FAQ : Managing Client Expectation

Dear Jasmine,

I shot a wedding a couple of weeks ago and told the couple beforehand that it may take 4-5 weeks to edit the images and maybe even a little longer if I have a busy wedding season. It has been 5 weeks now and I got a very rude email from the bride this morning. She said they don't want to wait any longer since they have paid good money and I should stop putting off their wedding. I replied nicely that this was not the case and reminded them that it has been a busy season and that I'm sorry it has taken so long. And I assured them that I will do my best to finish them as soon as possible. Now she's not replying. Still, I'm very sad that she got so rude. And of course I worry that I will get no or a bad recommendation. Maybe I should mention that I did send them a couple of images for their thank you notes 2 weeks ago, so it's not like they haven't seen anything.

Can you give me some advice?

Kind regards,
As Soon As Possible


Dear ASAP,
I got waves of nausea reading this email. But that's how I roll. Nauseous. Whenever I become nervous or overwhelmed, my first inclination is to throw up, which I think is way tacky, and terrible if wearing cute shoes. Anyway, I'm sorry you're sad...enduring a person's rudeness isn't any fun. I'm sure you're feeling bad enough and her lack of response is unsettling. However (and you knew the however was coming!), I can't say I disagree with the bride.

The key in most business interactions is to manage expectations. It sounds so simple, but it's often overlooked. If you told the bride it was going to take five weeks for her to see her images (even if you added a caveat about needing more time during busy season), the only thing she heard was five weeks. Seriously. We're talking about a bride who's insanely excited to see her wedding images and if you didn't meet the stated deadline, it's easy to understand her frustration.

What you're saying is you're busy, but what she's feeling is overlooked. You even stated she asked you to "stop putting off the wedding" which leads me to think she has reasons to think she was placed on the back-burner (even if that's not the case).

If in the future you suspect you'll need more than 4-5 weeks to process wedding images, always buffer the timeline so you can under promise and over deliver. For instance, next time tell a bride you'll need 6-8 weeks to process the images, then deliver them earlier than she expected for optimal results. In business, there's no such thing as trying...you either did or you didn't. Sure, you might've been trying really hard to get the photos completed in five weeks, but at the end of the day, the bride is still a dissatisfied customer who won't likely recommend your services. And that's the last thing anyone wants.

Wow. Am I Debbie Downer today or what?! Let's chat about how you can remedy this situation (even if you don't feel at fault...remember, the customer is always right):
   1. Do everything you can to finish the wedding edit and get the photos to the bride...we're talking about a code red rush now...haul booty and get it done! The longer she waits, the more upset she'll become.
   2. Offer her a small album or a canvas print as a way to make amends. You'd be surprised just how far a gift can go to smooth things over.
   3. Send a hand-written note expressing how much you appreciate the bride as a client.
   4. If you're in busy season, this isn't likely the only wedding you're stretching the 5-week processing time. In light of this, I'd strongly caution you to take active strides to ensure this doesn't happen again with other recent clients. If this becomes a pattern, your business may suffer serious repercussions. If you're behind in editing, buried in work, or simply need to take a break, I strongly suggest you outsource your wedding processing to a professional company that'll take great care of you. I'm particularly fond of Photographer's Edit as their customer care and 7-day turnaround is stellar. If you'd like to try them out, feel free to use the jstar code at check out for a 25% discount.

I wish you only the best as you work at keeping your clients happy and managing their expectations. When this happens, recommendations will pour in because people feel like you kept them a top priority.
Stay Fabulous,
j*


