You’re in for a treat today (and, maybe a bit of a rant). Today, we’re talking all about how to deal with difficult clients & situations. Some of these things are continuously happening over & over again, and today we’re going to tackle every single one of them.
As a heads up: this may end up being a two-part series.
I’ve rounded up most of the things I’ve seen happening on repeat over the past few years, and today, we’re diving all into how to deal with difficult clients & situations; I’m answering your questions & giving you tips on how to respond.
Let’s dive in!
Or, worse — no shows to their sessions. This one is brutal.
This one happens to all of us at some point, just know, you’re not alone. I’ve dealt with this (more than once).
What do you do when your clients are late?
Let’s be clear here: we’re not talking five or 10 minutes late, it’s more like 15 minutes or more.
At what point are you going to count them as a no show?
When are you going to leave the location?
When are you going to cancel their session?
If your clients are coming to you, this is the first thing that you need to write into your contract. You need a policy (like most businesses) that reflects if it’s 15 minutes or more, they’re considered a no show, you’ll leave location & their session will be canceled.
At that point, if they have not shown up & they have not called to let someone know that they are running late, then you are not going to hold their spot and they’re going to have to reschedule. Also, they’re going to be charged a no show fee.
Now, you need to decide on two things:
This is not something that you can just decide when it happens to you. This is something that you need to decide right now.
My policy is if you are more than 15 minutes late, you are then a no show & I am canceling your session.
Furthermore, we will not work together and there is no refund of any amount of payment that you have given me up to that point that is in my contract. That is something that is said again, in my client process. I make sure my clients fully understand this policy.
What happens when they’re late?
They need to know what that policy is before the session takes place.
I would remind them of their session: maybe that looks like you’re sending a week before email out, maybe you’re sending two days prior to their session, maybe you are sending them an email or a text message the morning of their session.
Again, this is not something that you can just figure out when it happens to you. You can’t wait for your clients to show up 20 minutes late and then explain to them what’s going to happen. They need to already know it’s going to happen. They need to know that if they’re showing up 17 minutes past the time that you guys were set to shoot, you’re not going to be there. You’re not going to be waiting on them and that they can be upset all they want, but they knew what the policy was.
What do you do when clients aren’t happy with the images they’ve received in their gallery?
I’d like to preface this with: this breaks my heart that this actually happens.
It happens more than you can even imagine.
We can’t satisfy everyone, we just can’t. If you’re going into this with the goal (and the mindset), that you’re going to satisfy all of your clients 100%, you’re taking a very unrealistic approach to your photography business.
Speaking from 8+ years of experience, at least one client that just is not satisfied, no matter what you do. There’s not a thank you. There’s every reason under the sun of why they don’t like their images.
A lot of times, clients aren’t happy with their images because of the way that they see themselves.
There are endless reasons why your client might not love their images.
However, I am also going to say sometimes it’s your fault, as the photographer.
Sometimes, you guys will post a gallery, and you will ask for feedback or critiques, or you’ll say that so and so wasn’t happy with it. So, I’ll click in the gallery and scroll through the images. The truth is, most of them are mediocre, they’re fine and I don’t see anything wrong with them.
What I’m seeing more often than I care to admit is this:
I can tell through the body language & facial expressions, your clients did not feel comfortable, or you, as the photographer did not take control over that session, that you were probably feeling insecure and nervous. It’s obvious in an image who was in control of the session.
If they’re not feeling comfortable, they’re probably not going to like their images.
One thing that I want to point out to some of you is to look back at your galleries, and really study.
Are their smiles look forced? Do their poses look stiff?
You will see who raved about, who’s sending you referrals, who left you a review and who’s likely won’t come back for another session. Through studying your galleries, you will be able to connect the two things.
Again, I want to say 50% of the time, they’re unhappy with the images because of you. The other 50% of the time they’re unhappy with the images because of how they feel about themselves.
It’s a coin toss. We never know which one it’s going to be. Depending on which side of the coin it is, that is going to determine how you’re going to handle your client not being happy with their images.
This is going to be on a case by case basis. Take into consideration what took place with the specific client that is unhappy with the images. Look back on the gallery, ask yourself: “are they unhappy with their images becasue of the way they see themselves OR am I to blame for this?
You’ll know. Your gut will always speak the truth on this. If you did everything you could; they told you they had a good time, their images are awesome & you can get an 3rd party to tell you that they love the images, then you know without a doubt it’s them & how they see themselves.
