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Don't Confuse Putting Up With Unreasonable Behavior With Customer Service

Published: 29/08/2013
By: larry

customerserviceI recently got the following reader question:

How do photographer's protect themselves from properties not being ready to be photographed on scheduled dates/times?

I'm working on a project where I'm about to schedule my FOURTH trip for my client. Next time I work with this client, I'll include an "as-is" clause in the quote as well as a mention of subsequent travel fees.

I'm losing money on this job. I'm not making a fuss because this is an amazing client. It's my fault for not protecting myself ahead of time with an "as-is" production clause and the inclusion of travel fees. (note this client is an architect not a real estate agent).

Here is my response:

If you've made 4 trips you should be recovering your time and travel costs. There is no need to be abused by clients. If they do this to you they are not good clients. If you let them get by with this behavior they will continue to do it! My opinion is that common sense business practices require payment for your travel expenses even if it isn't stated explicitly stated in your TOS.

These kind of things occur because of the clients involved are sloppy and not paying attention. Sure put warnings in your TOS but frankly these kind of clients will usually not pay attention to your TOS.

What you  think? Is making 4 trips because of client screw ups good customer service or enabling unreasonable behavior?

19 comments on “Don't Confuse Putting Up With Unreasonable Behavior With Customer Service”

  1. Enabling. The client realizes there hasn't been any penalty for all the times the photographer has shown up. If it is clearly stated that there will be travel expenses regardless if they shoot the place or not, they'll make sure the place is ready to go the next time they show up.

  2. The question is, who cancelled the shoot each time? Did you cancel to give the client an opportunity to clean up, or did they cancel? If it was them, just add a cancellation clause to your TOS like "Cancellations made within 24 hours of the shoot are subject to a $** fee".

    If, however, it was YOU who cancelled, that's your choice and so you can only get mad at yourself if you don't like going back repeatedly.

  3. It just happened to me for couple of times that I did not collect the payment prior to shoot and the property was not ready or simply the agent disappeared!
    Follow to that I changed my payment terms! If the client is a returning one I will ask for %50 deposit to confirm their session and collect the balance during the shoot (by cash or credit card). My new clients should pay %100 up front in order to get the confirmation.
    Another mistake that I made once, and because of that my client (a.k.a a client from hell!) was refusing to pay $900 invoice since I confirmed all the pricing and details on the phone and I was supposed to collect the money after I delivered the photos because I knew the client! It was 6 hours job at the site and you can imagine how brutal was the post processing! If you ever quote on the phone write them an email (or send them an invoice) and ask them to confirm your pricing. Simply you can not call any collection agency and refer to a phone call.
    Moreover, sometimes you really need to fire a client. I fried the above mentioned client (although I shoot more than 10 properties for her). The relief I felt when I let her know I will not work for her anymore was overwhelming 🙂
    I really like to hear other fellows stories.

  4. I have had this happen to me. I charge a reshoot fee for every trip back to a residence. Only reason i wouldnt charge a reshoot fee is if it is a mistake i made and want to reshoot a room etc. Does not happen often but it has happened.

  5. Why do you insist the property be ready? First, you should have a little handout for the seller or realtor as to what is required for the property to look good/staged and they should know how to prep the house. They know the date and time of the shoot so there is no need to keep going back because the house is not ready. You are hired to take photographs, not baby sit. You take the photographs house ready or not. If they complain refer them to the handout. If they want you to reshoot it then fine, they can pay you again to do it the second time. It is NOT your responsibility to make sure the house is ready for photography. You are responsible for producing good photographs not staged houses. If the house is a mess, then it is a mess, and maybe that is what the owner wants and is not able to make it better. Some people are just slobs. Shoot the house and include your additional travel costs. Give them your bill, and if they don't pay it's small claims court time. DON'T SCREW AROUND WITH DEADBEATS!

  6. This happens a lot to me even though I try and educate the agent and the homeowner on preparing the property. I will spend some time staging and moving stuff around but if it requires that I do a return trip I do charge the agent a trip charge. If its one of my good agents they understand my time and travel is valuable and will pay a fair fee for a return trip.

  7. The one time this happened to me, I charged a fee to cover for my time and gas. I also lost business in that time slot that I could have been making money on another house shoot. The agent made sure from that point forward that his clients were ready, guess he didn't like paying double for a house shoot, but it wasn't my fault so I am sure he expected it. I don't have luck for when that happens to me! I paid for an electrician to show up when the problem was resolved right before he came, so I can't afford to do the same in my business.

  8. Same thing goes for staging furniture, I am there to shoot the location, not lug sofa's, tables and chairs around

  9. This discussion is similar to how I manage my (non-PFRE) consulting business. A newcomer to PFRE, my perspective is very similar to RFranko's. In a recent RE agents' office training presentation, I provided them the postcard all my clients receive: Pre-Photo Shoot Checklist.

    On the question of preparedness, I was fairly direct responding to one agent and noted my response turned a few heads: "I am your photographer. I may move a few things, like furniture for a better perspective. But I do -not- do cleaning or staging nor do I wait for it to be done."

    I'm not unreasonable. If a homeowner's in a last minute scramble and almost done prepping, sure, I'll wait a short bit. However, as with my other business, I've found it is a matter of 'training' your clients. If people know I -start- my meetings at scheduled time, not 5 minutes after, folks actually start to show up on time (instead of 5 minutes....late).

