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A few weeks ago I wanted to send flowers to my mom for Mother’s Day. She lives in a small town in Arizona so I Googled florists in that area. Two came up, the first one had a 4 star Google rating, and the second one had no ratings, so I gave the first one a call.
The woman who picked up the phone sounded almost irritated that I called and was pretty short with me, even a little sarcastic and condescending. I asked a few questions which seemed to irritate her even more so I let her off the hook.
Then I called the second one and it was a totally different experience. She was friendly, seemed happy to answer all my questions regarding types of bouquets offered, price points, etc.
Her prices were about the same, but her service was outstanding. My mom received her flowers a couple days before Mother’s Day and she was thrilled with them. I wrote the florist’s name in my day planner so that next year I won’t even have to search Google. I’ll know exactly who to call.
What’s my point?
Customer service makes all the difference. Potential consumers may be lured in by your 5 star rating or the high number of Facebook fans you have, but if their experience isn’t a pleasant one, that is what will determine if they will do business with you, how much they’ll spend with you and whether or not you will ever get their business again.
In fact, in a study performed by Oracle, as much as 89% of consumers began doing business with a company’s competitor following a poor customer service experience. And this is true for every industry, whether it’s service based, product based, lawyers, bakers, photographers, etc.
A few More Statistics:
And while the commercial itself may be a little outdated (no offense Heather Locklear), the idea behind it is not: word-of-mouth advertising (affiliate link) and ‘telling your friends’ is the absolute best form of advertising you can get.
In fact, according to a Nielson study, 84% of consumers believe Word of Mouth (WOM) above all forms of advertising.
Nowadays, social media has made it easier than ever for consumers to do just that. Now a post to a hundred of their closest friends about a great experience can spread to 100 of their closest friends, and so on, turning into thousands.
(But unfortunately, as many of you may have already found out the hard way – that number is even higher if the experience was poor.)
There are so many benefits to WOM clients. They are usually pre-qualified, they love your work (they’ve seen so and so’s album and loved it), they know what you cost, and they are excited to work with you.
Remember, they came to you! Gain their loyalty through great customer service and you have a client for life.
How important is Customer Service to brand loyalty?
In a Brand Loyalty Study by Clickfox, consumers were asked what makes them loyal to a brand:
- 88% of respondents said Quality
- 72% said Customer Service
- 50% said Price
When asked how they show their loyalty to brands:
- 78% said they spread the word and tell others
- 69% buy more from the company
- 54% won’t consider other competing products – yep, even if another company comes along offering a better deal, they will not consider changing.
Being in a saturated market makes it even more important to differentiate yourself by offering great customer service, at any price point.
Remember the florists? They were right around the same price, but which one got my business and will continue to get my business? Maybe the first florist was just having a really bad day. Perhaps, but that first impression was paramount in my decision making process.
Florist number 2 didn’t go above and beyond my expectations, she just met my expectations. She was friendly, helpful, understood my needs and met them within the time frame promised.
How Does Your Customer Service Rate?
Whether you follow a low cost-high volume model or a boutique model there is a minimum standard in customer service. Here are a few basics:
How fast do you respond to initial inquiries? In this day and age, being connected to our phones, emails and text, means clients expect much faster response times. In fact, a study conducted by Oracle found that 50% of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them. Here’s a simple guideline:
- Within 2 hours = Great
- 12-24 Hours = Good
- 24-48 = Acceptable
- 48 or longer = Poor (If you are unavailable for any length of time, explain this in an auto responder email or voicemail recording so that customers will know when they can expect a response. Also make sure to have a FAQ’s page available on your website to answer your most common questions.)
What kind of first impression are you leaving? Are you personable? A good listener? Is it all about you? Do clients feel like you genuinely care about them and the outcome of their session?
Are you taking the time to find out your clients’ needs and wants? To quote Roy Hollister Williams, “The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.”
How accessible are you to your clients after they’ve hired you? Do you return their calls or emails in a timely manner or do you wait days to reply?
Are you clearly and effectively educating and communicating with your client to manage expectations? And if so, are you meeting those expectations or promises? If you tell a client they can expect their image gallery or products in 2-3 weeks are you delivering within that timeframe? Are the images you give them consistent with the images in your portfolio?
Do you under promise and over deliver, or the other way around?
Low cost should not equal low quality service.
While cost will alter your client’s expectations of service a little bit, there is still a standard that is expected to be met.
For example – clients shopping at Walmart will have lower expectations of the quality of customer service than those who shop at Nordstrom’s; however, they still have expectations of decent or at least satisfactory customer service. If their experience is poor, they will stop shopping there.
Low cost clients expect basic standards to be met while boutique models are held to a higher standard; their customers expect service to exceed the basic standards, go above and beyond, and they are willing to pay a higher premium for the experience.
How Can You Improve Your Customer Service?
Three words: Customer Feedback Surveys. These are a great way to find out your strengths and weaknesses. I send an email to all my clients after I’ve delivered their products with a link to my Customer Feed Back Survey and have yet to have a client not return it.
The information gathered is invaluable. A couple favorites of mine are MachForms and 17 Hats (17 Hats is built into their platform). These are easy to create and easy for clients to fill out, so a win/win on both sides.
There are of course other options out there besides MachForms and 17 Hats, these are just the ones I’m familiar with (and you can even create your own easily for free with something like Google Forms).
Another great way is to stay organized. If you don’t have an organizational system in place, create one. Studio Management Platforms such as 17 Hats or Iris Works make it much easier to stay organized. The auto responders and follow up emails alone make them invaluable for quickly answering client inquiries.
When in Doubt, A Good Rule of Thumb:
Whenever I’m unsure about how to give a client a great experience I ask myself what I would want if I were that potential client. If you have never hired a professional photographer to photograph you or your family I highly recommend it.
I don’t mean ask a photographer friend to take your pictures. You will have lower expectations than a paying client would. I mean actually hire and pay for a professional photo session. Seeing it from the client’s perspective is such a great way to gain insight into their needs and expectations.
Ultimately, good customer service leads to increased positive WOM, brand loyalty, bigger sales, and less need for mass marketing strategies. Do not underestimate the importance of customer service. In the long run, especially in such a saturated industry, that is what is going to keep your business sustainable and profitable.
About the Author
Shellie Mooney is a portrait and lifestyle photographer specializing in children, tweens and teens. She also holds a BS in Business/HR Management. While she lives and works in the Las Vegas, NV area she is always up for a road trip.