Customer Service and your brand

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"Flyers' confusion" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2017.  Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia.    (Left) The 8-hour line for customer help at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport during the recent Delta Airlines debacle. (R) The graveyard of lost baggage at Atlanta-Hartfield International Airport.  Every aisle between baggage carousels looked just like this one.  Baggage was stacked in random piles along the walls.

The travelogue of Galapagos animals is briefly interrupted today for thoughts about customer service that were learned and reinforced during that same trip. If you've missed any of the Galapagos photos you can follow them on the Facebook page, or over on Instagram.

What does an airline meltdown mean to my creative business?

Good question, that.  I think in every ugliness, some wisdom can be found; for every frustrating encounter, there is a lesson to be applied - especially when you look for it.  Today, I want to share how your customer service is REALLY your brand.  All the ideas here grew out of our experiences with very poor customer service.

Your brand for your art and photography business is your promise to your customer. If your brand is solid and well-practiced, a customer or client knows what to expect from you. These expectations are based on her experiences with you, your business, your website,  your employees (if you have any.)  With this idea as our foundation, let's build the components of customer service that will win and keep the loyalty of your clients.

1. Develop a "manifesto" of your beliefs about customers and how you intend to treat them.  Share this manifesto with everyone who comes into contact with your customers.  Do you work with hairdressers, makeup artists, stylists, assistants?  Make sure they all know how you expect every client to be treated at all times.

2. Plan for potential problems.  What could happen?  How can you make your customer's experience better during the problem? Write down your solutions to the problems. (Granted, some problems are unforeseen, but they become immediate teachers for you and your plans.)

3. Have written Standard Operating Procedures, Policies about what to do during a problem.  Make these written policies available to yourself, your staff and your clients before the problem exists; perhaps, at first contacts.  When the disaster happens, everyone will know what should happen to correct the problems. Customers can have a procedure to follow for redress.

4. Always be honest with your customer.  It's bad enough the customer is severely inconvenienced in ways you can't even imagine.  Lying to the customer is the quickest way to dissolve trust about you and your business.

5. Offer solutions, not scripted apologies.  Frankly, your customer doesn't care "how sorry you are" they had this experience.  They want viable solutions to the problems created.

6. If compensation is involved, give it freely to the customer. If the problem required expenses by the client, give them the recompense free and clear.  By limiting where, when, and how the compensation can be spent holds the customer hostage and only builds negative feelings.

7. Be sincere in all your interactions.  This comes down to compassion and respect. Have respect for another human being who is experiencing something unexpected.  Make appreciation of the customer the basis for all your interactions. Treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Don't deal with them as "units of sale" or "dollars", or worse yet, a "p-i-t-a."

Your brand, your business

Your brand is "you."   Your brand - how you work with clients - is how the community will know you. How you conduct your business and engage with customers has a greater impact on business success than any font, snazzy business card, logo, or website template.  Customer service is probably one of the biggest factors for your art and photography business success.

How do you want your business to be known? It's up to you.