Monday, 6 February 2012

A Cautionary Tale...

I've had an interesting experience in the last couple of weeks. It leads to a couple of good pieces of advice as well...

Just before Christmas I was approached by someone who had recently got married and booked their photos with someone else. They were very unhappy with the photos they had received and wanted my opinion of them to help them with the arguments they were having. They gave me the edited photos, unedited originals and a selection of photos gathered from their guests. Their complaint was with the edited photos. Their opinion of them was that they were over exposed and made everyone's faces look very pale and 'dead' (their word...).  They were also unhappy with the photos the photographer had chosen to edit.

My personal opinion is actually that the photos are very good! They have been edited very well and are consistent throughout the collection. Poses and crops are creative and of a good standard. They have, however, been edited in a very specific style. Colour saturation is quite low and contrast is quite high. This gives very dark black tones and very bright light tones. It can give the impression of very bright faces and skin tones. This style is currently quite fashionable and modern, but is not to everyone’s personal taste.

But here lies the difficulty. She is a professional, but was also a friend of a friend. As such no Ts & Cs were agreed to and no booking form was signed. That means it was never recorded what was actually agreed. So it boils down to the photographer's word against the couple's. That's piece of advice number 1. Always make sure the paperwork is in place. That goes for the photographer as well as the client. As a photographer I have no comeback at all if the case goes to court and my professional indemnity insurance may be invalidated. As a customer you also really have little comeback. It just becomes a war of words...

The couple were also unhappy with the photos that were chosen to be edited.  Around 1000 photos were taken and around 200 edited. This is actually quite normal. I operate in a similar way. I'll probably select the best 300 though, but that's just me. The couple were surprised with this though as, again, it hadn't been discussed in advance that this would happen! So piece of advice number 2 - keep talking! Again, that goes for both parties. I'll spend as much time as necessary on email, by phone or in person to find out exactly what my couples want and explain to them why it's not possible if it's not. I manage their expectations about how many photos they'll see, how they'll be edited, my involvement and in-your-face-ness on the day, and the timings. Everyone knows what's going to happen so there are no nasty surprises.

The real complaint (and to me the real issue here) is that the photographer is refusing to fix it. In her opinion the photos are good and she doesn't need to do anything. The couple got what they paid for. Without paperwork this is hard to prove, but even with paperwork it shows terrible customer service! Apparently the photographer was almost hostile when the bride complained and made her feel like it was her fault she didn't like the photos! She may well have delivered exactly what was agreed but there is a reputation at stake here. I realise there are limits and there will always be difficult customers, but if it had been me, I would have bent over backwards to give them what they wanted. I would have re-edited the photos having discussed it and done it quickly! There's probably around 10-15 hours work involved in that, but in the end I have another happy customer. And a happy customer is one that will recommend me to their friends.

I know from the couple that this photographer has lost at least 1 wedding because of this and will not be recommended by them in future. I also know that one of their friends is coming to talk to me about their wedding because of the customer service I've given to someone who isn't even a customer! So piece of advice number 3 - make sure your customer service is up to scratch. People are actually more likely to recommend someone who has successfully fixed a problem than someone who has just done a good job in the first place! Reputation counts for a lot.

I hope you've learned something from this. I've banged on for a while so I'll stop now!

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