Handling the Hard Stuff: Facing Challenges
“I like them, but…” Nothing hurts more than hearing that your client is unhappy with what you’ve given them. Your first response may range from crushed, to confused, or even anger. Open and honest communication is essential to dealing with unhappy clients as well as a clear contract. Ask the client what specifically they are displeased with if they haven’t already made it clear. If you don’t know what’s wrong, you can’t work to fix it. If you are comfortable then ask your client for an opportunity to meet face to face. If meeting isn’t an option, get them on the phone, and talk it out. If all you can do is reply to an email then start there. You need to reach out and figure out where the break down happened and work from there.
Issue #1: “I feel like there should be more pictures.”
How many pictures were promised? If you state in your contract that there are X number of images included and you’ve met that requirement, you have fulfilled your obligation and you can point back to your contract. You may want to state that “The images in your gallery are the best of the best; anything that didn’t meet my standards was immediately deleted in my culling process.” Conversely, if you want to offer more images, you can. As a soft rule, we don’t tell our clients, “I shot 150 frames!”. Doing so can set yourself up for the inevitable, “Why didn’t I get all 150 you took?".
If you get through your session and know right away that you’re not going to have enough images to fulfill your obligation, I suggest offering a quick 15-minute mini session to fill the rest. Mistakes happen in business. If you’re honest with the client about the session, and offer a quick reshoot, they will appreciate your desire to give them your best.
Issue #2: “I look fat.”
Hearing that your client is disappointed in the way they look is heartbreaking. While there may not be much you can do after the fact, you can avoid this situation by learning about your client prior to the session. Utilizing a pre-shoot questionnaire is a great way to get to know your client, including what insecurities they might have.
If you know that your client doesn’t like her arms, you can help guide her in wardrobe selection and study some posing. While you’re shooting, pay attention to the cues your subject gives you. If you hear someone say, “Can you see my muffin tops?” then you know they are going to be sensitive about their waist.
Reaffirm beauty often and be genuine about the complement. If you are skilled in Photoshop you might offer beauty retouching. Ask in your client questionnaire if that’s something they are interested in.
Issue #3: “There isn’t one image I like. I don’t like the edits you did. I don’t like any of the posing. My kid looks miserable. I want my money back.”
If ever there was a reason to use a contract THIS IS IT. Your contract isn’t just a means of covering your behind. Your contract should spell out editing choice, cooperation clauses, what is included with your session fees, what is or is not refundable and why among other important details. Your contract is a means of managing expectations. If you feel that there is no way to satisfy this client close their gallery, send out a termination of agreement notice which they will sign, then refund their payment as you see fit.
If you feel like this client might benefit from a reshoot, you can offer one, but with the understanding that your editing style won’t change, and that you are happy to work with their ideas while staying true to your brand. You needn’t hand over their session fee straight away. It’s vital to talk it through.
We need to run our business and provide excellent customer service. We need to be clear with our communication and contracts while helping diffuse troubles before they start with comprehensive knowledge of our client. We also need to accept that there may be nothing we can do except refund. Every session comes presents a learning experience!
Wendy Boyce is a family portrait photographer based in Cleveland, Ohio. She is known for her casual and friendly personality and her uncontrollable need to burst into song at any given moment; a trait she has passed on to her twin daughters with pride. Website | Blog | Facebook