Here’s the thing: if you are at fault, even a little bit…this is the only case where I would actually offer them a reshoot.
I would not refund your client unless you arrived at a session & it was a COMPLETE disaster, 1000% because of you & it had nothing to do with them.
Most of the time, my answer when you ask me if you should refund them, I’m going to tell you no. Why?
They paid you for your time, your travel, your editing and you delivered on everything that you promised them. So, there’s no reason to refund them. Yes, even if someone’s unhappy with them, they paid you for a service.
When it comes to refunds, 99.9% of the time my answer to you is no, we are not going to offer refunds for clients who were unhappy with the images.
The reshoot is up to you. Was it really too windy that day & you guys pressed through because you wanted to, and your agreed? So, you went through with it & now, truth be told you’re both unhappy with the images. Offer a reshoot. If you want to add a fee to that fine, do that.
What is your policy for that? Have a policy. I’m going to say 70% to 80% of the time, you’re also not going to offer a reshoot because most of the time, it’s not your fault. There’s nothing you could have done differently. You can’t give them different hair or a different face. Period.
You’re simply going to reply with: “I’m really sad to hear that you’re unhappy with these images, but unfortunately, the service is done. I hope that maybe next time you’ll like them, or you’ll find a photographer, that’s a better fit for you.”
When a client requests the raw images, here’s what I want you guys to start saying:
“I believe what you’re requesting is the unedited version of the images, the term raw image refers to the file type that occurs in the camera & requires software to view them. Before booking with me, it was a mutual understanding that you had viewed my work and editing style, I like most photographers, do not give out unedited images as that is a misrepresentation of my brand and editing style. You hired me as a professional for photography services, which I delivered to the very best of my ability. I’m really sad to hear you’re not happy with the images, but I will not be releasing the raw files or unedited images to you per my contract”.
That’s it. That’s all you have to say.
Here’s the thing: a lot of times our clients don’t even understand what they’re asking for. The only reason that they’re asking for a raw file is because they saw someone else say it somewhere else. A lot of people are saying, “hey, I don’t like your editing style that you used, so we want the unedited version”.
Again, people don’t realize what a straight out of the camera shot is, they don’t realize that the true color isn’t there, they don’t realize how much editing that we’re doing as photographers, many people still think we’re just here to click a button and then whatever comes out of the camera, we hand right back to them.
We all know that is not the case whatsoever.
So, I want to encourage you to realize this is a red flag: if your client is asking for RA’s, or originals, or unedited images, then they’re unhappy with the editing style. All you need to do at this point is not only give them the feedback from above, but also dig into it a little bit. Maybe there’s just one slight change that they want; they want the images to be a little bit brighter, maybe the images are just a little too muddy on the skin tone and they’re not completely happy to share that with everybody.
Let’s have a conversation and get to the bottom of it. Why do they want the unedited images?
“I’d love to know is there something with the images you’re not quite resonating with?” I’d love to see if it’s something that I can fix, or maybe it’s just my editing style? Dig a little deeper & truly serve your client.
If they do tell you that they want a slight tweak, then honestly, guys go make the slight tweak. ‘m not asking you to put in four more hours of free editing, but I am asking you to make your clients happy because the cost of a client who’s unhappy that’s going to go run their mouth about your business will do more damage than you taking an extra hour to go slightly overexposure images a little bit.
Take the five minutes to get to the bottom of it, figure out what they’re wrestling with, what they’re not happy with because if you can take that information and open up a honest conversation in a professional way, and show them that you can have that (sometimes hard) adult conversation and you can fix the problem and satisfy them. They’re going to pick you again in the future because you understood where they were coming from.
If they’re asking you to completely change your editing style, that’s where the above language is going to come in to play for you.
You need to be communicating your style, you need to be showing your work over and over and over again with a consistent editing style. Not every session has to look the same, but if every other session, one looks like a light, bright and airy, and then the next one looks like it’s dark and moody; that’s not consistent editing and you need to work on that. That is your misrepresentation of your own brand to your clients. That is going to cause issues now and into the future.
Before we talk about how to deal with clients that won’t respect your boundaries, we need to talk about having boundaries to begin with. There is a podcast episode available where I have covered boundaries.
You guys need to have boundaries in place. Business hours that you are going to communicate with your clients and hours that you are going to shut down your business and that is not going to be your focus or your priority. You also need to have policies for what does your communication look like? How often can your clients expect to hear back from you, especially when it comes to emails or messages?