Pee Ess: I added this happy photo because I didn't want this post to be a fast train to Bummerville. It's from a recent shoot and I'm excited to share the result soon! What makes most these shoots special is that I get to work with everyday, non-model couples for a day of happy photos. If you'd like to model for a future shoot, feel free to send me an email with a photo of you and your significant other...perhaps our paths will cross in the near future!
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Rachel Movitz - I always try to phone a client rather than emailing them if there is a potential complaint. It's so much more personal and things can usually be smoothed over when there is an actual conversation between yourself and the client rather than just an email. I also use the 'under promise/over deliver approach'. It works wonders and leaves clients feeling like you put their needs first. Thanks for the post x  05.22.13 - 5:09am
Melissa Rohde - Well said. Great advice. :)  10.16.12 - 11:09am
Alex Sablan - Great advice. I feel no shame in outsourcing post processing to a trusted post processor. At the end of the day, your customers will only stay your customers if they are happy customers.  10.08.12 - 1:47pm
Brittani - straight up. =) Solid advice, and very true.. <3  10.02.12 - 8:22am
Derek Martinez - Thank you for this Jasmine!   10.01.12 - 3:22pm
Rici - Thank you for writing all that down Jasmine!  10.01.12 - 10:59am
Lydia - Great response to a common problem. The best is to clear dates in the wedding photography contact. Thats what we always do. Then neither party can feel that things are taking too long. Etc.   09.30.12 - 11:30pm
Tamea Burd (Tamea Burd Photography) - "In business, there's no such thing as trying...you either did or you didn't." AMEN! What a fantastic post. You weren't being a bummer, you were giving solid gold advice for any business owner in any situation. Managing client expectations is one of the most key elements in having a successful enterprise, no matter what line of work you're in. For photographers, because our service is entirely personal, it's even more crucial. As always, you wrote words to live by... Testify!   09.30.12 - 11:28pm
Eddie Sanchez - I had to comment on this because really, Jasmine, you are a star! Great advice...and thanks for sharing.  09.30.12 - 8:47pm
Beth - Wow, do I feel her pain! This was me last year! And Jasmine you sound just like my husband...although it was a lot harder hearing it from him! I agree with every word by the way! This year we worked our butts off to get our turnaround time to one week. I still tell brides 4-5 weeks and then have it ready when they return from their honeymoon! We do not outsource and we have 6 kids and homeschool so it is possible. Our quality of life is so much better now too!   09.30.12 - 1:24pm
Marian Majik - A gift idea is simply amazing - such a great post Jasmine. Thanks  09.29.12 - 1:47pm
Rachel - HA! "fast train to Bummerville." Lova ya  09.28.12 - 1:16pm
Russ Stoeckel - Hi Jasmine, Thanks for the info. How long does it take you to get the prints to your customers? Do you edit your photos or do you outsource that part? Thanks.  09.28.12 - 9:15am
Tiffany Farley - Great advice. Written in humor that always goes perfect with my morning coffee :)   09.28.12 - 5:35am
Eugene - what a great post! it felt like a good kick in the behind to stay sharp!  09.28.12 - 3:20am
Shani - thank you for this great post! I try to make my clients happy, but if something goes wrong I try to make it up to them with gifts... :)) I was worried I was being a "sucker" and glad to hear I am not the only "sucker " for gifts! I love bei compensated when I a m "wronged" do I do that for others.... (luckily, not too often...)  09.27.12 - 10:09pm
Marylou Pipes - As always, great advice. I love it & will implement this attitude in my upcoming opening of my photo biz in Tampa. Jasmine, you're the best.  09.27.12 - 9:24pm
Rachel - Uffda...this is one of the aspects of starting a photography business that I am dreading the most - I don't want to make anyone mad! Eek! But these are some great tips, thanks Jasmine!  09.27.12 - 7:38pm
Flora - Fantastic post! Even though we sometimes get buried with editing or album design we can't forget about each bride and how her customer service doesn't end just because her wedding has come and gone! Thanks for putting that into perspective!  09.27.12 - 6:37pm
Jolynn - This is such a great post, and a great reminder!!  09.27.12 - 5:02pm
Tara - How about blogging? Do you blog EVERY Wedding you shoot. When your photographer is a great blogger and you choose him/her partly based on their blog and then your wedding isn't blogged, your feelings are a bit hurt and your left wondering why? Do you ever mention blogging when meeting with clients?  09.27.12 - 4:56pm
Ashley Goodwin - Good point! I am realizing that I am SO FORTUNATE to get the business I am getting and that the first few weddings I get here are CRITICAL, so I have to manage expectations accordingly like this. Customer service baby! Consider this your email: Feel free to host a Honolulu workshop next year and feel even FREER to use Ashley Goodwin Woods and Marshall Woods as models. JUST SAYIN.  09.27.12 - 3:33pm
Emily Heizer Photography - The key here is cushioning your turnover time. Give them a deadline way out there in the future and then do your best to surprise them and beat it. You've made your niceities and clarified your turnover time now, so just do the best you can and send her an update if needed. It'll probably be fine, but it's hugely stressful, I know. Ugh.  09.27.12 - 3:32pm