  10. I'll charge my minimum shoot fee plus any travel fee if I actually make the trip. This part may not be a popular policy, but if I haven't left for the shoot, I don't charge anything. Inevitably, this probably is one of five shoots for the day (I almost never have a slow week anymore) and I can use the time to do other work. It's probably the seller's fault anyway (they never do what the agents ask in a timely manner) and I don't have the heart to penalize the agent. Besides, 99% of the time, it's just a postponement and I won't ultimately lose out on the payment.

  11. I agree with RFranko, we have a information PDF we email out that our client can send to the seller about how to prepare the property.

    Also a good terms of service or cancelation fee is a must, the challenge is educating clients on what to expect and what is expected of them.

  12. I 'had' a client who asked me to return twice for new front shots as trees were trimmed, then new lawns put in. Ok good enough reasons and a good client so I only charged my minimum plus mileage. On the third reshoot when nothing had changed except his client 'didn't like the shot'. He also said he had a problem paying for reshoots, did I mentioned the hair on the back of my neck stood straight out at this point! I did not charge for the third reshoot and also emailed the agent letting him know I would not be doing any more photography for him.

  13. First I want to answer Larry's question: Travelling four times without results is no customer service because you do not offer a solution to the client. Service always implies some kind of solution or fulfillment. That's why the client has to be charged for these travelling expenditures. Since he/she is a businessman/woman, too, they will understand this. If not, they will be not reliable partners for this or for future projects.

    I always do this kind of business the old style - on paper (fax and mail is ok) and I'm very straight on this. It's a three step procedure. First: The client gets a quote with a fixed rate for the project or single prices for single tasks if the extent may vary. Second: He orders by signature (this can be done on a copy of the quote). Third after the show he gets an invoice. Any additional service that occurs during the project, will be added the same way. There is just a handful of really trusted clients from my +20 years in business that I do handshake business with (like horse traders).

    For RE photography in Germany I have prepared a handout for the client, which contains a short price list, a contract on the usage of the photos, a checklist with +50 tips to prepare a property for photography and a schedule of a typical shooting. Any client can download it from my website and will get it together with the first quote, too. Nevertheless my service includes to do minor corrections on the set which do not take more than 5 minutes per shot and can be executed by myself or one assistant. You know, there is always something on the set that does not fit the photographer's needs for a quality photo. This is calculated in my rates and communicated openly.

  14. While it is rare, the irony is, such a situation happened to me yesterday. I like the idea of the .pdf emailed to clients. I have it on my website, but that is not as convenient as what Realtors can give their client. Several times I have been to a person's home and the Realtor, or their assistant, are running with minor straightening up. At other times, the owner is in the middle of staging/de-cluttering so they are moving boxes in and out of the room for the photos. I can tolerate that as we coordinate together.

    The good thing about yesterday, I have some 'before' pictures to develop a brochure. I was in the home solo and shot 5 quick .jpgs documenting the condition as I emailed the Realtor why not done that she used having a heart to heart with what she described as an uncooperative client. I didn't charge any extra for this one - unlike the one time prior - mainly because it was only a half mile from where I live. My initial thought when driving up and the SUV in the driveway was to get everything else and return when they are home. Then there was the inside. Dishes air drying in the sink, cluttered kitchen counter, various articles of clothing draped over furniture, ironing board and cluttered dresser tops in master bedroom, kids beds un-made, etc. While I might do minor re-arranging for photo composition, I'm not a maid service.

  15. I recently told a real estate agent friend of mine that I was going to change my business model. I would shoot the pictures for free and charge by the hour for furniture moving. While moving furniture in one home, I suggested that they put some stuff in storage to show the house better and they replied that I should have seen the house before "they go it ready". What homeowners consider presentable and what potential buyers consider desirable are VERY different.

  16. I guess I'm pretty fortunate, I don't have this happen hardly ever. When it does it's normally with a client who understands my time. I have a "Getting Home Ready" PDF I sent to all my agents, I put emphasis on the fact that this list not only saves me time in the shoot but it also creates a great "Show House" for them. (I'm just afraid now that I'm talking about it I'm gonna have a problem with something like this.) My agents know I'm there to "shoot the house" not "Clean it up" - I will do "some picking up" but if it becomes taking up "too much" of my time I will contact that agent and tell them this property is "not ready" for shooting and letting them decide to shoot or not, a 2nd shoot will be a 2nd charge. But, everything depends on the agent, I pay a lot of attention to who my agent is; an agent who pays attention to my needs, and its happened to them as much as to me (I can normally tell), will get more slack from me than agent who does not. I've worked hard at getting my clients here in Knoxville, I believe in smart customer service, sometimes it does put me out a bit but it often pays off in the long run, especially when I get a referral from an agent who I had to go a little out of my way for.

    My business is still growing, I'm a one man show, I still have a day or two where I'm not shooting a house, sometimes its welcomed, a chance to get caught up, to do your taxes, work around the house or on your web site, I'd still rather be out shooting a house though.

  17. Really awesome feedback from the community here, I've learned so much (as a lurker!), but it's threads like these that make me want to take part in the discussion more often. Thanks to Larry and everyone else!!

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