When a client rings you to make enquiries, are they just another problem to deal with in a busy day, or do you mentally put everything else aside and give them the red carpet treatment? The way you answer the phone, how well you listen and what you say makes a huge difference to your profitability. Call it the ‘gift of the gab', but the best photography and the best marketing come to naught if the way you speak to potential clients gives them the wrong message.
Jerry Ghionis outlines some of the techniques he and XSight use for answering the telephone - and ensuring the brides pay his studio a visit. However, these techniques can be adapted to portraiture, commercial and advertising photography.
It's important to have the right attitude when you answer the phone and to be focused on the caller, not the hundreds of other things that are clamouring for your attention.
To begin, smile before you answer the phone! This is a really simple technique and people can hear the smile in your voice when you do.
Let the phone ring three times. If you answer after the fourth ring, people think you're too busy or too slow. On the other hand, if you answer it on the first ring you're seen as a little desperate for business!
Your greeting should be clear and unambiguous. We say, ‘Good morning, XSiGHT Photography and Video, this is Jerry'. We don't say ‘Jerry speaking' as it is pretty obvious someone is speaking!
This also prompts the caller to tell us their name.
Then, we listen actively. Many business people don't listen, they just say the greeting automatically and tune out. You can miss important information this way.
Sometimes you'll get a bride who rambles on, so every now and then you may need to gently remind her that you exist. This can be done by asking for her name, the date of the wedding and other questions. By asking questions, you can direct the conversation.
When you receive a telephone enquiry, you should determine what outcome you want. For us at XSiGHT, it is to make an appointment. It is unlikely we will book a wedding over the phone without first meeting the bride and groom, so our objective is to encourage the bride to visit our studio so we can show her what we do and how good we are.
We need to encourage the bride to make an appointment because this is a commitment of her time. To get this commitment, you befriend her and speak to her as though she is already going to become a client. Obviously, there needs to be a genuineness in what you are doing and offering.
When a bride says she is getting married, congratulate her. This makes your relationship more personal - it's what friends would say to each other.
Always have a pen and pad next to the phone so you can write down details. Many studios have specially printed forms with a list of prepared questions and information to gather.
Ask the bride for the time and date of the wedding, then find a positive in her answer. For instance, if the wedding is in August, explain what you like about photographing weddings in August. ‘What a great time to get married, let me check our availability...'.
You might already know whether you're available or not, but if you simply say you're free, it doesn't indicate that you're in great demand. Having to check your schedule shows that you're a busy photographer and therefore valuable - and it doesn't hurt to double check.
Some photographers are upset when a bride asks about his or her photography prices, but most brides know very little about wedding photography and are simply asking a question they can relate to. They're just making enquiries and a good salesperson will use it as an opportunity to educate them.
Before answering a price enquiry directly, ask the bride if you could find out a little more about her wedding first - such as when is the wedding?
Then, while you're checking the date for her, ask some more questions, like where is the church or the reception?
If you know the location, you could remark, ‘Oh, they have wonderful lighting there. We will be able to take some great shots of you walking down the aisle'. We are answering her as though she is an existing client.
Then talk further about her plans. Find out as much as you can about the wedding because the more the bride shares these plans with you, the more commitment she is building to at least pay you a visit. Don't worry about being presumptuous - she won't mind.
When talking with the bride, try to find a personal connection, such as my sister was married at that church, or I really enjoyed the wedding reception there last year. Never lie about these connections. If you can't find a personal connection, then just say that the bride's plans sound really lovely. There's no doubt they are!
When you finally confirm that the date is available, you can sound a little surprised that you are free. It doesn't hurt for her to think you're in demand.
At this point, the bride might pressure you again about prices. I then say that the best way to explain the prices is for her to come in for an appointment so we can run through things, she can meet the photographer and understand the ‘initial investment'.
Note what this sentence does - it explains that I might not be her photographer, and it also plants a seed that the initial price might not be all that she spends.
I add that I'd love to meet her, that we have an amazing audio visual to show her on Tuesday or Thursday evenings at 6:00pm or 7:30pm, and then we'd like the opportunity to discuss her special requirements.
At this stage I have avoided giving her a price and I have made her realise that we have a lot more to talk about.
Then I say something like this: ‘So, what would suit you best, Tuesday or Thursday?' I'm making an assumption that she is coming and giving her a choice of which day.
Does it work like this in the real world? You bet it does. By spending time with a bride on the phone, talking about her wedding, we've built commitment from her and we've side-stepped the question of price twice.
However, some callers really pressure us for a price, so if we need to answer them, it goes something like this:
‘Our initial investment is under $3500, which is incredible value and I'd love to see you so we can explain exactly what that price includes and maybe we can offer you something a little more."
In Melbourne, most photographers start at $2000 to $2500. We start at $3500 because we don't want to waste our time on lower value weddings. All up, our average wedding is $6000 to $8000, so if the bride thinks that $3500 is way over her budget, then I've only wasted 10 minutes on the phone. There's no point taking the process any further.
If you do tell the bride the price, I suggest you don't say a word while the ‘shock' sinks in. She might say ‘Whoooa', she might think it sounds fantastic, or she might say her budget is only $2500. After she responds, I ask if she has access to the internet and invite her to visit our website, explaining that perhaps there she can see and justify the difference between her budget and what we are.
[Note: Jerry has an excellent website, so make sure your own website shows the quality and standard you've been talking about.]
I also give the bride access to a password-protected section of our website, but to gain access she has to provide us with some basic information (name, wedding date and email address) so we can contact her in a week's time.
If her budget is $1000 and we're $3500, she won't go to the website because she knows we're going to be too expensive. However, for the borderline brides the website approach works very well because our advertising is on the back cover of all the main wedding magazines, so she already realises we're not going to be a bargain basement studio.
Whether a bride makes an appointment with you or not often comes down to the way you use your voice. Your voice is a most powerful marketing tool, but behind your voice you need to have worked out in your own mind why you're worth what you're charging. You must be comfortable within yourself.
When someone books an appointment, don't assume they know where your studio is. Offer to give them directions. And when the conversation is finished, hang up last. Don't appear to be dying to get off the phone because this indicates that you're not interested in them.
Physically, what we're selling is paper and cardboard, but that's not what our clients are paying for. They are buying our experience and they are buying an experience.
And they will have rung up a lot of studios, so after they've hung up the telephone, what makes you memorable? Were you someone who cared, or just one of the many?