Customer Service: Right and Wrong
Customer service is probably the most important aspect of any company. This goes for any company, not just photography. I have heard some recent examples of really bad customer service from people I know. Even today, I experienced some really poor customer service at an event I was at. Fortunately, I also experienced an excellent example of customer service that probably saved my afternoon.
Today, my wife and I went to the semi-annual Fourth Avenue Street Fair in Tucson. We got there in the late afternoon and started walking around. Shortly after we arrived, we were looking at a lot of the different vendors and street performers. Honestly, while I enjoyed being outside and walking around, I didn’t exactly enjoy taking pictures. I generally don’t like taking pictures of other people’s work, at least in a setting like this*. Still, I tried to open up my artistic eye and managed to capture a few shots. A few vendors had signs up requesting no photography of their work, something that I tried to respect since I would probably consider doing the same thing if I were in their place. I did take exactly two pictures that I shouldn’t have, but that was only because I saw the signs after I took the shots (they were also basically identical, just slightly reframed). I didn’t delete the pictures at the time because I thought that my depth of field removed the detail from that booth, but I was wrong (and unhappy with the results anyway), so I deleted the photos.
What does this all have to do with poor customer service? Well, nothing except to show that my intentions were not nefarious. Since I was at a public event and since some vendors chose to post signs, I felt that probably meant that the vendors who didn’t post signs chose to allow photography. This may have been a bad assumption on my part (and would love to hear the opinions of others on this), but I am still learning on some of the do’s and don’ts. In one of the booths, I saw some wooden toys that I thought would make an interesting photo. However, as I was composing my shot, the vendor started arguing with me, saying that I couldn’t do that without his permission. I calmly pointed out that he didn’t have anything posted that said I couldn’t, because I took the time to look before trying to shoot. He still argued with me about it. In the brief encounter, I remained calm but I also didn’t feel like arguing with him, so I apologized and went on my way. As I walked away, I heard him saying something about it on the phone. Once my wife and I walked down a little bit further, she even called him a jerk. A little bit later, I thought about returning to the booth but just to get his name so I could make sure not to ever buy anything from him.** Lesson for vendors: If you don’t want people taking pictures of your wares, 1) post a sign requesting they not do so; 2) if you don’t post a sign, then don’t assume people know not to take a picture (because even if I as a photographer should know, most people likely won’t know); 3) if someone does try to take a picture, be polite (say something like, “please, no pictures”)
Before I continue on to my good experience at the Street Fair, I want to relate some other examples of poor customer service so that I can end on a high note (though the parties involved will remain nameless). A talented photographer I know needed some photographs printed at a local lab. The photographer only used this lab, instead of their normal lab online, because they needed something quickly. However, something tells me that they won’t be using this lab ever again, because whoever handed over the photos started insulting the photographer’s work. Lesson for vendors: This one is easy, do not insult your customers! If they ask you about it, then politely share your opinion because there may be something wrong on their end, but if they are happy with the results, then keep your mouth shut.
In another example of poor customer service, a website I read sometimes reviews various products. One day, the blogger got annoyed with a product they were seeing a lot of and decided to blog about it. The blogger wasn’t complaining about the product directly (for example, they didn’t say that it didn’t work or would fall apart on first use), but was actually speaking about what the product was used for. I don’t want to dig too deeply into the details, but imagine a someone writing about why they use a Canon T2i (DSLR) camera instead of a Nikon Coolpix S80 (point and shoot). Anyway, one of the blogger’s readers informed the company. The company offered the blogger a free sample so they could give a review. This was, in my opinion, a wise course of action (have I ever mentioned how much I hate the Canon 5D Mark II)? The blogger wasn’t interested in a sample because they felt the product went against their personal beliefs. After being turned down, the company decided to mention that on Facebook and included a link to the blogger’s site. Some of the comments on Facebook insulted the blogger and some of them brought that to the blogger’s site. Why would the company do this? Lesson for vendors: If a potential customer puts down your work, you have some options: 1) listen to their opinions and revise your product to fit their needs; 2) privately speak to them to resolve the issues; 3) ignore them. Above all, do not make them public through your own site. All that’s going to do is bring negative attention to your product by bringing bad reviews into the light. It can also bring negative attention on your company because it can look like you’re using your existing customers to attack the reviewer.
What about some good customer service? At the same street fair as the bad vendor I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I had the pleasure of shooting a vendor who I suspect saw me as potential publicity. In this case, he was definitely right. The vendor, Voigt, sold cool and unique recycled metal art. Voigt saw me taking a picture of one of his pieces and instead of asking me to not take a picture, he instead asked me to send him the photos. I have no problem with this and he will be receiving an email from me shortly after this post goes live.
Lesson for vendors: Look for sources of free publicity! As I understand it, works of art are protected by copyright law. That means that someone cannot just copy your work. Plus, in today’s world, if you are selling on the internet, then you have your photos there as well. If someone wanted to copy your work, they don’t really need to take their own pictures to do that. I’m not saying there aren’t cases where a photo may not be the best idea (such as taking a picture of a painting, because it can then be printed instead of someone buying the painting), but there are certainly cases where letting someone take a photo may just work in your favor.***
Those are just some examples of customer service. Sometimes, poor customer service can drive away customers, old and new alike. However, excellent customer service can keep bringing customers back as well as gain more customers by word of mouth. I know that I have personally paid a premium because I felt like I was getting good customer service and have recommended those companies to others for that very reason. So, keep that in mind when you are dealing with people because you never know who might be a potential customer. —————————————————————————— *- I actually wouldn’t mind trying my hand at doing product photography, but that’s different for me than essentially shooting a store front. **- I want to comment that the reason for this post is not whether it was okay or not for me take a photo of this guy’s work. The purpose is to illustrate how a negative response can drive a customer away. I am interested in learning if there was a potential legal violation on my part. Since I am interested but because this is not a part of this blog post, please email me or contact me on Twitter. If I gather enough information, I’ll have another blog post coming on that topic. ***- I understand that this is contrary to copyright law. I am in no way suggesting that it is appropriate to knowingly violate copyright law. However, in the case of at a street fair, I would suggest it is the responsibility of the artist to educate the public. This was a free, open air event where you are likely to encounter a large number of people who are unfamiliar with copyright law. Keep that in mind before arguing with them about taking photos. Also, keep in mind that if they are taking a photo, it may be because they like your stuff!