While setting up for a shoot with a new client recently, she mentioned (not by name) the photographer who had worked with her company in the past. I asked, out of curiosity, why they were no longer working with him. She went on to say his work was perfectly fine and our prices comparable but “he was a pain in the ass.”
Great at what they do, but difficult to work with is a theme that has made its way into many conversations I’ve had over the years pertaining to both my business and that of my clients. The work may be great, but a bad experience will always overshadow a great product.
It’s really quite simple. People only want to work with people they like. Those that make the experience pleasant and fun, while delivering great results. Seems easy enough. Yet, I believe that sometimes as creatives, we can get in our own way.
We are protective of our art. It’s very personal and often comes from deep within, rather than something we learned in a class or in a book. And because it’s so personal, any negativity towards it is a blow to the ego. Not always pretty, the ego, but it is a very real thing. And in order to be a successful business owner, to grow and thrive beyond art for art’s sake, we need to check that ego at the door.
The customer may come to you because of your art but they will stay with you because of the experience. Certainly you have to be good at what you do to keep the clients coming back but that experience is everything. You not only have to make them happy, you have to delight them. They have to walk away from the project feeling good.
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re one of the best in the business, have the most expensive equipment, back-ups for your back-ups, and a top-notch marketing campaigns. It’s all for naught if you’re not providing a positive, genuine experience. It is paramount to the growth of your business.
When you love what you do, delivering that experience is really not that hard. But it does take a lot of time and effort. It means being responsive when a client calls or emails. Even if that’s just to acknowledge receipt and confirm when you’ll be able to get back to them. It means being flexible in your schedule, even when that means temporarily turning your household upside down. It means being able to read emotions and knowing how to act accordingly.
It can be like a game of chess or poker sometimes. Not in that you’re trying to outsmart an opponent, but you’re anticipating moves and emotions and reacting appropriately. Regardless of your own emotional state. And, more often, therein lies the challenge.
Creating a wonderful experience for our clients is easy when everything goes according to plan. We all get along well and moods are even. We’re really put to the test when faced with tough situations. A particularly difficult client. A glitch in the day. Schedules turned on their heads.
This is where a few of the most important characteristics of providing a positive experience and growing a successful business enter the mix. Professionalism, dignity and grace. These will determine whether you, and the customer experience, sinks or shines.
And this is, as I mentioned before, where the ego gets checked at the door. Handling difficult situations with professionalism and dignity signifies a respect for what you are both trying to achieve. It most certainly does not mean letting a tough client mentally beat you up or walk on you. But it may mean being willing to take a few hits and rise above it. And that is where the grace part comes in. Even if it means deciding to never work with this client again, handling it and walking away with grace and dignity will always serve you well.
The best advice I can give you on providing a great experience, on both good and bad days, is to always be mindful. To treat clients how you’d like to be treated. To be responsive to them in a timely manner. To always go the extra mile to give them the very best product in a way that delights them, both leading up to and after a project is complete. To give them the genuine you, because the longest lasting relationships are most certainly not built on faking it.
And on those tougher days, to not react. To think before you speak. To stop before you act. To take an hour. Take 24. Use your network of people to gut check and provide a new perspective. I believe strongly that no business is truly run by one person. At least, not a successful one.
And finally, make professionalism, dignity and grace, in every situation, a top priority. How you handle yourself will be how you are remembered.