The Importance of Customer Service: A Guest Post by Marianne Taylor

In my opinion, every business lives or dies on the strength of its customer service. To most it means complaining when there are queues at the store, when a check out girl is grumpy, when we wait too long for our order in the restaurant – i.e. the term is mostly pulled out when customer service is lacking. When it works well, it’s like an invisible comfortable blanket that makes you feel good when you think about visiting your favourite bar or when you are ordering an item from an online store that’s always reliable. When Kat asked me to write about customer service, I first started writing a very matter of fact, hypothetical kind of article. But I soon realised that, actually, speaking from personal experience would make my point come across a lot better than any bullet points ever can. So, I hope you’re sitting comfortably, as I’m about to tell you the story of my tattoos…

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve always loved (beautifully drawn) tattoo art. For various reasons, I never got around to getting any tattoos when younger, but it was something that was always at the back of my mind.

Last year I finally decided the time was right to make the leap and have my first tattoo. Not really having ever been a part of any sort of ‘tattoo scene’, it was quite difficult to know where to start with when choosing the right person for the job. My design was fairly small, just a few words that mean a lot to me, so I didn’t really know whether the style of the artist mattered, and I also kind of thought that anyone taking money for tattooing should be easily able to replicate it. I ended up looking online for recommendations of tattoo salons in my area, and in the end went with one that was conveniently situated and had some beautiful work in their online gallery. I phoned ahead and was told that I didn’t need an appointment, just to turn up with my design. So that’s what I did.

When I got to the shop the first thing that struck me was how intimidated the place made me feel with it’s darkness and heavily tattooed customers and staff, who looked way cooler than I did. But I had been kind of expecting this, so figured it was part of the whole experience. I showed my design and was told it would be quite fast to do, after which the receptionist gave the job to a man who didn’t look very impressed with having been given such a small job.

The whole process of actually getting the tattoo was quite uncomfortable. My tattooist clearly thought his talents were being wasted, and got more and more frustrated when I spent time trying to decide on the perfect position for my tiny design. Before that day I hadn’t really had much idea of how important actual positioning is, and how much the movement of your bones and muscles affect the final result, so I felt like I was having to make some big decisions on the spot for something that was going to be permanently on me. Throughout it all I could feel my tattooist getting more and more frustrated, almost to the point of aggression. At some point I was told that if I couldn’t make my mind up right then I’d still have to pay as they had already spent this time on me, which didn’t really help my growing anxiety one bit. Once I finally decided on the placement, the transfer (which is the guide for the actual tattoo) was quite worn out, but when I asked about whether we should do a fresh one I was told quite curtly it wasn’t an option and that the transfer was a ‘perfect copy’ of my design…

After all this, I took a deep breath, and decided to ‘trust the professional’ as I figured he knew what he was doing better than me. To cut a long story short, the tattoo that I got didn’t really resemble the design I came in with very much, and when leaving the studio I felt slightly humiliated, and also angry at myself for not standing my ground. I have come to love the tattoo now, and in a funny way the imperfection of it is a good reminder to myself on how I want to treat my clients.

Now, let’s roll forward 6 months. Against all odds, I decided I wanted to get another tattoo done, for several reasons, but partly because I wanted something on me that was truly beautifully designed. I now knew how I DIDN’T want the experience to turn out, so I spent a lot longer on research. I got specific recommendations from people, looked at several artists’ work on several websites, and in the end sent quite a lengthy email to three different studios on my shortlist, with an explanation of how traumatic my first experience had been and how I didn’t want a repeat of that, along with my ideas for the design.

Out of those three, I got a response from just one tattoo studio, Good Times Tattoo in Shoreditch, London. I suspect that the reason I never heard back from the other two places was because they felt that, as a potential customer, based on my email I would be more hassle than it would be worth for such a small tattoo. But Harrient at Good Times couldn’t have felt more differently. She answered all my questions, addressed all my worries and phoned me to discuss my desired design in more detail. What made me short list Good Times in the first place was the work of Nick Horn, which I’d fallen in love with, so he was my obvious choice when we got around to arranging an appointment. He was in quite a high demand so there was going to be a wait, and I was offered the option of another tattooist, but I decided the wait would be worth it, as I now knew it mattered who you chose. In the end I got in fairly quickly due to Harriet working her magic.