SHENG YANG - I totally agree!!   09.27.12 - 2:09pm
Brandi - If you have set your client's expectations to a certain turn around and have not MET that turn around, it is your obligation to tell them BEFORE the deadline arrives that it will be additional time. Even if you're busy, as we all are, that just sounds like an excuse to a client. I always tell them more time than it normally takes AND I tell them if by chance it'll be longer than that, that I will let them know. Jasmine is right on.  09.27.12 - 1:57pm
Anna - Jasmine - your advice was great! I worked in retail for three years before really pursuing my photography business, and the biggest thing I took away was that if you have a difficult customer, they are always right, and the best way to turn it around is to WOW them. Go so far past what they expected from you that they know you took their complaint seriously. It has worked wonders for my business! For example, we had a client who wanted to keep her images private, but we accidentally missed that in her contract and published them on our blog. She wasn't happy when she saw them and definitely let us know. As a reparation for our mistake, she asked for some free digital files, which I sent her WITH a generous print credit. She was thrilled that we didn't give her a hard time and went above and beyond. At the end of the day, your reputation is the bigger picture - not who was right or wrong.  09.27.12 - 1:57pm
kathleen frank - such great advice!!! i just need to bookmark this post as a step by step list to make sure i am managing expectation and what to do if i slip up! so helpful :)  09.27.12 - 12:11pm
Mandi - I think you addressed this topic perfectly, Jasmine. Just perfect. With a cherry on top. ;)  09.27.12 - 11:42am
Rosa - As always, SO helpful!   09.27.12 - 11:40am
Miss Tish Hill - Great advice J* - I learned the under promise over deliver strategy from you and never looked back. I always try to deliver early, even if I have to pull an all-nighter (or two!) hee hee!   09.27.12 - 10:46am
rich - great advise as always - it's like your family has the preaching gene!  09.27.12 - 10:44am
Ashley Christine - Great reminders! And I love your idea about the hand written note. :)  09.27.12 - 10:42am
Haley Johnston - Great advice, Jasmine. I tell brides that it will be 6-8 weeks. I am currently a full time student and between studying, working my "big girl" job and shooting weddings on the side I found out really fast getting them done in 3-5 weeks was nearly impossible. I have managed to get them all out before the deadline somehow though! Question for you, when you outsource do you have to send an external hard drive or use something like dropbox?  09.27.12 - 10:10am
B - I can't wait to see this shoot!  09.27.12 - 9:57am
Karl Stelter - The freebie gift idea is a great way to settle her down - honestly some of the best recommendations can come from handling a tough situation elegantly. As Jasmine said, making sure she feels taken care of and a priority is key at this point! Perhaps next time if you know that you won't meet the 5 week deadline, make sure your bride knows that as SOON as you do! That way if only 2 weeks in you send a nice email saying how beautiful her photos are, and there's so many of them that you think it will be closer to 7 weeks her reaction won't be quite so abrupt. In this case I'd still offer her some sort of freebie to show her how out of the ordinary this is, and that she is special!  09.27.12 - 9:38am
Amy Nave - This is GREAT advice!!!!!!  09.27.12 - 9:32am
Glitterbird Tammy - My contract states 2 mos from wedding date and I go over that at the bridal consult. Then just as you said. Come in under that timeframe. That's something you learn in marketing. Set an expectation that you know you can make and then beat it.   09.27.12 - 9:27am
Catherine Mac Photography - TOTALS ;)  09.27.12 - 9:23am
Tina Wiebe - I have to admit when I got married I dont remember her giving me a deadline on when she would have them done, well lets just say it took her not five weeks to finish but 4 MONTHS! I was so upset, I didnt feel like she cared. I also felt that my wedding was on the back burnner. When people ask me for a good recomendation for antoher photographer I tell them NOT to book this particular photographer because of my experience with her. On the other hand I tell my clients 6-8weeks and try to have every thing done two to three weeks after the wedding.   09.27.12 - 9:23am
Chris - Great advice in the entire article, especially number 4. That's the most time consuming aspect of post production and where you can really wow your clients with turnaround. I unfortunately witnessed another wedding photographer's business go down in flames because he could not manage his business to meet his clients' expectations. He overextended himself and made no adjustments to his workflow to compensate his increase in traffic. Within 6 months of his busiest season ever, and after several local news stations featured him in response to a handful of client complaints, he shuttered his studio.  09.27.12 - 9:21am
