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Scheduling- Your Chance to Provide Great Service

August 31st, 2008

A couple of weeks ago a reader was lamenting the difficulties he was having with agents canceling shoots or rescheduling at the last minute and asked me if he should enforce 24 hour cancellation policy.

Scheduling shoots with real estate agents has got to be one of the most challenging and irritating parts of real estate photography. To appreciate the root of the problem you need to understand the home seller and their situation:

  1. They need to get their home “parade ready” before they have a photographer over.
  2. They typically have a huge amount of work to do to get the home ready.
  3. They are frequently under time pressure to get it ready because of market conditions or some other time sensitive event.
  4. They typically don’t have a clue how long it’s going to take.

The real estate agent is in the middle of this trying to help the homeowner get their home ready. Some homeowners are harder than others for the agent to help through this process.

How gracefully and effectively you are able to handle the scheduling and re-scheduling circus will either distinguish you as someone that gives great customer service or make you look like a cranky geek. Of course, the more shoots you do the more difficult this process becomes. Here are some things to help you make scheduling a positive experience:

  1. Do everything in your power to re-scheduling shoots for your client.
  2. Be totally accessible. Use a cell phone and be willing to re-schedule.
  3. Don’t try to use e-mail for scheduling unless your client initiates e-mail as a mode of communication. Realtors are primary phone oriented people and the most comfortable with that form of communication. The phone is more timely for re-scheduling.
  4. Consider a smart phone so you can have your schedule with you at all times and can access your e-mail all the time.
  5. Consider verifying appointments with agent the day of the shoot, particularly if it’s been a week or more since the shoot was scheduled.

Scheduling misunderstandings can be a serious problem for both you and your client. Work to avoid them.

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12 Responses to “Scheduling- Your Chance to Provide Great Service”

  • Great item. As an agent also, I can emphasize that the agent is at the mercy, in most cases anyway, of the seller. To require 24 hour notice (and to charge the agent for cancelled shoots when it is less than a 24 hour notice), will result in one thing: the agent using someone else to do the photography next time.

    IMO, it would help the photographer if the photographer would follow-up not only with the agent, but also with the seller (if the agent wants to be the only contact, they won’t give the photog the seller contact info anyway). It can be just a simple inoccuous contact: “I am Jack Black, the photographer who will be photographing your home on Thursday. Just wanted to check in to see if you have any questions about the shoot or things you need to be before hand.”

  • I’ve seen this from both sides. I helped some friends get their home setup for sale. they thought it would take one week, it took six. Then I photographed it and now it’s on the market.

  • You left out on item on your list: If possible hire an assistant to handle the scheduling and phone calls.

    If you are on a shoot, you should not be answering the phone. So the agent will need to leave a message. You will then need to call them back. This leads to the whole phone tag thing.

    With an assistant, the phone calls are handled by a live person and the scheduling done with a single call. Not only do the agent like this better, but it allows for scheduling within a 24 hour window. (i.e. scheduling shoots for later that day or the next day)

  • The problem with not having a late-cancellation fee -> say that I have 3 shoots scheduled and an agent waits to the last minute to cancel, then I have NO opportunity to fill that time slot with another shoot. I’d be out that money and need to book myself even deeper in the future.

    What if an agent had 4 listings and was honest with themselves and knew that’s all they could handle right now — then a homeowner approaches them with a great property they’d like you to list? “I’d love to, but I wouldn’t be able to give you the attention that your property needs.” Whoops — then one of your listings drops off the market and now you missed the new property too. That’d be frustrating, eh?

    Maybe that’s too dramatic. … 🙂

    …but if an agent confirms a time to shoot a property, they should be confident that the property will be ready, and be sure they check in with the homeowners between scheduling the appt and the actual date of the appt. Agents — don’t be afraid to break a sweat doing a little work to help the homeowners!

  • I’ve been fortunate enough to not have any problem charging cancellation fees. I explain them up front with new clients, and I’ve never had anyone not understand. The airlines do it, why shouldn’t we? Mtt made the case very clearly above.

    I’ve done it a couple of different ways: 50% if within 24 hours, 100% if within 4 hours,

    and

    Just a straight 100% for under 24 hours. It’s only come up a very few times, and in most of those, my client actually pre-empted me by saying “I know you have to charge me for this, but let’s re-schedule. The place isn’t ready.”

    If you’re up front and clear about what your policies are, and when they apply, there shouldn’t be a problem. Agents that are that disorganized and out of control of their own process are no good to you in the long run.

  • Scott:

    I do the same thing, have never had a problem.

    Michael

  • Most agents are considerate of your time and understand that they have “reserved” a time slot that you could potentially have filled with another client. I handle it by stating it as a policy but usually waive it in the first instance or depending upon the circumstances. It doesn’t take long to figure out if an agent is poor at time management or really is inconsiderate of your time.

    I find that there has to be a balance between being “totally accessible” and working during stated business hours. As a licensed agent, I am aware that when you list a home the clock starts ticking with all the things that need to be done to get it on the market. However, just as there is rarely a Real Estate Emergency, the same is true of Real Estate Photography. Timing is critical but it should be scheduled and planned as part of the process and not an afterthought. An agent who has a process is less likely to make scheduling errors.

  • I think rescheduling is part of our business, I always have a very apologetic agent on the phone and I always let them know its not a problem and that I am happy to change the booking, after all I still get the job and the job after that and the job after that. After all the key to sucess in RE Photography is the relationships you build with your agents and understanding you are not only working with houses but the people who live in them.

  • Rescheduling is one thing, but for someone to “not know” until the last minute that the painting/staging/landscaping/cleaning isn’t done implies that they aren’t paying even minimal attention to their own listing. That’s simple laziness, and I’m unwilling to lose the revenue because of their poor work habits.

    Of course emergencies and accidents happen, but a responsible client will suck it up and deal with it, rather than trying to put the responsibility (and the pain) off on their hapless photographer.

  • As an agent, I think I would know if a listing is ready for shoot or not within 24-48 hours. And I would appreciate if my photographer let me know his/her cancellation/reschedule policy when I schedule a shoot. I don’t necessary need him/her to call me a day or two before the shoot to remind me because I usually write it down on my calendar and put it in my phone, but it would be safer to call though.

    As far as charge for cancellation, I think people should understand because many industry charge that too such as haircut, facial, hotel, airline, etc. because time is money. If an agent doesn’t appreciate your time, you might not want to have them as clients.

  • The photos are the most important part of our listing marketing plans. Because we do our own photos, we ask the home owner to be there. If they are not ready, we move furniture, clean or do whatever we need to do with the homeowners to get the right shoots.

  • I have to agree with Scott and others that having a Cancellation Fee is definitely in order. And as Sharon pointed out, you can always waive it. That way, you at least have an option on a case-by-case basis.

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