What does the term “customer service” mean to you?
According to Wikipedia, the definition is:
The provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.
That definition is key to understanding why some photography studios are busy, and others aren’t. The difference is in their understanding of what customer service truly is, and how often and when they connect with their loyal customers throughout their business life.
Customer service isn’t just how you handle the customer in a face-to-face conversation. Customer service extends to every point of contact you have with a person, from when they first notice you, until the moment you shut your doors and close down your business.
If you want to move ahead of your competition, make sure you have these 10 steps in place.
1. Have multiple ways to connect with potential customers.
And more importantly, check each source on a regular basis. In today’s world, people can connect with us via phone, email, text, Facebook and Twitter. And that just scratches the surface. While it is important to have multiple ways for a potential customer to connect with you, its even more important that you check each communication source regularly so you can answer questions immediately.
2. Use technology wisely.
If someone leaves you a voice message, let them know what to expect in return. If they send an email, send out an autoresponder message with the details. No matter what tools you use, you have a way of further connecting with your prospects and customers. Use it wisely.
For example, it’s easy to set up different forms and email addresses for different parts of your business. If you have a wedding page, when people fill out the form inquiring about your wedding services, use an autoresponder back to explain your services in more detail, and let them know you’ll be in contact in the next 24 hours to discuss their plans. Easy to do – and puts you one step up on the ladder of professionalism.
3. Show up on time for appointments.
It doesn’t matter how you connect with your prospects and clients, being on time sets the stage for future business. If you set up a phone call, make sure you dial their number on time. If you’re meeting in a coffee shop, be there a few minutes early so you can pick the perfect table, and have your laptop and other materials set up and ready to go. And if you are there for the shoot, be ready to go, camera and ideas in hand at the exact timeframe you selected.
4. Listen first, respond second.
Being in business for yourself means you have to take everything in consideration, and you may not always be right. In order to keep problems from gaining the upper hand, it’s sometimes necessary to give your customers a little more than what you originally intended. That’s not the same as being a pushover. Listen to what they are asking for, and how you may have had a misunderstanding. And if there is anything you can do to make things right and keep the relationship intact, do it. Your business is at stake.
Dig Deeper: 7 Ways To Handle The Negative From Prospects
5. Be polite.
Do you remember the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? When you were little, you were constantly reminded to say please, thank you, and your welcome. Just a few little words, and yet they mean so much to the person receiving them. Head back to the basics, and remember to say little things to your customers.
6. Give more than you promise.
This is easy to do, and requires just a bit of planning. Let me give you an example.
If you know your average turnaround on production work for portraits is one week, promise final delivery to your customers in two. This will build a week of buffering into your schedule for the unexpected problems, and will ensure that you can easily get your clients orders out in two weeks. And because you normally can get things out in one week, in most cases you’ll be able to “surprise” your customers with a phone call in one week letting them know everything is ready.
7. Don’t give something you can’t deliver.
Know your limitations, and never agree to something you know will be almost impossible to deliver on.
We would hit this every year around the holidays. Clients would inevitably call a week before Christmas, asking if they could have an enlargement framed and ready for gift giving for the big day. In the early days, we said yes, and struggled night and day to get the image ready for delivery. It wore us out.
Our solution was to pick a date on the calendar, and use that as our “drop dead” date for orders for the holidays. We would create postcards, and send them out to all clients from the previous year that may wish to place an order. We highlighted the date, and said we made no guarantees on delivery on anything placed after that date. It worked like a charm. Our orders went up because it made customers think about gift giving, and they chose to place orders they might not have placed. And if someone called in after the date, they invariably would say, “I know this order is late, so I’ll just give [mom, dad, etc] a card on the big day and they know to expect it a little after the holidays.” You can always look like the “hero” and get the final image to them in time for the holidays – but its your choice, and you don’t look bad if you can’t deliver.
8. Handle disputes quickly.
Occasionally you’ll have a distraught customer that doesn’t understand an invoice or contract, or feels they didn’t get 100 percent of what was coming to them. Handle the situation quickly and efficiently; don’t put it off hoping it will go away. The easiest way to diffuse the situation is with a question: What can I do to make this right? We learned very quickly that customers often require very small things in order to make a situation right. You may be ready to hand over a ton of things – and they simply want a tiny correction. If you give too much, they may begin to think the problem was bigger than it truly was. But if you give them exactly what they want, they’ll be happy.
9. Have a plan for connecting with prospects.
How often do you connect with potential customers when they are in the decision making phase? If you don’t have a plan, sit down and create one. Think about how they connect with you, and what messages they receive. What do you email them? What is in your voice mail? Do you send a thank you note after you visit one on one? Soft selling means establishing a friendship by being there ready to answer questions, not by coming down hard and trying to bring in the sale at every chance you can get. The more you plan for quick messages, the easier the sale will be.
10. Have a plan for connecting with customers for life.
Once the sale is complete, you never have contact with the customer again … right? Nothing could be further from the truth. These are now your best customers, your walking billboards, your raving fans. These are the people that can bring in more people to your business than you know what to do with.
This is what separates the average from the success.
Create emails, newsletters, brochures and postcards. Hold events and parties. Always hold your customers close to your heart, and connect with them every chance you get. They are vital to the future of your business.