Have you ever had a client you wish you'd never met? If you've been a photographer for more than a few days, you probably have.
Now, if you're one of my clients, and you're reading this, please know that I love you all :) The truth is, in any business, it's often the people we work with that can cause the most stress - and create the greatest discontent in our work-life.
As artists, we put ourselves out there, and as a result, when things in our working relationships go sour - it causes an added level of angst and anxiety.
Visit any photographers forum and you'll find no shortage of pros looking for help with a situation with a client. There's no shortage of opportunities to figure out the best way to navigate the tension that occurs when dealing with difficult people.
Difficult People can't be helped. People With Difficulty can. There really are two different types of "difficult people." First, there are truly Difficult people (with a capital "D"). These are people whose issues go far beyond you and your business interaction with them. They came into the relationship looking for something to go wrong, and now that it has - they're going to make sure they bring you down to their level. As soon as you find yourself working with this type of person, you should fire them immediately.
That's right, you should fire your clients. You won't be able to make them happy, and as a result, will be unlikely to add much value to their life. They will certainly not add value to your life, and the more time you spend with them, the more value you continue to suck out of each other. The beautiful thing about owning your own business - you can fire your clients if you want. I'll explain how in a minute.
On the other hand, MOST of the "difficult" (small "d") people you encounter, are normal, well-balanced people who are experiencing a difficulty. Maybe they were expecting more photos of their family from their wedding photos. Maybe they are uncomfortable with the way they look in their portraits. They might be having buyers remorse, and can't afford all of the prints/albums/etc that they'd really like. Maybe you took longer than they expected to deliver their images.
Whatever the reason, you're now at a point where things are "difficult." So, what's next?
Don't take it personal. It's your business, and as such, it's often easy for us to take any conflict as a personal affront on who we are and what we do. Don't. Remember that business is business. For some reason, your client isn't happy. Chances are it's not because you're tall or short, or have brown hair, or wear glasses. Things can get personal very quickly if you let them - so don't. Stay professional - it makes it much easier to figure out what's really going on.
Deal with the issue. When you deal with the issue instead of allowing it to be personal, you have a chance to actually correct whatever went wrong. Before you act or respond, make sure you really understand what's going on. Ask questions like "I understand you're upset. Can you help me better understand what happened, and how I can help you?"
Being authentic and seeking to understand goes a long way towards repairing whatever went south. We often just try to make someone "happy." This only serves to take the issue off the front burner, but rarely fixes the issue. In fact, it just educates your clients to behave accordingly. Instead, dig deep until you know what the cause of the "difficulty."
Apologize only for what you did wrong. "I'm sorry you feel that way." AAGGHHHH!!! Okay, sorry - that's probably the worst thing you can ever say to someone. First, you can't be sorry for how someone feels. You can express understanding of their feelings, and you can validate them - but apologizing for them does neither. It's condescending and puts people on the defensive.
Second, if YOU did something wrong, apologize. If you didn't, then don't. That doesn't mean you can't continue to work with a client to help make it through whatever "difficulty" you're now experiencing together. You can, but don't apologize unless you did something wrong - and then only apologize for that. Own your own behavior, but don't condescend by offering a "fake apology" (apologizing for something you can't possibly be sorry for). You can say "I'm sorry we dropped the ball. I understand why that is so frustrating for you. Let's see how we can fix it."
Problems = An opportunity to win a client for life. It truly is how you handle it, when things go wrong, that will impact your relationship with a client for life. WOW'ing a client when something goes bad is a chance to remind them that they are "the most important person in the world," at that moment, and treat them accordingly.
Sometimes we fail to meet our clients expectations (however unrealistic they are), and as a result we have to do two things: bridge the gap - and educate our clients. If we fail to properly educate our clients up front by setting expectation, we really can't fault them for creating expectations that might be unrealistic. When that happens, we have to do what we can to live up to the promises we made to our clients, as well as make sure they understand what's realistic moving forward.
Whether it's your fault or not, going above and beyond for a client (remember, these aren't customers - they're clients), you earn the right to their future business. If you can't do that - fire them now and save both of you the future difficulty.
Image courtesy of stock.xchng royalty free images.