When I arrived for my appointment I was quite nervous and feeling a teeny bit angry with myself for putting myself through it again. But after meeting Harriet and Nick I was put completely at ease. Nick couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating, drawing the perfect design for me right on the spot, letting me take as long as I needed with finding the positioning, mixing the colours together with me, and just being thoroughly lovely the whole way through. In the end I felt perfectly happy and excited to leave him do his work, as I trusted him completely. I am beyond happy with the final result. All in all, the whole experience was a complete opposite to my previous endeavor.

The final result, tattoo by Nick Horn

So, what is there to learn from this story? You might think someone getting a tattoo doesn’t really correlate with running a wedding photography business for example, but it does, in so many ways. Much like the tattoo scene, the ‘wedding scene’ can be a very insular thing. We work in it and let’s be honest can take a lot of our knowledge for granted, and sometimes we can forget that our clients have most likely never planned a wedding before, or never hired a professional photographer before. They will not have this knowledge hammered into them like we do, much like a tattoo novice can feel very much like a fish out of water when facing the industry for the first time. Another thing similar about tattoos and weddings is that they, unlike a lot of other services and products, are permanent in a sense that there are no ‘do overs’. This can create a lot more stress and anxiety than most other business transactions might, and in both cases there needs to be absolute trust in order to get to a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Lesson 1: Always keep in mind that this will probably be the couple’s first experience organising a wedding and/or dealing with a professional photographer.

Don’t assume they know everything that you know, instead guide them through the process with providing enough information at every step of the way.

For my first tattoo I was made to feel stupid for not knowing ‘the rules’ of getting a tattoo, and inconsequential for wanting to have such a small piece, which might not be so exciting and profitable to the artist. Whereas the second time around I was made to feel as valuable as the next client having a big back piece done, and I was given more than enough information at every step of the way – without anyone’s ego getting involved.

When working with wedding clients, we can sometimes feel frustrated when they don’t ‘get’ something that seems obvious to us; like that we might need natural light in rooms they are getting ready in for example. We can’t expect our clients to know what is required for a good photograph when we are the expert, not them.

Lesson 2: Never let a client set their own expectations.

This is the fastest way to disappointment. Always communicate clearly what the client can expect to receive from you, and explain all the limitations that might affect the outcome.

Had I not at the back of my head thought ‘surely every tattoo artist who takes my money can copy my small design’, I could have avoided a lot of stress. When Nick saw my first tattoo he said right away he would have told me that the font was too small and wouldn’t probably come out exactly like in the example. Had I had my expectations set correctly in the first place, I would have been a lot more realistic about what to expect, and even about my design.

We might get annoyed when our clients get back to us upset when we didn’t get a shot of Uncle John among the 350 wedding guests.  But we have only ourselves to blame if we didn’t specify we can’t guarantee getting a shot of every single guest in the first place. Work towards pre-educating your clients on your website about what you do, and what you don’t do, so they’ll have a clear idea about the way you work before they even contact you. After they’ve booked you, never stop giving them more information – and collecting more information in order to assess their expectations – throughout the whole client relationship.

Lesson 3: Care about your clients. Be as passionate about them as you are about your art.

Ask yourself ‘how would I feel if I was the customer?’ and then work towards making your client experience such that makes them feel taken care of and cherished, just like you would want to be made to feel yourself. Do go above and beyond in making your clients happy – happy clients are by far your biggest sales force.

Among giving me a beautiful work of art, Nick also offered to fix up my previous tattoo with no extra charge. Were I ever to get any more tattoos, Nick can be safe in the knowledge that he has a customer for life, and also that I will be recommending him to anyone who asks me for advice on where to go to get tattooed.

Do surprise your clients with going above and beyond, maybe with the way you help them find other service providers, or by sending them a surprise gift that can be both educational and beautiful. Little things can have a huge affect on the way your clients feel about you and your services. And most of all, treat each and every one of them as valuable and unique.

Lesson 4: Don’t let your ego get in the way of treating everyone with the same level of respect and kindness.

