I recently read a fascinating article on how McDonalds was able to make an incredible comeback after it’s reputation as a fast food choice was “fried” by the 2002 book “Fast Food Nation” and the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me”. It’s hard to believe but the fast food giant actually had a $344 million loss in 2002, the first loss in it’s history.

In recent years, many huge companies that most assumed would be around forever, filed for bankruptcy, and there are of course many reasons attributed to the closures. Some companies who saw the light before it was too late made radical commitments to change, others were too late and closed their doors forever.

Fixing the Problem – Solution #1: Listening

McDonalds was one of the lucky or maybe we should say smart ones. They took a hard look at why they were losing customers and what they’d have to do to turn it around. They listened to their customers by opening an online dialogue and inviting tough questions about their food. By giving honest straightforward answers they began to slowly win back trust from the people who had been put off their food as a result of the book and movie. They stopped using trans fats in their cooking oil which had been a health issue for some time. This means changing the oil more frequently which in turn is more costly, but to their health conscious customers, it was a necessary change.

They also listened and admitted that their coffee was dreadful. They made a strategic decision to focus on that one item and hoped to connect with the coffee obsessed North American customer.

Fixing the Problem – Solution #2: Asking for Help

McDonalds enlisted the help of Mother Parker Coffee to not only create a fantastic coffee blend for them but to also to help train front counter employees to properly brew it. Add to a great coffee flavour an improved double walled cup and a lid that opens easily with one hand and they had a winner. Since then McDonalds has expanded their coffee line to include lattes and more. They even invited the public to come and try their coffee at no risk by giving it away for free. People love free and they came in droves to try it. Typically they also ordered extra items while they were there. Things are definitely better these days at the golden arches. In 2013 McDonalds Canada saw sales up $200 million and posted system wide sales of $3.83 billion.

Applying McDonald’s Path to our Photography Business

So I’m sure you might be asking by now, what does all this have to do with photography? My answer is nothing, but is has everything to do with your studio business.

What can we learn from this example?

Awareness and Analysis

First McDonalds knew something was very wrong when the numbers showed losses. If you aren’t currently using an accounting system that allows you to look at a monthly or annual profit and loss situation, then you’re flying in the dark with no idea where you stand. Comparative analysis is what allows me to see if my profits are up or down from last year. That makes me want to ask why either way. It shows me that I need to continue on a successful path or make changes to improve sagging areas of my business

Asking for Feedback

To know what your doing well and where you need to improve, the only reliable source is your existing customers. Since there is already an established trust, they are more likely to submit a response to a survey you send and it shows them you care about customer experience when you follow up a sale asking if there are any ways you could improve their experience.

Examining our Product and Service

We need to examine the product we’re serving up to our clients. Are we serving bad coffee? In other words, is the quality of our photography below par? Could it be that the day to day work we do for our regular clients does not match up to the very best work we show on our website? Obviously if we are hired on the basis of what we advertise as the quality of our work and then don’t deliver that quality every day, we are guaranteed to disappoint. Many customers won’t complain to us, they just won’t come back. They will however complain to friends and family. You’ve no doubt heard the line,“bad publicity travels faster than good publicity.”

If we aren’t delivering our best to each client, we must ask why? Is it because we are too rushed, trying to squeeze in to many appointments? Are we not devoting the proper amount of editing and retouching time to our work. Or are we simply putting our best “happy accidents” up on the website. The “spray and pray” approach to photography will never sustain a business. Shooting hundreds of images and hoping a few turn out well is not the mark of a pro photographer.We need to make the quality our our photography a huge priority and strive to constantly improve our craft.

Managing Expectations

Finally we need to examine how we relate to our clients to be sure that expectations are being met. To go above a basic good experience we need to up our game and look for ways to improve our product, service and delivery to our clients so that we can give a consistently great customer experience.

  • On the first phone call, did we sound happy to hear from them, did we come across as helpful, professional, and caring?
  • At the session, were we personable, fun, respectful, prompt, make eye contact, remember names?
  • At the ordering session, did we listen, smile, suggest, advise, and give all the help we could?
  • On delivery of the finished product, did we greet them at the door, did we go over each of the products ordered, did we help them to their car with the products, did we offer to go to the home to help hang the photos,was there any special unexpected bonus in the bag?
  • After the sale, did we call to follow up a few days late to make sure everything was 100% to their satisfaction? Did we follow up with a card thanking them for their business?

When we have that kind of contact with our clients each and every time, we would likely see where we have missed the mark and would be able to respond quickly and elegantly to repair the problem.

Doing a great job all the time is possible when you have checkpoints and systems in place. Following up and fixing mistakes will help you keep your clients and can even strengthen their loyalty.

Action Items

Examine your business for areas of improvement.

Call clients that haven’t returned and ask if you can chat about their customer experience and ask if they have any suggestions to improve your business.

They may not return as clients, but the information they give could be invaluable.

Make sure that current customers know that you value them and stay in touch.

Implement policies that outline what you will do when you screw up. Acting fast to fix a problem is key. Take ownership and own your mistakes. Fix it, get over it, and move on.

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