Let’s face it: learning how to listen to others’ opinions of you and of your photography business is one of the trickiest life lessons. It’s hard to stand there without getting defensive or feeling like you need to interject, especially when there are more negatives than positives being shared! However, becoming better at whatever you do (managing clients, editing photos, blogging, marketing, or any of your business-owner tasks) is dependent on fine-tuning, and one of the best ways to know what to fine-tune is to be open to feedback.
This week, ShootProof’s very own User Experience Architect Dominic Distretti shares his expertise in the world of user interviews and trend analysis to help YOU accept feedback like a pro.
Feedback? What Feedback?
If you’ve never asked your clients to review your services before, it may be a bit overwhelming to come up with a starting point. One way to begin is with the basics: ask clients to give you an overarching opinion about their entire experience, from initial contact, to the actual session or event, to the quality and delivery of prints and files. As time goes on, you can begin to narrow that down: Did you receive a handful of less-than-stellar reviews about your email correspondence? Maybe it’s time to focus more on that particular aspect with future clients!
Do it Face-to-Face
Your first instinct might be to send your clients a link to a survey. Surveys can add a lot of value to your understanding of a client’s perception of your business. However, they may only cover half of the research you should be doing. To get a full picture of your clients’ thoughts, you not only want to know what they think, but why.
It’s certainly possible to gather attitudinal feedback (emotional responses like, “I was so happy when you arrived at the wedding early because I knew you cared about us”) in writing. However, with a form or an online survey, you’re forced to provide your clients with a limited number of predefined options, which may or may not align with their true feelings. The value of the sentiment in the earlier example couldn’t have been heard if all the client saw in a survey was “Photographer arrived on Time: Strongly agree, Slightly agree, Do not agree.”
A better approach, then, is to conduct face-to-face interviews to have a stronger opportunity for understanding the “why” behind a client’s feelings. When you understand why a client holds a certain opinion, you can create actionable items later to improve them.
Interview With Ease
Don’t be concerned; an interview doesn’t have to be a thirty-minute, high-pressure, in-person question-and-answer period! Instead, think of an interview as anything that isn’t in written form: a quick phone call, a Skype conference, or even a brief chat at the local coffeehouse. Grab a notepad, or, even better, a voice recorder, and plan to spend just a few moments letting the client give you his or her honest opinion.
To start, make clients feel comfortable by telling them you don’t expect them to “speak photography.” Explain that you’d simply like to hear about their experience in their own words, however they feel comfortable framing it. Start simply and with a “blue sky” question that’s big and broad in scope (“What did you think about your experiences with my company?” or “Tell me what you liked and didn’t like about working with me”) and then let the client take the reigns. It can be incredibly helpful to “play dumb” when interviewing; this lets the interviewee be more in control of the conversation, which will lead more clearly to the topics and concerns that he or she really cares about. This means not steering the conversation in a specific way, and not asking too many questions — just let the client share!
While it can be a difficult skill to learn, practice leaving space in a conversation. Don’t try to fill silence with defenses (“But I did tell you about the prices in our second email”) or justifications (“My kids were sick that day so I just wasn’t on my A-game!”). When you perfect your listening skills, clients feel more comfortable giving in-depth answers, and honest ones at that. Remember learning about “active listening” in school? Make eye contact, succinctly restate what the speaker is saying, and let the individual know that you are truly hearing (without judgment) what he or she has to say.
Perhaps the hardest part is accepting the feedback without being offended. Listening to what your clients have to say might be difficult (in fact, it most likely will!) but it isn’t personal: accepting it is a necessary step to being the best business owner you can be. Work on separating yourself from the emotion; when your client says she wishes you were more friendly during the initial meeting, remember your body language is just one of the many tools you use to present yourself, and know that it, too, can be improved upon.
Do Something With the Data
The messy part begins after the interview is over. As quickly as you can after the completion of an interview, while information is still fresh in your head, begin pulling observations out of your notes, responses, or recorded conversations. Read through and recount the client’s comments, and record what the underlying sentiment is. Was the client happy? Annoyed? Excited? Upset?
Two clients are rarely going to describe their thoughts with the same terms or vocabulary. So, cluster similar sentiments together (try an Excel spreadsheet) and give them a headline that describes what your next steps are. This will help you boil down the feedback gathered into actionable insights.
For example, if your client mentioned feeling annoyed that it took you three days to respond to emails, put this under the “Respond Quicker to Emails” column. It works the same way for positives; if your client says she loved how you played with the kids in between shots, create a column for “Interact with Children During Session” and give yourself a star. This visual can help you quickly see your strongest traits or skills, as well as give you a reference for what your next steps should be in improving your clients’ experiences.
Finally, wrap it all up. Choose two or three weak areas and come up with ways you can improve them immediately. Need to work on correspondence? Look into a service that “cleans” your Inbox and manages your email. Need to work on what you have in your contracts and agreements? Purchase lawyer-created templates or have your local counsel review the documents you’re asking clients to sign to ensure they cover what you thought they did. You’ve identified that your product quality can be improved? Hop into your favorite photography Facebook groups and ask around for a recommendation for a new lab.
Being a photographer isn’t just about taking pictures: it’s marketing, it’s designing, it’s time management, and people skills, and more. There’s always something that can be worked on, and listening to feedback from those that matter most, your clients, can jumpstart the process of growing your business in more ways than one. Remember: While gathering feedback can certainly be beneficial for you, it’s also beneficial for your clients. People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care!
Have a funny (or heart-wrenching) story about feedback you’ve been given? Share in the comments below!
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