Good Customer Service or Too Accommodating?

Dear Stefanie Shutters,

I was contacted by the mother of one of my child’s classmates for a last minute session. She called me at 8pm for a session the next morning… but since I was available I agreed to set it up. We discussed the pricing and what was included on the phone, and while I normally take payment in advance agreed that she could pay me at the session since it was such a short notice booking. 

We had the shoot, but at the end of the shoot she said she didn’t have the money to pay me and handed me $10 ‘as a deposit’ towards the rest!  I was floored. She’d agreed to the pricing just hours before. I was even giving her a HUGE discount! 

She walked out and is now contacting me and refusing to pay at all claiming that she didn’t agree to that date or the price.  I’m livid and have no idea what to do.

~Feeling Abused

Dear Abused,

I’m floored too, and livid on your behalf. After all, you re-arranged your life for her on short notice, gave her a huge discount for no reason, and then produced a gallery of images that you were sure she’d love.  You provided above and beyond customer service and she basically spat in your face.

However, this client also sounds like an expert ‘sob story’ manipulator and you were the perfect victim for her manipulations. Let me break it down for the signals you gave her that said “take advantage” in bright neon lights:

  1. You answered your business line at 8pm
  2. You were immediately available for a shoot the next morning
  3.  You gave her a discount of more than 75% off for…. no reason at all
  4. You didn’t collect payment for the session upfront as is your normal policy

Basically, when you bent over backwards to accommodate her you gave off the ‘desperate and broke’ vibe at such a level that she doesn’t see you as a business at all.

After all, she knew how much the session was, she was at the session itself so she had to have agreed to the date, and in the end she chose not to do so… because she could.  Clients like her are the reason that photographers who stay in business have policies and stick to them.  We teach clients how to treat us.   While you learned that she wanted a specific type of session in that booking phone call, she learned that your pricing and policies were fluid.

So moving forward, with this specific situation, what do you have in writing from her that proves that her delusions of fluid pricing and payment whenever she feels like are inaccurate? Did she sign anything with you at the session? Do you have any emails or text messages confirming those details?

Sometimes after a phone conversation, the best thing to do is send a follow up email that says “As we discussed on the phone…”  and then reiterates what was agreed upon, including date and time as well as price and what it includes, and due dates.

At this point, do not release a single image to her or even post a teaser image online. Especially if you don’t have anything in writing – including a model release – because that opens you up to a whole different type of problem.

Expect her to throw online tantrums. She will give you sob stories, or excuses, or empty promises.  She will attempt to negotiate you down further.  She will claim that her session fee included everything.   And I’m sure that she will threaten you with bad reviews. She may even try and start drama at your child’s school.

Where you go from here depends on what you’ve got backing you up… and how much crazy you might be willing to stomach.  Either way, you’ve learned a lot about the importance of your business backbone being strong for the future!   Let me know how it goes!

Oh, and PS – you’re not alone in this happening… see what happened to another photographer with a similar situation here. 

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