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Quick tips to bring you more referrals in your photography business

Robert Nowell, Professional photographer, photography professor and VP at Sprout Studio About Robert

Nothing beats a good referral.

I just got off the phone this morning with a bride-to-be who was calling to see if I was available for her wedding date in November. She mentioned at the beginning of the call that she was calling because I had photographed the wedding of one her friends. I asked who that was and when she told me I immediately thought about how important customer experience is if we expect to get referrals.

[quoteright]We need to do more than meet expectations during the customer experience. If we expect to receive referrals, we need to remember all the little extras.[/quoteright]

The thing is that we have to get all of it right. The wedding day, the engagement session, the album design, the delivery times. We need to meet or exceed all expectations, be dependable, be on time, return emails or phone calls promptly.  In addition to all that we need to remember the little extras, the thank you cards, the unexpected gifts, etc.

Fortunately, the caller’s friends were happy to refer me because I had followed systems I put in place to ensure that I cover all the points of contact properly with each couple.

Do you have such a system in place at your studio?

A customer service workflow is really no different from the kind of workflow that you use when you do a shoot session. Most photographers adopt a systematic workflow they follow from the the last frame captured through download and backup to culling, editing and processing to eventual delivery of final image products and the customer service workflow should be no different.

The customer experience should follow it’s own systematic workflow if we really expect to make referrals commonplace.

Let’s start at first contact. We must answer emails or calls in a timely fashion which in today’s fast paced times means a response within 24 hrs. That would likely meet expectations, but what if our policy was to reply to all contact within 12 hours or less. That might set us apart at the start. I recommend taking notes during any and all discussions so you can refer back to details in future conversations. This shows the client you are truly listening to them when you remember small details and can refer to them weeks or months later.

When a couple books you for a wedding why not send a thank you note, a gift card, or even flowers to say thank you for trusting me with your wedding day.

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Obviously we want them to have an enjoyable photo session, but did we also give them the benefit of advice and consultation prior to the session or wedding day so they felt prepared and confident at the shoot?

[quoteright]There are so many ways we can make a memorable impact on our clients throughout the customer experience workflow.[/quoteright]

Make sure to give product information well ahead of the ordering meeting so that clients don’t feel pressured by too many decisions on short notice. Give them time to think about purchase decisions so they know that you have their best interest at heart.

After the sales have been made and the images are ordered, send another quick note thanking them for their order and reminding them of the anticipated completion times.

When they come to pick up finished work instead of just handing over the wrapped up products, take the time to personally present the finished pieces and make sure they are 100 percent happy with the completed work.

After a week goes by follow up with a phone call to see how they are enjoying the hanging photographs or if they’ve had a chance to show off their wedding album to family. Thank them again for their business and let them know you look forward to doing business with them again.

This is a perfect time to mention that you’d appreciate if they referred any of their friends to you since it was so enjoyable working with them.

Personally, I love to send my clients a gallery of images for their mobile devices using Sticky Albums as a surprise. They absolutely love getting an unexpected bonus like that, and they typically share the album with all their friends and family. This very often results in new business from people directly exposed to my images in this way.

If you work hard at creating customer evangelists for your business, the referral work they generate will keep you busy for years to come.

For my repeat clients I will usually throw in some free smaller prints after they have placed their normal order. They truly appreciate the fact that I show my appreciation for their customer loyalty in a tangible way. Saying thank you is nice, giving something of value for free says you mean it!

Trying to remember all these steps can be tough if you don’t follow a repeatable system, so I recommend creating an actual customer experience (CE) workflow for both weddings and portraits.

Have your CE workflow correspond to the regular studio workflow so you automatically send out the appropriate response along the way. For example: 

  • Inquiry: send information.
  • Booked: send note of thanks with more information and a confirmation of the appointment.
  • After session: send product information, collection examples, finishing ideas, etc., and confirm sales appointment.
  • After order taken: send thanks for order and confirm expectation of completion.
  • Deliver products: personally present products and ensure satisfaction, follow-up within a week.

One way to make this easier is to have things in stock such as thank you cards and envelopes, gift cards, and packaging, ribbons and small boxes for a polished presentation.

Have an account with a florist with your credit card already on file so you can order deliveries anytime.

Consider a variety of gift items so you can send different things to the same client at different times. For example, if a long time customer of mine sent me six great referrals over a couple of years, I wouldn’t want to keep sending them the same gift each time. To avoid that it’s best to keep track in the client file of what you sent and why for each occasion.

Don't forget about your other sources of referrals. What works for customers works equally well for vendors and other photographers. If you have successfully built trust with either, then they will happily refer you for work. In the case of photographers, when they are already booked they can freely refer you, knowing that you will give great photos and an equally great experience. Make sure to thank them for those referrals in a tangible way so they really get a sense of how grateful you are for their trust.

Trying to give a great customer experience without a system is very difficult to maintain, but once you’ve automated the cycle and have all the tools at your fingertips it becomes second nature.

The combination of great service and exceptional products coupled with an outstanding client experience is a surefire recipe for continuous referrals and a sustainable business model.

#Customer Experience #Referrals #Studio Management


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