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How to Handle an Unhappy Photography Client


No matter how well you prepare for, execute and deliver on a photography session, the inevitable will eventually happen — you will come across an unhappy client. When you do, you need to know how to handle the situation with the utmost grace so that you can diffuse the situation, redeem yourself and maybe even gain back their confidence.

In this article you will find:

  • 3 Mistakes to Avoid when Handling Unhappy Photography Clients
  • Constructive Ways to Handle an Unhappy Photography Client
  • How to Prevent Unhappy Clients

Us photographers are both artists and entrepreneurs. We are passionate about our work as much as we are our reputation. Regardless of the cause, an unhappy client may cause self doubt but don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s not constructive and won’t help amend the situation.

3 Mistakes to Avoid when Handling Unhappy Clients

Whether it comes to you in a text, email or a phone call, there are 3 mistakes you must avoid when confronted with an unhappy client.

#1 Do not respond immediately. — Walk away at first. Do not respond when you first get the message. Feelings could be hurt and it can sometimes be easy to say something you might regret. If the feedback is in person, acknowledge their concerns to diffuse any emotions and calmly respond that you would like to get back to them with a solution.

#2 Do not respond emotionally. – Piggybacking off #1. If you respond immediately, you are more likely to respond emotionally when emotions are the highest. Do not do this. You are a professional and must conduct yourself with tact, even when you feel like the complaints are not justified.

#3 Do not place the blame on your client. – No matter the situation, it is in nobody’s best interest to place any blame. This can come across as juvenile and does not contribute to the solution of the problem.

How to Handle an Unhappy Photography Client

Once you have allowed some time to pass and the response to marinate, we need to talk about ways to handle the situation and respond to an unhappy client.

Listen more than you talk. Taking emotions out of the equation, you need to understand what it is that your customer is most upset about.

Determine the root cause of the problem. In analyzing the situation, you need to determine the sticking points or what it is that was most upsetting to them.

  • Was it that they didn’t know what to expect and therefore weren’t prepared?
  • Did they feel like they didn’t get the guidance they needed from you?
  • Are they unhappy with the quality of the photos?

Reflect their concerns and empathize with them. Unhappy people want to be heard and they want to feel validated. This does not mean you have to agree with them but reflecting their concerns and “hearing” them will help set the tone for the conversation. You may disagree with their issues but you can certainly empathize with their angst.

Figure out what they expect as a resolution. Once the you have identified the issue, you need to find out what would be acceptable to them as a resolution. They may want more than you are willing to compromise on, but hearing their request is important.

Compromise on a solution you feel comfortable with. Prepare yourself in advance for what you feel would be an acceptable and fair solution. If your client is asking for a refund and you are not willing to do so, would you consider offering a re-shoot or a discount from a future session? You need to be comfortable with this part of the discussion and preparing in advance is advised.  

What is a positive outcome worth to you? You need to consider the pros and cons of having an unhappy customer and weigh what that is worth to you in terms of what you are willing to do to make it right.  

How to Prevent Unhappy Clients

Preventing an unhappy client comes down to preparation and expectations. If you fail to prepare your client and manage their expectations, a bad experience can result. From lead inquiry through gallery delivery, your client should know what is coming next.

Here are some great ways to prepare your client for success.

Be thorough in the details. When communicating what you offer and what the client gets, do not be elusive in the details. You want to provide your client with the most information they need to make confident decisions.

Communicate clearly and attentively. Nobody likes to wait so respond quickly and attentively. Be sure to answer their questions. This will show your client that you care.

Prepare your clients for success with a Prep Guide. Prep Guides are one of the most critical pieces to the client experience in setting expectations and preparing them for a successful session.

A good Prep Guide should include anything that a client typically asks, including:

  • How to pick a location
  • How to coordinate outfits
  • What to expect at the session
  • What to expect after the session
  • How to prepare the family in advance

Make sure the work you are advertising is what you deliver. Your website and social media are the most visible displays of your work and what you are selling. Make sure what you are putting out there is the style and type of work you deliver.

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Dealing with an unhappy client is not fun for anyone and although it can be uncomfortable and disappointing, you have a chance for redemption in how you handle the situation. Challenge yourself to turn that unhappy client into one of your best success stories!


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Hi, I’m Danielle Blewitt! I am a photography business consultant and I help professional family photographers market and grow a profitable and sustainable business they can take pride in through a series of simple, easy-to-implement strategies. I will be your biggest cheerleader and most honest coach as we build your dream business together. More about me »

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