This week I had my first unsatisfied customer email. What it boiled down to was that she wasn't happy with the portraits of her and her husband. I responded calmly and graciously to both her and to myself, and to my relief, I wasn't as wrecked about it as I thought I'd be. I knew I did the best job that I could given the circumstances, but what's been plaguing me is that I feel like I did something wrong. I don't know how to reconcile wanting to be a good person with disappointing a bride, leaving her with images that fall flat.
I'm really wrestling with this. How do you deal with the feeling of guilt from lackluster wedding photos? I just can't help but feel guilty that she has paid the price for my inexperience.
Wrestling with Guilt
Dear Wrestling with Guilt,
What we do as a wedding photographers is extremely difficult and an extraordinarily hard profession. We work under extreme pressure and there are events throughout the day that are completely out of our control, yet are expected to perfectly produce stunning imagery. These expectations are borderline crazy, but it's part of what we do.
I'm happy you responded calmly and graciously (bonus points for you!), but since you admitted feeling guilty for her paying for your inexperience, I'd heavily suggest offering to reshoot portraits of her and her husband. Set clear parameters (where the photos will take place, how long you'll shoot, and how many images she can expect, etc.) and give the complimentary photo shoot with grace and humility.
In short, you need to make this right (even if you feel it wasn't your fault). I read an article by writer Susan Gladin that states an unhappy customer will become a loyal customer if you fix her complaint and do it quickly. Eighty percent of those customers will come back to you (or refer a friend) if you've treated them fairly and–get this!–that number reaches 90% if you respond immediately. Every day we have the chance to make our clients have a great experience (even if it didn't start as such) by simply committing to their satisfaction.
I challenge you to let go of the guilt and use that energy to make your client understand you want to ensure her happiness. It'll make you both feel better.
Stop Wrestling, Start Working,