The Tale of the Unhappy Customer


It’s not necessarily the best idea in the world to tell your prospective customers about that time that you screwed up. But there’s a moral to the story so stay with me! Like most photographers I am a one man band.  This suits me to a tee and I love it, but it does means there’s no one else to take the heat when something goes wrong. It’s all on you.  I’ve messed up before in other jobs. Who doesn’t make the occasional mistake? I used to work in a call centre so I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of unhappy customers. But when you’re working for someone else, for a company or an organisation, it’s not quite the same. It’s so much more personal when it’s your own business. I knew, in the back of my mind, that there would come a time when I would have an unhappy customer. I dreaded that day coming of course. And then it came. And it was horrible. And I cried A LOT and felt very guilty. But I eventually learnt such a lot from it and it shaped how I run my business and that’s why I decided to share it with you.

A year after starting my business I was sat around the bbq on my family holiday, enjoying a glass of wine and much deserved break following a busy few weeks. The phone rang, it was one of my recent brides to tell me that she’d received her photographs from her wedding and she wasn’t happy. Not only was she not happy, she was in fact “devastated”. Cue stunned silence from me. Devasted? What!!! I think most people know when they’ve messed up. I certainly do. So in those situations I would have been expecting  such a phone call. This wasn’t such a situation. I had been so happy with their images. It had been a great day, the couple were relaxed and happy, they had a long list of group shots that they wanted and we got through them all. We’d also had time to get some really great documentary shots of their drinks reception, speeches and evening reception. I’d delivered well over the average number of images. I had no reason at all to anticipate that they would be unhappy. WRONG!

After the initial shock, I started to ask what specifically they were unhappy with and the answers really stumped me. This particular couple had no interest in those lovely documentary style images which I’d delivered with such pride – which I felt really told the story of their day. They felt very strongly that there wasn’t enough formal images of the two of them as a couple and they were also unhappy with some of my artistic decisions in pictures. When I explained to the bride that their images very much reflected my style of photography she said something that has stuck with me

I thought wedding photography was just wedding photography.”


There were other complaints too  – the photo where I cut the head off the groom (it was a close up of the buttonhole), that we’d included a photo of the groom and the bestman messing around in the morning which was unprofessional (?)  I felt defeated. I knew that there was nothing I could do to make it better. They requested a partial refund and I gave it. Because I wanted the situation to go away. And I didn’t really know how to handle it differently. And of course I felt such guilt for making them unhappy.

Then for a few months I went into denial mode. This wasn’t my fault. It was their fault for not knowing the different styles of wedding photography. How ridiculous to complain that your hand looks big in that image! How is it my fault that out of your 75 guests there was that one person who didn’t look at the camera during the whole group shot despite the fact that I was stood on a stepladder shouting for everyone’s attention. Some people are never happy. This totally WAS NOT MY FAULT.

Months later I started getting serious about marketing my business and attracting customers and the same thing comes up again and again. You have to target your IDEAL customer. Your ideal customer isn’t just anyone who is willing to pay your prices. Your ideal customer gets you. They get your style. They get your personality. The invest in you as part of their wedding day. Yes of course, it’s my customer’s responsbility to make sure that I’m the right wedding photographer for them because wedding photography is not just wedding photography. But it’s also my responsibility to make sure I am attracting my ideal customer, that I am making it clear what my style of photography is, what my customers can expect to receive, what type of things I do and don’t do.

And that’s when I realise I’d gone wrong with The Unhappy Couple. I’d  totally and completely failed to ensure that we were right for each other. It was very easy for me to blame them and dismiss their complaints as outrageous but actually I had never taken the time to ensure that they were a good fit for me and more importantly, I was a good fit for them. I was a newly established business, I was eager for bookings and they were willing to pay me actual money to photograph their wedding. I didn’t take the time to explain my style of photography, I assumed they would look at my website and understand it (they didn’t – they’d never even looked on the website), I assumed they would appreciate something a little more artistic and less traditional (they didn’t). I assumed all wrong. You know what they say about assumptions.

I know now that I should have been clearer with this couple from our very first point of contact about what they could expect from me as their photographer. When we met I should have picked up on the fact that they were asking for lots and lots of group shots and realised that they were perhaps looking for more traditional coverage. I should have managed their expectations.  I know now that they would have been happier with a different, more traditional photographer. I know that if I’d had taken the time to make sure I was the right photographer for them we could have avoided all the upset and even though I still remain satisfied with the standard of photographs they received from their day, I also still remain sad that one of my customers went away unhappy.

So now I know. And now I do. Because never again do I want to have a phone call like that. Most of my customers ‘meet’ me for the first time through my website. I’ve worked hard on making it very me. I want you to get to know a little about me and a lot about my style of photography. But more than that, when we make contact, either by email, on the phone or in person, I’ll talk about the style of photography you’re looking for and I’ll ask questions about your wedding day and you as a couple so I can get an idea of whether we’ll be a good match for each other. I’ll probably even check you’ve had a look at the website and you are looking for my style of photography. Luckily I don’t need to chase after every single booking now. If a customer comes along and I just know that I’m not the right photographer for them I will happily point recommend someone more suitable.

So that’s the end of my tale. I’ll probably never be ok with the fact that I have an unhappy customer out there. The grammar school girl in me still yearns for 100% but in a way, I’m also kind of glad it happened. It’s taught me a lot. Learn from your mistakes and all that.

x R