I recommend that you even have boundaries for how you communicate on social media platforms. Do you want your clients to only use one method of communication with you? Or, do you want to communicate across all of the platforms and all of the different methods, that’s really up to you, but you need to have a policy in place for this because you’re not really going to know if clients are respecting your boundaries if you don’t have any in place.
For most of us, we’ve already laid the boundaries, we’ve already communicated the boundaries, our clients are now crossing the boundaries. So, what does it look like when a client is crossing a boundary? Clients who are expecting immediate responses every now and again, you’re going to get people who think that they are entitled to and instant response. That’s not how the world works.
If you’re having this type of a client, the one expecting an immediate response, it likely started all the way back at the inquiry. So, if you’re noticing that you are quickly responding to them, you’re never letting them wait or that they’re sending you multiple messages in a row, that should be a red flag, they’re probably going to be someone who is expecting you to respond quickly. Make sure that you’re very open with your clients on what your policies are for your response times.
I’m hoping every single one of you are setting a boundary where you’re not replying on the weekends, or at least one or two days out of the weekday if you’re using your weekends, during your weekdays because I know everybody has a different schedule.
For those of you that are running your photography business, while working a part time or a full-time job, you’re going to have boundaries, you’re going to have certain business hours, where you’re going to be working on your business and communicating with photography clients. And there are going to be times where you’re completely dedicated to your other job, you need to be very clear about what those boundaries are.
The other thing that I see happen a lot is that some clients are bothering you & asking you when their images are going to be ready from the night you get home from their session to the very next day, two days later, three days later, and so on and so forth.
Did you clearly communicate what the expectation was for when they’re going to receive their gallery?
On a recent podcast episode, I talked about not relying on your contract to be your primary method of communication, you need to communicate multiple times to your client, when they can receive sneak peeks if you give them and when they can receive their final deliverables and their final gallery that needs to come out of your mouth at least twice while working with the client.
The clearer you are, the less they’re going to do this to you.
Did you clearly communicate what the policies are and what the expectations are?
Please understand that the clients that don’t tag your or rave about you are probably very few and far between, most of your clients are going to tell you thank you, they are going to give you some type of a gallery response, and for those of you that show the images in person, you’re going to see their initial reaction.
There are some clients who you work with, that are very quiet, they don’t talk a lot and they don’t really communicate well. You send off the gallery, and you’re hoping to hear something back and they never say anything.
Then you’re left wondering, “oh crap, do they hate their images”.
Take this situation on a case by case basis, too. Give the client 24 hours to even take a look at the gallery or to receive their prints and products or whatever it is that you are sending them and, then follow up with them.
All you have to say is this: “hey, I just wanted to make sure that you were able to view your gallery or that you received X, Y and Z, I would love to hear some feedback from you”. 99% of the time, you’re going to hear something back after you follow up with them.
Not everybody is overly expressive. Not all of your clients are going to send you this novel of how much they love their images and how they’re crying and went through an entire box of kleenex and how they’ve already started ordering prints and products, that is a dream scenario!
I love when that happens, but that is not reality with all of my clients. I have clients who are quiet, who literally only say thank you, we love them and that’s it.
The other thing is, our clients don’t owe us anything, they really don’t even owe us a thank you. They don’t owe us a tag, they don’t even owe us a testimonial, a review or a referral. All of that is icing on the cake.
What they did do is: they hired us for a professional service, we were the service provider and we both ended up completing our ends of the deal. When we deliver what they paid for, that’s really the end of the “transaction”.
Now, I teach you guys how to continue the relationship, how to make this more than just an exchange and a transaction, I teach you how to really give people a client experience to write about and to remember. So, the goal is to get clients who are over the moon excited, to go tell everyone about us, tag us on social media and send us a thank you! That’s awesome. That’s the goal.
It’s not always going to happen. Take your entitlement out of it.
And, then just be grateful when these things do happen. A good way to encourage the actions you want your clients to take is to use a rewards program that actually works, one that goes above and beyond just handing out free sessions or session credits.
I go in depth into a rewards program inside of the blueprint program, I teach you how to retain more of your clients, how to get clients who will rave about your client experience and who will tell their friends + their family and come back and use you again themselves. I teach you how to build a rewards program that actually works and increases your revenue, increases your profit and really helps your bottom line.
All of this is inside of the from broke to booked blueprint program.
Tune into the Book More Clients Photography Podcast.
Join the #1 Community for photographers, Book More Photography Clients: Branding, Marketing + Client Experience.