Even the best businesspeople encounter challenges. Here’s how to manage conflict and rebuild trust with a difficult photography client. (Photographs: AUTHENTIC COLLECTIVE)
If you’re lucky, it’s rare that a difficult photography client comes along. Your best course of action when a client is upset? Being prepared.
When 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 attracting your ideal clients to your business is always the very first step.
If you’re a newborn photographer who’s accepted 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
Your client may be the nicest person in the world, but you’re still running a business. You must make sure you’re covered in case that sweet attitude turns surly.
Always, always, always use a contract to appropriately set expectations for both you and your client. If you didn’t hire a lawyer to draft your contract, you’ll want an attorney to review it and confirm that you’re protected. Walk through every section of your contract with your clients and give them the opportunity to ask questions about your approach.
Clearly Know What You Offer
The in-person ordering session is not the place for you to be Googling the difference between deep matte and lustre papers.
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Begin every client conversation with in-depth knowledge of your services, products, and prices. Know how to explain light and shadow to the client who requests beach session at high noon in the middle of summer. And prepare a clear explanation of aspect ratio for the client who wants her full-frame photo cropped to an 8×10.
Provide intelligent explanations and be the expert you are, and your clients will recognize you as a trusted authority.
Take A Deep Breath
Sometimes, no matter what precautions you’ve taken, you will still 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 clearly when you’re angry or frustrated!
If you’re responding to an email or a scathing Facebook post, write a 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 thought through your response, respond in a timely manner. And since written words can come across more harshly than you intended, it’s a good idea to pick up the phone and give your clients a call.
Simply treating your clients as human beings can ease tensions quickly.
Always 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 a solution. Note that offering a solution doesn’t mean “giving in” or going against your business policies. It simply means showing your client a pathway back to satisfaction.
“The digital files aren’t included in the package you ordered, but I’d love to provide you information on upgrading to a package that does include them.”
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: your “difficult photography client” is just a human being who is unfortunately unhappy with your business. 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 on your part.
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 every client 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.