WPPI Preview: Killer Customer Service

by Melissa Ghionis

February 07, 2013

The ability to connect with a client is not only a convenient skill, it can also dramatically affect the bottom line of your business—from an initial booking of a client to the assurance of a healthy sales average after a session or wedding. In my upcoming WPPI seminar, “Killer Customer Service to Maximize Your Profits,” I’ll provide you with a tried-and-true formula that will help you book almost every client that walks through the door, show you how to dramatically increase your sales after a session or wedding, and explain how to successfully handle an unhappy client.  

Body Language

When it comes to making the sale, so much depends on body language. We all naturally have a tendency to hunch over or cross our arms—a protective posture that is assumed instinctively when meeting a stranger for the first time, or when placed in a stressful situation. Crossing your arms creates an instant barrier between you and the person with whom you’re speaking, and can send the wrong message during a business meeting. (Sometimes people who cross their arms are looked on as being deceptive or untrustworthy.) Next time you’re meeting a potential client, allow your arms and hands to fall comfortably next to you. If you’re restless, place your hands on the table in front of you or on your lap.

Another natural reaction when people get nervous is to ball up their hands into fists or start picking or pulling at their fingers. That inevitably makes the person you’re talking to feel nervous too—the last thing you want when trying to make a good impression. Make sure to keep your hands open and relaxed. (We’ll actually do some real life demonstrations during my seminar.)

Better Client Relations

Successful selling is not the art of making you look good; it’s the art of making your clients feel great.

Part of that depends on how successfully you are able to resolve a client complaint. It’s the absolute worst feeling to get a phone call or e-mail from a client who’s really upset. And more often than not, the first thing we all do when that happens is to get defensive and start coming up with explanations of why the client is crazy and unreasonable (and sometimes they might be!), and how we’re right and they’re wrong. But what you say to the client versus the internal conversation in your head is extremely critical to your business.

The first thing is to fix it as quickly as possible; you cannot let a negative situation drag out. Pick up the phone or meet in person. So many of us are tempted to fire off an e-mail in response and be done, but unless it is absolutely impossible for some reason, you should always pick up the phone and speak to your client or set up a meeting.

Even when the e-mail a client sends you is snarky and biting, a face-to-face meeting is often enough to diffuse a lot of that anger right off the bat. You’re still going to need to resolve the situation, but it’s very difficult—if not impossible—to do it successfully over e-mail. (During the session we’ll go through real-life scenarios and role-playing.)

How to Say No

Successfully handling a complaint doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat. It doesn’t mean saying yes to every whim and demand your client makes; learn how to say no. Much of this has to do with confidence; if you’re nervous, timid or afraid about a client’s potential reaction, they will sense that and push back harder. By learning how to project confidence and providing your clients with alternative solutions, it becomes much easier to compromise and resolve a complaint.

Remember: the better prepared you are for your next meeting or complaint, the easier it will be for you to create a lifelong client.  

Melissa Ghionis will present her WPPI 2013 Platform Class, “Killer Customer Service to Maximize your Profits,” on Wednesday, March 13, from 3  to 4:30 p.m.

5 Surefire Tips To Client Connection

1. Avoid distractions. Try meeting clients at home or in your studio rather than a hotel lobby, busy restaurant or your local Starbucks!

2. Be comfortable. Sit in a chair and be relaxed during the meeting. While you’re reading someone’s body language, they’re also reading yours.

3. Build an emotional bond. Oftentimes you’ll be meeting with an excited bride but a very bored groom. Make sure to engage both of them and instead of selling yourself, find out about them first, who they are as individuals and as a couple. Remember, most couples book wedding photographers on personality first and work second.

4. Wording means everything when building a connection. Instead of asking, “Do you want a drink?” start off with “What drink would you like, wine, water, selzer…?” Make them comfortable and involved from the start. Instead of “How did you meet?” say, “Tell me about the moment you first looked at your fiancé and knew you’d get married.”

5. Learn to read people. Controlling reactions and turning a couple’s questions back on them (in a polite and engaging way) helps create a dialogue and build a rapport. Ask them why they wanted to meet with you, show genuine interest in their ideas and let them know that you can’t wait to capture moments of their special day.


After running a successful, award-winning studio in Boston, MA, for over a decade, Melissa Ghionis has developed a reputation for her skills in creating and cultivating relationships, and for her excellent customer service.  Her experience in the U.S. market managing a boutique studio is now also balanced with the experience of working in a high-end studio in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Jerry.  Melissa’s most recent passion is a non-profit charitable organization named The Soul Society (www.thesoulsociety.org) which she and Jerry cofounded for the specific purpose of caring for poor, homeless and orphaned children in third world countries, one soul at a time.

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