Running Into a Stone Wall: How to Deal With Difficult Customers and Get Paid

“You’re an awful photographer. These pictures are terrible… Look, you didn’t even get the pose I wanted. And her hair looks terrible. How could you have missed that?” That is the sound of a customer who is either repellent or right… And you know what everyone says about customers? A customer is always right! But is that really true? Is your customer always right and how do you deal with difficult customers?

“Let them release their venom and pay attention to what they say.” – Larry Titak, Larry Titak Photography

This time we are descending into a hellish circle of difficult customers, whom we have to satisfy to reap the benefits of our craft and vision. I discussed this topic with Larry Titak, a successful local photographer from Schererville, Indiana and the owner of Larry Titak Photography. Though he cannot remember the last time he had a bad customer, Larry suggested that we let them [customers] release their venom and pay attention to what they say. They are writing the check, Larry says. So how do we deal with difficult customers and get paid? Let’s dive together into the fire of displeasure and aberrancy.

The Art of Dealing With Difficult Customers

With difficult customers you may find yourself acting crazy even if you’re typically the most composed person. The thing to avoid is retaliation. Let them release their venom, as Larry suggests. If you become defensive, you’ll have a hard time listening to them. With you being defensive, their self-esteem grows; it gives them power to put you down, according to Harriet Lerner, a psychologist from Topeka, Kansas. With that said you and I can follow the 6 steps below:

6 Ways to Keep Your Customer Happy

  1. Let them release their venom.
  2. Focus on them by paying attention to what they say.
  3. Stick to minimal details necessary to complete the session. Don’t bring up unnecessary subject matters.
  4. Don’t make excuses or try to justify yourself in exchange for empathy. They won’t care about anything you have to say and you’ll just end up getting hurt.
  5. Explain your vision to them.
  6. Consider adding a complementary print or two to their purchase.
Ah, just to be clear, step 5 does not mean we should retaliate and contradict our short fumed customer. It means that we should revisit the contract with them, provided that we’ve fulfilled it. (I’ll get the the importance of having a contract in a minute). Let’s keep reading.

Recognizing Difficult Customers

Novices in the field of photography are an easy target to a fuming customer. A difficult customer, with a deceiving smile, will smell the sweat and devour a rookie before a single print comes off the printer! But even some professionals can give in, for various reasons. Difficult customers tend to be whiners with short term memory, yet they do not forget their conniving ways of bullying. Let’s pay attention to the symptoms of a difficult customer to avoid the wrath of their judgement, and sometimes abuse.

5 Symptoms of  Difficult Customers

A big time Chicago photographer, whose name I cannot disclose, unless I want to flee to Hong Kong, made a list of his/her top 5 symptoms of difficult customers.
  1. Being excessive. This includes phone calls, text messages and emails within a 24 hour period.
  2. Unreturned correspondences when customers don’t want to set up a pick up date for their products, or a time when they need to pay.
  3. Control freaks. Who’s the expert on color? Hopefully the photographer and not the customer.
  4. Impatience. Not understanding that quality takes time.
  5. Insisting on services which are not offered.
My friend photographer claims that the 5 symptoms listed above can be detected before and during the process of dealing with a customer. According to my friend it is alright to decline working with such a potential customer if the symptoms are detected during an early stage. Sometimes one cannot afford to satisfy a difficult customer. Would you agree?

Make Them Sign To Get Paid

You probably know about the importance and power of a signed contract, something I had to learn the hard way. Simply put, photography contracts set the boundaries of what is and isn’t. A good contract makes your services clear and answers all questions by including the process and services to which both parties, the photographer and a customer, agree.

Don’t Have a Contract Form?

Light doesn’t have to cast its light according to the brightness of a flame; neither should a photographer cater to every whim of a customer. If you don’t know what you’re offering, they’ll want everything, and if you are offering too much, they’ll want something else, thinking you’re cheap because you’re flexible.
To prevent such mishaps, photographers should use a written contract to ensure that no work is complete without being compensated. Just like your services, payment methods need to be stated clearly. For specific contracts you can consult a lawyer, otherwise there are plenty of websites from which you can download one. I got mine from PPA, Professional Photographers of America. 

Whatcha Think? Time For You to Spill The Beans

We can only learn from difficult customers and then try to avoid them later on, if necessary.  Have you ever had a difficult customer? How do you deal with them and what have you learned? Let me know by leaving a comment below, and let’s not use their names. It’s better to be safe.  See you next week. Cheers.
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