Have you ever had a difficult client? Have you ever had a client that, no matter what, you just couldn't seem to please? Have you ever had a client that has such outrageous expectations that there's no way you could possibly live up to them?
I have. I know how frustrating and discouraging it can be. I know that it can suck the life and the joy right out of you. I also know that more often than not - I'm at fault. Sure, there are difficult people in the world - and often there's little we could do to please them. But the reality is, if you fail to live up to someone's expectations - no matter how unreasonable - it's your problem
1. Know What You Want People To Do
It's not likely that your clients will know what you want them to do, if you haven't figured it out first. Take some time to walk through the workflow, from start to finish. Think about the interactions you will have, the key touchpoints that your client needs to know about (when they will meet with you, when payments will be due, when they need to give you information, when you'll be sending them information), and write it all down. Create a timeline that provides you with a roadmap of the client experience. Be sure to think about it from not just your perspective, but from the clients' as well.
This will help you think about what to tell your client, and when. Having it written down also helps you create the same set of expectations each time you interact with a client. If you find yourself making it up as you go - each time you interact with a new client - it'll be impossible for you to provide a consistent experience, and manage the process in a way that helps your client know what to expect.
2. Be Clear About Expectations
If you don't tell people what to expect, they'll make something up. It's true. If you don't help them understand what they should expect, they'll simply fill in the gaps on their own - and I'm sure we all know how that goes. Sometimes it seems obvious to us what the expectations are - but that's because we're the one that does this on a daily basis.
Think about it from your client's perspective for a moment. If they are a bride planning a wedding, this is likely the first time she's hired a wedding photographer. This is all new to her. If she's a mom with a brand new baby, looking for newborn photos, she has no idea what you do, or how you operate. Just because it's obvious to you, doesn't mean anyone else will know what you want them to do. It's far better to take the time to overcommunicate the process, then to think that someone else will just know what to do.
At my studio, I created a series of Client Guides, to help both my wedding and portrait clients know what to expect. In addition to explaining things like pricing, it includes helpful information about their wedding or session, information about viewing and ordering images, and information about important factors when scheduling their day. I'm also sure to include information about how to get answers to other questions they may have.
3. If Somoene Has to Ask, It's Too Late
It's always easier to "create expectations," than it is to fix them when something goes wrong. In fact, by the time someone has to ask you "when will I see my images," or "when will my album be done," or "how many photos were were supposed to get on this disc?" it's too late. They're asking because something about the experience hasn't lived up to what they expected.
Somehow they didn't get theh information they needed, and now they're trying to figure out what they should expect to happen. And if they're asking, it means there is already a disconnect between what they think should happen, and what they are experiencing. Even if you're still acting exactly as you said you would, your client didn't get the memo. Communication is always the responsibility of the communicator. You can rant all you want about clients who just don't "get it," but it's your job to be sure they do.
4. Take Ownership When It Goes Wrong
It's easy to think that when a client is upset about something, that they are irrational, or that they have unrealistic expectations. That may be absolutely true, but if they have unrealistic expectations, it's beacuse you failed to help create realistic ones. The only thing you can do now is take ownership of the disconnect, and set the journey back on the right path.
The bottom line is, even if it's not your "fault," it IS your problem. It is your job to take ownership and make it right. If you really did blow it - you'll be amazed how far a sincere apology goes. If you simply failed to create proper expectations, an apology is appropriate there too. A simple "I feel like I didn't do a very good job helping you know what to expect, as far as when you're images will be available. I'm sorry about that. Here's what I'd like to do......."
By the way, the only authentic apology begins with "I'm sorry" and ends with whatever it is YOU did or DIDN'T do. You can't apologize for the way someone else feels. You can't apologize for their disappointment. Also, sentences that begin with "I'd like to apologize," "I owe you an apology" or "I apologize," are pretty much useless. Don't tell someone you'd like to apologize... just do it.
5. Create Win-Win Situations
Helping your clients know what to expect, by clearly articulating what you want them do, and what they can count on you to do, results in a positive experience for your clients. Even more, it creates a situation where your clients are likely to have more fun, spend more money, and refer more friends. When you think about how you can create a win-win situation, you stop worrying about who is at "fault," and start thinking about how you can solve problems.
How about you? What are some ways you've found to create expectations for clients? What about handling situations where things go bad? Leave a comment below!