How to Handle an Unhappy Photography Client
“I like the photos, but…” Nothing hurts more than hearing that your client is unhappy with the photos 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. And 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.
Here are some valuable lessons I've learned from dealing with unmet expectations and then later in this post I will go over some specific unhappy photography client situations:
Diffuse the Emotion
There is an ancient Proverb that says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The worst thing you can do when someone is upset with you is be defensive and try to argue your case.
When people are frustrated, they want someone to UNDERSTAND that they are frustrated – whether their anger is warranted or not. Hear them out, and then do your best to communicate that you will do everything that you can to resolve the issue.
Deal With it Quickly
We often avoid resolving conflict, because it isn’t exactly fun, but making someone wait who has already been let down is not going to help your business. Try to take care of the matter as quickly as you can, knowing that this too shall pass.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
Try as you might to repair a situation, some people just want to be mad. Sometimes it isn’t worth the hassle and emotional upheaval – just give them their money back and move on.
You might not be at fault, but what will the cost be to fight it? Your emotional health? It’s not worth a couple hundred dollars or more. (Side note: ALWAYS have a contract, and liability insurance to protect yourself)
Learn from Your Mistakes
Often we want to “fast-forward” in our careers, but those hard lessons are often what shape us, teach us and mold us into the business owners we want to be!
Every mistake is an opportunity for growth. We are going to make mistakes, let people down and face seemingly impossible situations. Embrace your mistake, learn from them and then let it go!
Sometimes, the way you handle a difficult situation may speak more loudly of your character than if you had avoided it in the first place. Do your best to work with integrity – it’s becoming a lost art. You always have control over your own choices.
Now, let's look at some specific situations that you may come across as a photographer dealing with unhappy clients:
Situation #1: Client Feels 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.” Of course, if you want to offer more images, you can.
As a soft rule, I never tell my clients, “I shot 150 frames!”. Doing so will set yourself up for this inevitable question: “Why didn’t I get all 150 images 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.
Situation #2: Client is Unhappy With How They Look in Their Photos
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 UP-FFRONT 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 top?” then you know they are going to be sensitive about their waist.
Reaffirm beauty often and be genuine with your complements. If you are skilled in Photoshop you can even offer beauty retouching. Ask in your client questionnaire if that’s something they are interested in. And don't hesitate to charge for this, as long as you are upfront about it and client wants this done. Extra retouching does take time!
Situation #3: Client Doesn't Like Any Images You Provided, Doesn't Like Your Editing, Doesn't Like the Posing, and/or Their Children Look Miserable and They Want a Refund
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 photography 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. Don’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 them.
Every session presents a learning experience!
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