In a very crowded and competitive field such as real estate photography, one of the dangers that exists is that the marketplace starts seeing our service as a commodity. As is the case in any field, when a customer doesn’t see a difference between competitors, they tend to make their selection on price. This is where the expression, “the race to the bottom” comes from. I wrote an article about this recently and one of the key points made within it, is that having a heightened awareness/sensitivity to your customers is a key factor in distinguishing yourself. I was so pleased to see such rich discussion spring from that post that I thought I’d use this opportunity to offer a few additional thoughts.
Proper Customer Relationship Management Means One Size Does NOT Fit All
You may have a client who's very outgoing and if they're with you at a shoot, they will chat you up as you're working. While this would be annoying for some shooters, I think there’s value in it. In fact, asking that agent a few open-ended questions (i.e., questions that begin with "what" or "how") not only keeps the conversation going, it often gets them to open up and share more. This, in turn, might give you key insights as to that customer’s personality and preferences, not to mention potential key insights into their business. Conversely, you might have clients who prefer more formality, both in-person and in email/text communications. For instance, part of their formality is a preference for brevity in email communications. If you know this, then there’s not much value in sending them a long, meandering email describing how great your weekend was before getting to the point of your note!
Bottom line: Handle different customers differently. I’m not suggesting that we change who we are at our core; I’m simply saying that the onus is on us to adapt, appropriately, to our customers.
Speak Their Language, Not Yours
One of the worst communication errors we can make is to speak to our clients about ourselves in a way that doesn’t involve them and their goals. For example, I'd bet that a vast majority of real estate agents wouldn't be interested at all, in how your brand new $5,000 camera contributes to your standing against your competitors. If, however, you can communicate the value of that camera in relation to that agent’s marketing/branding goals, then that’s more likely to get their attention. I spoke on this principle in an article I wrote early last year, on the importance of distinguishing features and benefits.
Find Out Where You Stand
The best way to find out how our clients experience us (and our work) is simply to ask! This can happen at different points in the relationship. For instance, with a new client, asking the question, “How did you find me?” is so important, as it gives you key feedback related to your marketing efforts. As the relationship progresses and you’ve done a few shoots for that new customer, asking them, “How am I doing?” or “What would you like to see more/less of, from me in support of your marketing?” will often give you input into how to improve your photography and photography business.
I can't overstate how important it is to be checking in with our clients in this way. Not only does it give you real-time information on how you might be able to improve your work, it can also influence how you can distinguish yourself in the field. Here is a real example: A few years ago at a shoot with the top cabinet maker in my marketplace, my customer (who always likes to stay with me at a shoot to help out!) was commenting on how many phone calls she'd received after using one of my photos in an ad she'd placed in a regional magazine. She then began to compliment my work, overall. I quickly offered my gratitude for saying such nice things. However, rather than leaving it at that, I asked her if there was anything in particular that stood out to her in my images. She said the thing her firm valued most was my consistency. When I asked her what she meant by this, she shared her belief that having a similar level of quality across their gallery, with a familiar look-and-feel, gave the firm's website galleries a consistency that she believed generated confidence in potential new customers. That is, prospective customers would see galleries filled with so many images that looked consistently pleasing, it would give them more confidence in choosing my client for their cabinetry project.
Had I not taken the time to ask her those two questions, I would have never received that great bit of insight. When I talked to other customers about it, they also agreed about the importance of consistency. The result? The notion of consistency has become a cornerstone of my marketing. It's part of my "elevator" speech; it's even part of my tagline in my About Me section!
Show Your Best Self
Always remember that you are your brand. Your comportment at a shoot, your timeliness in responding to a customer's questions/concerns; the speed with which you deliver your photos; even your tone of voice/manner on the phone; are all characteristics that contribute to the customer's experience of you and your business. As such, you must make a conscious decision to examine and understand what your best characteristics are and then, make an effort to exhibit them at every interaction with the client.
In any case, customer relationship management is a huge topic--one that we could go on and on about. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this; and if you're up for it, please share a success story about how your customer relationship management has contributed to the growth of your business. Thanks!
Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.