Nick didn’t let his ego get in the way when he let me go as far as I felt necessary with all the decisions about the design, colours and placement of my tattoo. Once I felt comfortable with these and felt I trusted him, it was easy to say ‘this is where I let go and trust you to be the amazing artist I know you are’.

In the same way, in order to get as much freedom as possible to create beautiful images, I need to first make my couples 100% comfortable in the knowledge that they have all the information they need to let go and trust me to follow my vision.

Lesson 5: Give good customer service also to those who don’t end up being your clients.

I contacted three different tattoo shops. Two of them obviously didn’t think my business was worth their time. Even if they were fully booked, or felt that what I wanted was too small and unambitious for their artists, they could have at least come back to me to say they didn’t have available appointments, and then refer me to someone else more suitable.

I get a lot of enquiries I can’t accommodate. Getting back to all of them takes a lot of my time. But I always do it, and I always try to find another photographer to recommend, a photographer who I think would be a good fit for the couple in question. This is absolutely extra work I wouldn’t ‘need’ to be doing, but I believe that every opportunity you have to be nice to people, and offer to go above and beyond, the better they will feel about you and your business – and when people feel good about something, they tend to talk about it.

Lesson 6: Acknowledge the power of word of mouth.

Realise that in this day and age, marketing is not about pushing, it’s about conversation. Your past and present clients are your biggest sales force, and when they are happy with your services they will shout about it from the mountaintops (or, you know, on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, coffee shops etc).

Good Times Tattoo went way beyond any of my expectations with providing me with not only all the knowledge that I was lacking, but also care and attention that I would not have associated with getting a tattoo before. In short, their customer service was exemplary. And little did they know that this client, who was getting just a tiny tattoo and possibly ‘wasting’ their time with all my questions, would one day be writing about them on the biggest wedding blog in the UK…

Marianne Taylor is a wedding photographer, originally from Finland but living in London, and is a pioneer of the Beloved Movement in the UK. She will be releasing one-to-one sessions, and a workshop about building a fulfilling business around your passion, towards the end of 2012. More details to come at mnoo.com

All Photography Credit: Marianne Taylor Photography

29 comments

  1. A fantatastic post, Marianne, and something I believe in passionately. Kat is a great example of how to run a business (as I told her earlier this week) because her customer service is just great – she never forgets who her ‘customers’ are, and treats them all equally and fairly. Marianne, I know how passionate you are about your business, and it’s clear that this passion pushes you to always offer the very best to your clients. Everyone can learn something from this.

    And will you come with me to Good Times and hold my hand when I get my first tattoo?

  2. Post author

    aww thanks Liz! I’ll come with ya! i already have my idea for my next one too… maybe we’ll do it together 😛

  3. Thanks, Liz! I have a feeling I will be spending quite a lot of time at Good Times holding people’s hands in the future. 😀 And I would be absolutely thrilled to do so. x

  4. Thanks and wonderfully written! Using your tattoo experience as an analogy puts it in perspective for those of providing the service….excellent article!

  5. Karen

    Not tattoo related but I had a dreadful experience at a ’boutique’ bridal shop recently.

    After keeping me waiting for nearly 20minutes, the owner ignored me completely during my appointment, while she went about her business (in the same room as the appointment) – making calls, filing, doing paperwork & she left me in the hands of a girl who didn’t speak at all & showed no interest at all in me, my choices or my wedding. She didn’t even get the names of the designers right, and didn’t care!

    When you’re stripped to your underwear, shivering in the middle of a room this can all feel very intimidating. Now I’m a confident girl and had my friends with me but even then, all I wanted to do was put my clothes back on and run away!

    Poor customer service does nothing to sell a £2000 wedding dress & even if she had my dream dress, there wasnt a cat in hell’s chance I would give even a penny to that vile woman! I quickly took my business elsewhere!

    Great article, and very well said. Great customer service costs nothing and gets you far! x

  6. Great post Marianne and neatly written. I pride myself on giving great customer service and you’re so right. It doesn’t just have to be to those who book you.

  7. Fantastic article. It totally is about conversation rather than pushing to sell – you’ve hit the nail on the head. I hate feeling pressured or scammed to buy something, so I go to great lengths to make sure none of my clients feel that way – its a great lesson for any business, but especially for a business which is about peoples hopes & dreams for an amazing day.

