Conclusion: Building Customer Loyalty with The Rock Star Approach.

In this series, I’ve ranted on about building customer loyalty by treating clients like rock stars.  First, become the expert — and indispensable.   Second, identify situations when you can go so far beyond expectations the client is left mouth gaping.  Third, weed out clients that aren’t a good fit — those who take up 90% of your time, and account for 2% of your revenue. (Evil clients) With the time you gain, further impress your rock stars.

Treating a client like a rock star goes into everything you do to develop your brand.  What equipment are you showing up with?  Rock star or Walmart?  Do you scurry in at the last minute, just as the client is starting to sweat you aren’t going to show at all, or do you tell the client you’ll be there at 8 am and arrive at 7:15?  Do you dress sharp, so your boss is happy to look over and see you running the 
photo event, or do they put a hand over their face and wish you’d shower?  When they call at 8 pm on a Saturday night, do you answer, or let voice mail pick it up?  Do you nickel and dime every charge, or establish a nice, flat rate so you don’t have to add on silly extras?
What are silly extras?  This is a pet peeve of mine.  My pricing structure isn’t for everyone, I will admit that.  Some of you are going to think I’ve completely flipped out.  But here’s my approach:
I charge for nothing extra.
I don’t charge for a disk. (What does this cost me, .25?)
I don’t charge for an extra print, or ten.
I don’t charge parking.
I don’t charge cabs.
I don’t charge for lunches.
I don’t charge for “setup fees”.
I don’t charge if they want to use the photo in advertising — even if it’s for a Times Square billboard.  (WAAAHHHH, COPYRIGHT!  WHAT ABOUT COPYRIGHTS?  WAAAAHHHHH!  What about them?  ***** them.  Make your money on the shoot.)
I don’t charge for a thumb drive of images.  (Ok, that is at least…wait, I get those free from conventions.)
I don’t charge if I FedEx something to the client. (I‘m too ADHD for anything except FedEx)
I don’t charge for anything….beyond the contracted rate the client and I have established.
Now, here’s the trick.  You have to charge enough in that rate to cover all those other expenses.  Your fee should be high enough that you don’t have to nickel and dime these things, but low enough to be competitive with other photographers in your class.  And, you have to TELL the client you don’t charge for these stupid things — just like Southwest beats you over the head they don’t charge for bags. (HAVE YOU SEEN THAT STUPID COMMERCIALS FOR ALLEGIANT?  “Some airlines,” they say, “CLAIM they don’t charge you for a Coke.  HA!  We DO charge you for a Coke.  They say it’s FREE.  BUT we only charge you for the things you want.  Like safety belts.  And a pilot….)
Back on track.  “WTF does that mean?!” I can almost here you screaming, “photographers in my class??”
Simple.  I am more expensive than an event photographer that doesn’t have as much experience — or who is providing less advanced equipment and services.  Not all clients WANT an experienced, high profile event photographer with the best equipment available, just like not all people WANT to stay in a fantastic suite with two bathrooms, a living room, and a king sized bed room.  Some are on a budget, need a cheaper alternative, and are looking for the lowest rate possible.  Some just don’t give a crap.  Those are the hardest to work for.  Here’s a story:
I was working for a convention of executives,  and I was money grubbing.  I agreed to do three meet and greets, complete with prints on the spot, of three different high profile celebrities, for a rate roughly half what I usually charge.  (I am sometimes a dumb ass.)
All the meet and greets were to be back stage, with their top talent and star performers.  I arrived the day before, setup everything in the green room, and then arrived two hours before the first shoot time the next day.
And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The time for the first meet and greet came and went, then the second, then the third.  I tried to track down a person to ask what was up, I texted my contact, I did everything I could think of to ask — what was going on?
In the end, about two hours after the last scheduled meet and greet, my client showed up.  “Oh,” she said, “we decided not to do those.”
I was dumbfounded — especially that no one thought to tell me — and I said as much.  She looked at me, genuinely puzzled, and said, “well, of course, you get paid either way.”
Of course I knew I got “paid either way”, but what difference does that make?  How can I do a great job if there is no job?  Why didn’t they say anything to me?  Basically, between the lines: it didn’t matter.  My (discounted) fee was so insignificant, they decided to have me there just in case they wanted to do a meet and greet.  In the end?  Nah, let’s go to the bar.
The client never called me again.  Obviously, it wasn’t because I did a lousy job — there was no job to do — (and despite what I wrote,) I was very polite when I spoke about this to the client they just didn’t…
value me, (give a crap) my time, or my skills.  I was a non-entity.  I was the opposite of a rock star, I was a participant on American Idol.  Therefore, they weren’t going to call in the future.  

To this day I am convinced it is because I gave them the cheap rate.
Frankly, it’s just not in me to be the cheap guy.  While some may think: “no work, get paid, great” not me.  This really pissed me off.
But you must decide: are you St. Regis or Super 8?  Are you a rock star or a karaoke singer?
Of course, if you decide St. Regis, you better be prepared to provide the butler, silver tray, bowl of fruit, pillow bar, breakfast with kiwi juice, chocolate covered hazel nuts at night on pillow, free garment pressing, and heated bath towel racks.  However, If you can’t sing without highlighted words, perhaps you are less rock star and more Super 8.
Treating the client like a rock star goes even further than I just described — it determines how you run a photo shoot.  Are you obnoxious, screaming at someone to get out of your way?  (This drives me nuts.  Why are some photographers so nasty?) If something goes wrong, are you off hurling in the bathroom?  If a participant is rude, do you have a complete meltdown?  If the hour is late, and people don’t seem to want to leave, how do you handle it?  If you’re setting up, and someone wants to talk equipment, do you feel like (bitch) slapping their face?
With the rock star approach, your client is the star — and so are you.  That means you have to conduct yourself like a celebrity and assume everyone is watching your every move.  So, when the geek wants to talk wireless networks as you try to setup, you have to be totally polite.  When another photographer is grilling you about your equipment, you have to answer their questions.  When a drunk stumbles and falls into a light truss, find a polite way of handling the situation.  And remember, the last ten minutes of any shoot is always the hardest — and can kill any rock star building you’ve worked so hard to develop.  You are a star.  That means you have to dress, act, conduct yourself just like someone famous.  One snotty word and the whole thing goes to hell.  Slap the smile on your face and say, “of course I can give you an autograph while eating dinner with my family, no trouble at all!”  
Rock star clients, rock star photographers.  Together, they produce events that go into the history books and leave people amazed.  The result? Participants that feel like celebrities, too.  And that’s really what it all about.  
Rant concluded.
When you are a rock star, and your client is a rock star, the participants become instant celebrities.
This is not one of my photos, but I throw it in here to suggest that there are other great photographers out there who have a rock star approach.  This accompanied a story about a photography company that did green screen photo executions at retirement communities, where they had the residents dress as famous movie scenes.  PERFECT ROCK STAR APPROACH.  I love the idea, and plan on stealing it.
In some cases, being a rock star means being a rock star.
In other cases, not so much…