There has been much written on the idea of customer service for small businesses, but I feel that the idea of customer service is really not enough. This is where many businesses get it wrong – they focus on customer service (tactics) but forget about the rest of the bigger picture, or more specifically, the customer experience. You may be the best at tactically solving customer problems but if the customer experience leaves something to be desired, then you have ultimately failed.
Customer service ensures expectations are met. Customer experience ensures a customer for life.
Think of it this way – customer service ensures that your customer's expectations are met whereas customer experience ensures that you'll have a customer for life. What would you prefer?
Let's back up for a moment. In case you aren't fully convinced that the customer experience is important, here are 6 reasons why you need to offer a killer customer experience, and why it's crucial to the success of your photography business:
- To gain customer loyalty.
- To be remarkable; something worth remarking on. This could also be called being refer-able.
- To be able to charge the prices that you want and should.
- To deliver on your promises every time.
- To have consistency in your business and with your clients.
- To live a happy life with happy clients.
Simply put, delivering a killer customer experience means that you have happier clients, make more money, get more repeat business and get more referrals. Sounds like a good place to spend some time to me!
The topic of customer experience can be a daunting one and it can be overwhelming to break down, but as you know, at Sprouting Photographer we love the “nuts and bolts”, so let's dive in with two feet!
Designing your customer experience
It is crucial to design your customer experience instead of letting it happen by accident.
If you aren't intentional with your customer experience, then your service, timelines and deliverables may slip and you're ultimately letting your credibility and reputation find it's own path. You need to step in the way and purposefully inject a designed customer experience, which will ensure that you not only can get the most out of every client, but so that you can deliver your best to every client.
Clients allow you to do what you love. Re-pay them by giving them a killer customer experience.
Let me pause for a moment to re-iterate that last point. The idea of designing a killer customer experience is founded in the purest of intentions. It isn't a “squeeze the most money from every client” kind of idea, and if you treat it that way, you will be starting in the wrong direction. You must approach the customer experience with a genuine desire to deliver the best you can to each and every client. Remember that your clients are the ones who pay you, support your career as a photographer and allow you to do what you love. If you can offer them the best experience in return, then everyone wins.
You know that I believe in actionable steps, concrete ideas and no-fluff concepts, and so I want to clarify the idea of “designing” your customer experience. Very specifically, I am suggesting that you need to write out each and every step that you want each client to go through and then develop a system to implement that flow and ensure it is repeatable, sustainable and measurable.
Begin by defining a period of time in the future and then work backward from there.
I have found that the best way to start designing the customer experience is to work backward. Begin by defining a period of time in the future (after the customer has gone through the “customer flow”) and then work backwards from there. Identify milestones (or dates) in the “flow” that will trigger different events, pieces of correspondence or customer touch points.
Each milestone or trigger point should be one of three “types” of events:
- Service – A touch point to offer good customer service with no specific call-to-action.
- Deliverable – A touch point where you deliver or give something to your client.
- Opportunity – A touch point when you are providing an opportunity (and a reason) for your client to give something to you.
Quick aside – remember I started this article talking about “customer service” and how it was only one piece of the pie? You can see now what I mean by that – customer service as it is formally referred to is really only the first item above. The other two items (deliverables and opportunities) make up the rest of the customer experience, and are crucial pieces to guarantee a happy loyal client.
It's important to note here that each “type” of event should have an equal presence in the customer experience. This means that you should be giving and servicing twice as much as you should be asking for something.
A walk through of an ideal portrait client experience.
I'll walk through a “flow” that I might define for my photography business for my portrait clients. For each trigger (date), I'll define what the touch point and message is, as well as it's purpose and the “type” of event it is.
1 year after session
Be nostalgic, tell a relevant story about the session and say “can you believe it's been a year since our session”.
Purpose: Stay top-of-mind
6 months after session
Tell them where you've shared their session (blog, social media, local publication, website) – somewhere new since the last correspondence. Tell them that you only have room for a few more sessions this season and would be interested in speaking with any of their family/friends.
Purpose: Remind them of their images/session and ask for a referral.
4 months after session
Tell them where you've shared their finished wall portraits (blog, social media, local publication, website).
Purpose: Reminder of their images/session and stay-in -touch.
3 months after session
Follow-up to check if they've hung their wall portraits. If not: ask if they would like you to do-so at no cost. If so: ask if they would send a quick snapshot from their phone so you can share it on social media and on your blog.
Purpose: Follow-up, opportunity for you to add value and give great customer service.
2 months after session
Follow-up to be sure that all of the prints were in their package and that they were happy with everything.
Purpose: Follow-up, opportunity to give great customer service. Opportunity for them to order more and/or give feedback (positive or negative) where they otherwise may not have said anything.
7 weeks after session
Blog the images that they ordered and send them the link. Add them to Facebook and “tag” them.
Purpose: Engagement, reminder of their images/session, referral opportunity on social media.
5 weeks after session
Deliver prints and ask for referral.
Purpose: Over-deliver on your promise/turn-around and potentially get new business.
2 weeks after session
Share 1 or 2 images social media “as you're working on them” from their print order.
Purpose: Reminder of their images/session, referral opportunity on social media.
1 week after session
Purpose: Maximize the emotional “high” from the session
2 days after session
Share 1 teaser as your “favourite” on social media. Tease that you “can't wait” for their viewing appointment to order prints.
Purpose: Whet their appetite and remind them (and your other fans) that you are a full-service print studio.
1 weeks prior to session
Confirm details and re-send clothing guidelines.
Purpose: Establish expertise and professionalism.
2 weeks prior to session
Design consultation to go over print sizes, other finished products and more details about their session.
Purpose: Establish expertise and professionalism, set expectations, get them to “think with the end in mind”.
Getting it all going in the right direction.
Once you've designed a “flow” for your customer experience for each genre of photography you offer, you must put it into a system or infrastructure that will ensure that you'll actually follow do the “flow” each and every time, and on time.
There are all kinds of software and automated ways to make this happen, and being the techy that I am, I have my own automated implementation of this system and perhaps one day I can go into these details. For now, though, I want to keep things simple because I believe that if something is too complicated or overwhelming, then you won't follow-through with it consistently. I'd like to suggest three simple ways that you can implement your designed “flow” and customer experience:
- Calendar – Manually enter the dates, events and tasks in your calendar (on your computer or in a calendar book) every time you book a new client.
- To-Do List – Use a task-management software (Apple's “Reminder” is pretty good) and manually enter the dates, events and tasks into this software every time you book a new client.
- Workflow Chart – Use a physical or digital workflow chart (like this one from Design Aglow or this one from Photography Concentrate) and track your clients all in one place.
However you decide to implement the “flow” for your client experience, just be sure to have it implemented in a way that you will actually do the tasks each and every time, and on time. There's no sense in going through the process of designing and really thinking about the customer experience if you aren't going to actually follow-through on it each time.
Do you have a way to implement your “flow” that I haven't mentioned? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below – share away, maybe it'll even spur a 2nd follow-up article on this topic!
What to do next?
For each genre of photography you offer:
1) Think about your customer experience – how can you give the most to your clients?
2) Define a “flow” backwards, and be sure to include twice the amount of “giving” as you do “taking” or “asking”.
3) Determine the best way for you to implement your “flow”, whether it be a calendar, to-do software or physical chart.
4) Stay on top of your client experience. Refine it often, and always measure what's working and what's not.