    And thanks for the tattoo recommendation; I have a feeling that fella is going to be busy this year 🙂

  8. A great article Marianne. And I couldn’t agree more. Customer service is so important. I can definitely relate to your experience. I don’t have any tattoos but I have certainly been made to feel unwelcome before in shops and even the cinema of all places. I think it boils down to some people needing a big attitude change as I get the feeling some people are like that all the time unfortuately, not just wen at work.

  9. Really well written article Marianne and some excellent points, and I like your allegory (!?) and in a way good to have been in the situation to see it from another perspective (just a shame it had to be with something permanent!). We do forget just how much knowledge we have and it’s so easy to assume that everyone knows what we are talking about and how things work. Our clients trust in us to guide them from our experience and impart our wisdom (ha!) which is so vital for us to remember 🙂

  10. Marie-Claire

    This post is wonderful. I actually appreciate an email saying “sorry, we are fully booked” than no email at all. I contacted Jonas Peterson (photographer based in Australia) and I didn’t even get a reply. I wasn’t asking for a three page email, just a simple “not possible” would have sufficed. I don’t understand how professionals get too big for their boots.

    In any case, keep up the good work. Clients do remember when they are treated with respect and curtesy.

  11. Thanks, Charley. I should point out (and should have probably made clearer in the article) that in the end I am pretty happy with my first tattoo, it wasn’t the final product (even though not quite as I have envisioned it, I would have been fine with it had I been told this is what to expect) that made me feel disappointed, but the customer service experience. It just goes to show that you can have the best product in the world, but if the customer doesn’t feel treated well, and hasn’t had their expectations managed, it taints the whole process.

  12. Marie-Claire, there are time when things get overlooked, when we run out of time or when emails go into spam folders – no-one is perfect. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t hear back from Jonas, but knowing him I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intentional as he is a lovely person and a brilliant business mind. But yes, it goes to show how easy it is to leave someone feeling rejected. x

  13. Post author

    the comments on this post are great! and thanks again to the fab marianne for writing this for us!

  14. Fantastic Article, Marianne! And you’ve totally just sold me on Good Times, as I’m planning to get another tattoo soon, and had no idea where to go!

  15. Kelly

    Really well put Marianne, Customer Service is vital and especially in an industry where you are expected to pay massive amounts of money on things you can’t really see or try first! Its terribly nerve racking even for an experienced shopper like myself :). I have had some amazing service recently and list Vivien of Holloway, right up there with possibly the best service I have ever had; so much so that my boss and I (working in Customer Services ourselves) call being nice to a ‘challenging’ customer “being vivien-like” 🙂 Snaps to Vivien of Hollway xxx

  16. Marie-Claire,

    I’m truly sorry we missed your email. I have looked it up and it’s even flagged with a big red flag in my inbox meaning it deserved my immediate attention. Somehow we must have made a boo-boo that week. I’m truly sorry about that and hope that your wedding turned out great anyway.

    Customer service is extremely important and there are no excuses when it comes to treating people with the respect they deserve.

    Again, I’m so sorry for our screw-up.

  17. A sound and important article Marianne, thank you. When you’re first setting up a wedding photography business, it can be so all-consuming trying to get everything right – your your website, your marketing and advertising, your documentation, your gear, your skills…it’s so easy to lose sight of the most important thing…your clients! Without them, there would be no business. I’m coming up to 2 years in August since launching, and for me 2012 is all about developing a killer client experience! I read in a book recently that Americans grow up with a huge sense of self-importance and so expect the best when it comes to customer service but here in the UK we’re not like that so we accept poor service. I think every small business and service provider in the UK should read this article and seriously change things up!! Love the tattoo and wedding photography analogy too by the way! 🙂

  18. Such a well writen article – Marianne is not only a talented photographer and artist, she is also a super lovely person and, now as I discovered, a great writer to boot! Tsk tsk some people just have it all 😉

    I will bookmark this page and come back to it everytime I need reminding of how important customer service is!

  19. Great article, I truly believe that this is one of the most important factor in not only running but keeping a successful business. Without this most businesses will fall to the ground.

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