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“Managing Client Expectations” is a phrase that people really like the throw around. It makes you sound like you went to business school or read really heavy leather bound books. But it’s a really important concept that every business owner should get comfy with.
Basically what we’re talking about here is making sure your clients know what to expect in all their dealings with you in order to have a smooth experience and hopefully prevent any issues. But “managing expectations” doesn’t have to be stiff and formal. This is simply about helping clients prepare for their photos, and taking great care of them! Big idea: you want to make your clients happy, and this is a big part of it!!
Managing Client Expectations
There are a few critical areas to manage so you can make sure you and your clients are on the same page.
I think the biggest cause of disappointment when it comes to expectations results from a lack of communication or miscommunication. Learning how to communicate well is a vital skill. I’ll be honest that we are NOT fans of the telephone, largely for this reason. We much prefer emailing with clients because it gives us time to respond clearly and there is also a record of all communication. When communicating with your clients take great care to be clear and complete. Double read any important messages. Bold important text. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re getting your message across!
If you’re doing work for someone make sure to get it in writing! Contracts should clearly state what you’ll be providing to the client and at what price, and include any important details of your process (turnaround times, studio policies, etc.). We email our contracts to our clients so they have plenty of time to read through it, instead of trying to rush through it in person. We also have no fine print and have tried to keep the contract as short as possible to make sure they can easily read the whole thing.
Dealing with money can be another point of friction if expectations aren’t aligned. You should always make sure this is discussed well up front. The details of price and payment should be handled in the contract but you should also make sure that the client clearly understands your policies. Make sure your client knows what happens with their deposit if they cancel. You should also be clear about how much the deposit is, when the balance is due, methods of payment and any other nitty gritty details you might have.
Outlining the process from booking to delivery of finished products can be really helpful for clients. They’ll know when they need to get you a deposit and balance payment, what needs to happen before a shoot, and also when they can expect to see the finished images. At the end of a shoot we always mention when the client can expect to see the images and what the next step is so they aren’t left wondering “What now?”.
Tips for Photographers
We have learned a lot about managing client expectations from trial and painful error. Here are some areas to make sure to focus on to prevent disappointing your clients.
Show the work that you want to shoot more of. If what you have in your portfolio is dramatically different in style than what you end up creating for a client they may be disappointed. And make sure to show the quality of work that you’re capable of producing consistently!
Make sure to be clear about how your clients can securely book their date, especially when it comes to weddings where dates are very limited. We required a signed contract and deposit to book a wedding, and were very strict about that. See, we ran into the problem of a client assuming we would let them know if someone else was interested in their day. It resulted in some unhappiness and just was not a fun situation for anyone. Make sure you’re explicitly clear that you can’t hold the day without a deposit, and that you can’t let them know if someone else is interested because of how quickly a booking can happen. If you do want to give clients a heads up when there is additional interest be very careful to do it well. It’s very easy to upset someone in that situation.
Meeting with clients before the wedding is a fantastic way to iron out the details and make sure everyone is on the same page going in to the big day. You can ensure that you know where you’re supposed to be on the day of the wedding, how much time you have for photos and where you’re going to take them. And the client will know all of this too!
You can also let them know any special requests you have for the day, and put together a list of family shots. Make sure to have a list!! It gives the bride and groom (and usually their parents) a chance to clearly determine who will be in the photos, and prevents the last minute “Did we get so-and-so?” panic. It also helps get the family photos over with as efficiently as possible so you have the more time to shoot the bride and the groom. These pre-wedding meetings go a loooong way in terms of aligning expectations.
Wedding rehearsals are a great time to align expectations with the priest or officiant. If they have any special photography rules (or if the venue has any rules) this is the perfect time to learn about them instead of minutes before the ceremony starts! There are also a ton of other good reasons to attend the wedding rehearsal.
At the pre-wedding meeting we always confirmed our start and end times, and discussed our overtime policy so there would be no surprises the day of the wedding. TIP: We also had a policy where overtime could be pre-purchased at a lower price than requesting overtime on the day of the wedding. This was useful if the client’s timeline looked like it would extend beyond their packages hours.
Final approval of products
Getting your clients to sign off on the final design of products (albums, cards, prints) is a great way to make sure there will be no surprises. Your clients will know exactly what photos are going into the album and where. We also like to get final approval of large prints, just in case our client sees something that needs to be retouched or edited that we might have missed.
Help Your Clients
One of the best things you can do overall is to help your clients. Be there for them at every stage of the process, and make sure that they know that they can always come to you with questions. One of the most effective ways we’ve helped our clients is by creating resources for them (usually as PDFs), from how to get ready for their session, to taking care of their digital files. This is an area that we’re always trying to work harder on. We really feel like the more we can help our clients, the better their experience will be!
Manage your own expectations
Make sure that you are clear with yourself when it comes to what you can deliver to your clients. Don’t tell them you’ll have it ready in 2 weeks when you know that’s cutting it close. T
he more honest you are with yourself, and your clients, the stronger your business will be.
What To Do If Things Go Wrong
Even when you have the best of intentions you can still find yourself with misaligned expectations, and a disappointed client. If you find yourself in such a position don’t just huddle up into the fetal position and rock back and forth. Try to see at it as an opportunity! Seriously!
Look, this is the time to put your pride aside. Regardless of whether you were right or wrong an unhappy client is not a good thing for you. Great customer service can go a long way in turning an unhappy customer into someone who refers you to their friends and family. And it’s not hard! Often it simply involves acknowledging the issue, reviewing what went wrong and figuring out how the situation could be fixed. If you’ve made a mistake then you should try do everything possible to correct it. If the client has made an error, don’t rub it in, but do point it out. It’s important to be honest. But most of all, work hard to find a solution that makes everyone happy. Compromise isn’t just for marriages.
See, clients are much more likely to forgive you or overlook prickly situations if they like you. In his book, Blink, Malcom Gladwell points out that nice doctors get sued less for malpractice. If your client feels like they’ve been carelessly harmed by you they’re much more likely to become aggressive and difficult to deal with. And honestly, that’s pretty fair. As a photographer your main goal is to take care of your clients, and if you mistreat them you’ll run into trouble. Pick up a copy of How To Win Friends & Influence People and start studying (you can read our review of it here)!!
The big idea here is simple. Think through your entire process, and find places you could be more clear, and help your clients understand your process better. Managing client expectations might sound complicated, but it’s really as simple as genuinely caring about them!
Have you faced a situation where expectations didn’t line up? Any tips on better managing expectations? Share your experience in the comments below!