Dealing with an unhappy photography client
I don’t wish this upon anyone, but it’s highly unlikely that you will never have to deal with a client that is unhappy. So it’s best to come prepared.
As a photographer, you have a huge responsibility on how an important moment or day like, for instance, a wedding, is portrayed.
I’m not going to lie to you: the first time a client complains will knock your confidence. You might even start to doubt your career choice. But believe it or not, that is actually a good thing: it means you care. If you’re a photographer who doesn’t care what his clients think you should stop right now. A huge part of running a successful photography business is dealing with clients and that includes the unhappy ones.
Breath in and breath out
When you receive a complaint in your mailbox or worse, on social media, it’s best to respond when you’re calm. When you’ve just received the complaint you’ll be much to emotional. Research shows clients expect a response to their complaint within half an hour.
When I receive a complaint via email or on social media I tend to respond: ” I’m very sorry to hear you’re not happy. Give me some time to look into it and I will get back to you as soon as possible. “. This buys you time to respond when you’ve calmed down and processed the complaint.
Invite them to discuss it face to face
The tone of voice & body language is totally lost when you’re having a conversation over mail. When something you said in the mail gets misinterpreted, you might even make the situation worse than before. That’s why I always invite a client to meet in person.
Listen to what your client has to say
The first thing you do when a client comes to you with a complaint is to let them explain. Don’t interrupt them. Listen to what they have to say. Find out what it is they didn’t like. If they didn’t like the photos, why? Was it the way you processed them?
Never ever tell a client they’re wrong. Even if you feel they are wrong, don’t tell them. It’s the last thing they want to hear. What they want to hear is a solution coming from you.
Offer a solution not excuses
The client won’t care much about excuses. They paid for a service and they’re not happy with the result.
When you photograph a wedding, for instance, doing a re-shoot is impossible. But you can offer to re-process their pictures or give them a complimentary canvas. But be careful offering refunds. If you browse through the photos and your work is as good as the rest of your portfolio, I see no reason why you should give a (partial) refund.
The very first complaint I ever received was a bride that didn’t like the way I designed their wedding album. I always make a digital album first and have clients check it before sending it to the printer. I had designed the whole album., which took a couple of hours. And just like that, it went down the drain. Did I feel bad when the client complained? Of course, I did. But it thought me a valuable lesson. Now all the clients that order an album get a few pages to see the general design of what their album will look like. No more wasting hours and hours of work! And that is why clients that complain, can be valuable. It teaches you things you might’ve never thought of in the first place. It also thought me that when I’m meeting with a client, I discuss on how they want their wedding album to look like.
Now going back to my first unhappy client: she felt like the album was too serious. She wanted me to add text balloons and crazy looking frames. Something that was totally not my style. And still to this day, I don’t like the way the album looks like now, but my client loves it. Thanks to her, the woman who complained, I booked 3 more weddings! Who would’ve thought a complaining client would suggest you to their friends and family?
It’s highly unlikely she would’ve recommended me to her friends and family if I had told her I didn’t agree and the album was good the way it was.
Sometimes there is no solution
Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll have a client that isn’t happy no matter what you do. You could ask them what it is they want to rectify the situation. If you’ve tried offering a solution but the client still isn’t happy, tell them politely but firmly: no more. Some people just like to argue.
How can you avoid receiving complaints?
Honestly, it’s impossible to avoid it completely but lots can be avoided when you meet with a client. Explain what it is you do and listen to what they are looking for. Make sure they’re familiar with your portfolio.
If you feel you’re not a good fit for the kind of photography they’re looking for. It’s better to let them go.