it.
Be open to reviews from ALL of the people you work with. Ask your clients about their experience when it’s all said and done, and be willing to receive both positive and negative feedback to help you grow as a professional.
Prevention is key to minimizing conflict!
What is one difficult situation you’ve encountered with a client?