Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Make It Easy for Clients = Saving Time & Money

I'm not one to normally rant, but yesterday I had a string of experiences that really frustrated me. What frustrated me the most was how time and money were being wasted because companies didn't make it easy enough for their clients to get what they needed, when they needed it. I guess part of this frustration has been spurred on by listening to The Long Tail, which talks about serving more niche customers in more immediate ways. Here are some of my recent frustrations, with proposed solutions. Hopefully one of these can directly benefit some of you out there, or at least encourage you to evaluate ways in which you can make it easier for your customers to get what they want, when they want it.

1. Be accessible
Someone buzzed my studio because it was the first one listed in the building directory. They wanted information about renting space in the building. I gave her directions to the landlord's location, but she probably didn't make it there. The landlord should have had their contact information clearly posted in the lobby of the building so that anyone would be able to get in touch with them immediately about renting space. They may have lost a potential client because they didn't make their contact information readily available, and they frustrated me- a current resident, by turning me into their personal secretary. They could even go one step further and post the current lease rates for their space so that only the interested parties would contact them directly- saving them time and money on potential inquiries that weren't eligible.

2. Give all the information up front
I received a notice in the mail about paying the balance on an account. The notice didn't say how much was owed, only gave a phone number and address. I called the phone number and it was busy. I called the phone number later and it was busy. I called the phone number the next day and it was busy. I shouldn't have even needed to call. If they had put the information about what I owed in the original notice, I could have simply written a check and mailed it off. Instead, I ended up in a series of frustrating phone calls with no response. I'm guessing that all of those busy signals were from other people trying to get the same information I needed. If they put the amount in the original notice, they could have saved their staff time spent on the phone, and maybe they would have had an open phone line to deal with more serious questions.

3. Be easy to navigate
In order to make a payment, I needed to go to a particular building so that I could talk to someone in person and find out what I owed. I get to the building and there's no signage to point me in the right direction. I'm trying to give them MONEY, and they make it difficult by not making it obvious where people need to go to talk to someone. I stop at the first door I see and bother someone who's in a completely unrelated department in order to find out where I need to go. I wonder how many times a day THAT happens! If you aren't going to have a receptionist in your building, at least have really good signs so that people get where they need to go without feeling embarrassed or like they're an inconvenience to someone else. Better yet, if you're in a building with a lot of other studios and there's no directory, but maybe there's an intercom- meet your clients at the door and escort them where they need to go.

4. Eliminate chances for confusion
When you're giving someone a count, always count down.. 3-2-1. If you count up 1-2-3... the people you're counting for won't know what number they need to be ready for (unless you tell them ahead of time) and you may have to start over. No one gets confused when you count backwards.

5. Pictures sell better than words
Pictures are quick and easy, words are only meant to provide additional information. I can't tell you how many product websites have completely lost my business because they didn't have a picture of what they were trying to sell. How in the world am I supposed to know if your product is one that appeals to me if I can't even see it!? If you don't have a picture of a product easily available to your customers, don't expect to sell that product. Help your customers make decisions quickly and easily by giving them as many visual references as possible. We don't all speak the same language, but we can better understand something if we can see it.

6. Speed up decision making with suggested packages/items
It never fails- I take forever to make a decision about what I want to eat when there are too many items on the menu. The more choices, the more time I spend pouring over the various aspects of each dish and how they may or may not appeal to my palette. Inevitably I ask the waiter what they recommend and hope to make a decision from that. It's nice to have options, but it's also nice to have a small selection of suggested items - like the daily specials to help narrow the selection and give me an idea of what's recommended by the chef/food expert. If you find that your clients aren't able to make decisions quickly about hiring you, or that they need more time to think about what they want, than you probably haven't made it easy enough for them to make a decision quickly.

What can you change to make things easier and more immediate for your clients?

Revised: Kim Kelley offered a GREAT suggestion in the comments below and I thought it was so important that I wanted to make sure it was included in the post!
"What's even more frustrating is when you offer feedback to the business, but then have to wonder if they even care what you think. I guess I would add, encourage feedback from your customers and actually listen when they offer it."

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Efficient Email Management

Managing your email efficiently is one of the small ways that you can improve your customer service as well as your time management in your business. I created a demonstration that provides some valuable tips about how to process your email by using some of the Getting Things Done principals. Click play on the video below to watch...

Here are some additional tips to help you manage your email and save yourself time...

1. Create draft emails, or signature templates for common responses.
For example, here are some emails that I have standard responses for: availability, pricing info, referrals for other photographers, pictures are ready, how to use online shopping cart, payment received, getting to know you questions, vendor information, etc. About 50% of the email I receive every day can be handled in less than 10 seconds by simply using one of my signature responses, yet it would take me about 3-5 minutes for each email if I did not have these signature responses in place.

2. Set a schedule for answering emails & turn your email software off at other times.
I'm incredibly guilty of answering emails as soon as they come in so that they don't pile up in my inbox, but I know that over the course of a day, each one of those emails is an interruption to other, more important work that requires concentration and focus. By simply setting a schedule in which I answer emails from, say 8-10 am and from 5-7 pm, while turning my email off during the other times (or by setting it to only retrieve email manually- when I want to check it), I am able to effectively eliminate one more set of distractions during times when I need to stay focused.

3. Delete, Archive, & Quick Respond.
If you know it's something that doesn't require your attention, simply delete it and get it out of your inbox so you can stop looking at it over and over again. If it's something that you're kind of interested in, but can't deal with at the moment and doesn't require action from you, archive it to look at later when you have more time. If it's something that requires a quick response or a signature template, just respond to it right then and there rather than filing it and creating a task for it later. JUST DO IT - get it done with, and get it out of the way.

4. Get to ZERO
Make it a goal each day to get your inbox down to zero emails (even if it means filing some). If you dedicate yourself to this concept, you will spend less time on things that aren't important, and work more efficiently on the things that are. At first it may seem like a lofty goal, but the more you practice it, the easier it becomes!

One of the best talks about Inbox Zero (it's an hour long, but worth the listen)...

For more great tips on managing your email inbox, visit...

If you have great tips to share about managing your email, please leave your suggestion in the comments below!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lovecat: F-Stop Beyond

Ron Dawson recently started a new blog called F-Stop Beyond where he interviews the people behind the lens in photography and videography. His questions lead to inspiring stories about his interviewee's journey through life, art, and business. His first few guests have included:

Jasmine Star & Dane Sanders

Jules Bianchi

and Sara France

It's so inspiring when people take time out of their busy lives to give back to others while asking nothing in return, so I applaud Ron and his guests for their contribution to our community of artists and business owners. I can't wait to see who he features in the future and I hope you'll check it out for yourself!! CLICK HERE to visit F-Stop Beyond

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Lovecat: Pay It Forward

Normally I wouldn't dedicate an entire post to just one other blog - but when Bonnie Creevy told me about the Pay It Forward Photo Blog, I felt as though it was definitely worth it's very own post since we share the same philosophy about helping others: to give freely, while asking nothing in return. ;-) The Pay It Forward Photo Blog is full of FREE photoshop actions, design templates, downloads, inspiration contests, interviews, etc. An amazing resource of freebies!!

Here are some of the recent downloads that were featured on the blog...
Swirly Border from Lindsey...

Christmas Card from Renee...

Chocolate Action from Heather....

What are you waiting for?! Visit the Pay It Forward Photo Blog now!! And if you happen to find it useful, hopefully you'll be able to give a little something back to those who helped you!!