Emily - Jasmine, this is not a Debbie Downer email at all. You were being honest (& 100% helpful and creative in solving the problem) and ASAP was looking for exactly that. If nothing else this should inspire ASAP and other photographers alike (me included) to take another look at their business and revitalize their business priorities. Being a photographer is not just about taking photographs and editing anymore, its about Client Care! No matter how you look at it, this is a service industry, and even if you take the most beautiful photos those are nothing without making your clients feel important and special. And this is even more true when working with Brides, you are sharing in their most important day of their life, they have most likely dreamed of this day for a very long time. Wedding photographers need to realize this and work to help make that day memorable through their photos and their interactions with their clients and not just on the wedding day but throughout the whole process. Your business doesn't end when you leave the wedding. I love this industry and building a community on platforms like yours is only going to help evolve the industry for the better! Much thanks! Emily   09.27.12 - 9:20am
Amanda - As a former wedding photographer, I have to say it isn't a good idea to take this advice... it is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE to take this advice. Had I learned exactly this lesson much sooner, I'd probably still be a wedding photographer. The one piece of advice I give to people starting out now is outsource, outsource, outsource. And if you can't afford to outsource, that means you aren't getting paid the going rate for the work you're doing, which means you aren't charging enough. If you don't outsource, your options during the busy season are either to disappoint your customers with super long wait times or work 1,000 hours a week. And only one of those things is actually possible. Great post, Jasmine!  09.27.12 - 9:17am
Bill Raab - Thanks Jasmine for addressing this. While I am not backed up I can foresee an overwhelming amount of editing I need to do in the next two months. My regards to ASAP. I hope you remedy the situation as best you can.  09.27.12 - 9:15am
Monica Brown - wonderful advice!  09.27.12 - 9:10am
Former Bride - I agree with you except on one thing. As a former bride, I know that the only thing they hear is the best possible scenerio....4 weeks! The bride waited until the end of the time frame (5 weeks) to send that email. That means she was checking her email every 12 minutes for a week or more waiting on the images. It's incredibly frustrating, even if it makes no sense. By week 5, she was snippy! I would suggest saying a specific time (8 weeks) and not a range because brides will only hear the best possible option and get their heart set on that!  09.27.12 - 8:55am
Jesselynn - I expected the "underpromise and overdeliver" part because that's the rule I live by...but ahh! I love your suggestions on how to remedy this situation!! I totally agree with offering a canvas print as a way to make amends. Jasmine, you are so friggin' savvy, I heart you to bits!  09.27.12 - 8:46am
Carlise - I couldn't agree with this post more! Clients never hear what we say, they only hear what they want to hear to benefit them so we, as a business, need to speak in a way that clients hear. Instead of saying 6-8weeks, because they only hear the 6 weeks, say up to 8 weeks! Contracts are great for keeping it all solidified but please make sure EVERYTHING is written in there and it is CLEARLY spelled out timelines. I have witnessed too many who say one thing and their contracts read something else then get angry with the client when it is questioned!! Ugh...I just cannot wrap my head around that one!! But I am a firm believer/practitioner of UNDER PROMISE AND OVER DELIVER especially with contracted timelines! Thank you for getting this out there...SOOO many (actually too many) need to read this!  09.27.12 - 8:44am
Annetta - Thanks for this Jasmine. And you are so right! I had a situation a little similar to this and yes it has left a bit of a sour taste. They only hear the number or that's all that sticks in a bride's mind.  09.27.12 - 8:19am
Beth - I'd just like to say, as possible future client and not a photographer, that I LOVE your advice. So nicely put and so honest and so straight forward and so full of love. Your photos are amazing Jasmine but so is your love for people in general. And this is why I'm addicted to looking at your website daily and hopefully will one day be able to have you as my photographer!!!  09.27.12 - 8:11am
The New Diplomat's Wife - I think you're totally right on this one - as a client, it's so frustrating when you're waiting, even though i know and empathize that the photographer has a lot going on. But not only am I often excited to see pictures, but i'm also waiting on them to do other projects (albums, gifts etc) so it holds up a number of things on a clients end. Also the longer I wait, the pickier I am when I see them (I'm more likely to judge harshly) but I agree that a little transparency and a little extra effort can go a long way in smoothing things over. Good luck to the photographer with the upcoming weddings! Don't let something like process expectations take away from your skill and talent as a photographer !   09.27.12 - 7:58am
elisabetta {Linen and Silk} - Such a great post, Jasmine! Just a perfect reminder of how important it is to exceed client expectations. Love the very human / personal manner with which you deal with your clients, something I should always bear in mind!   09.27.12 - 7:37am
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