Dear Disappointed Client,
I did not quite get the gravity or see a solution to your Client Feedback until today.
My phone vibrated quietly in my pocket as I drove to my father’s house for Thanksgiving. It was your email with my Client Feedback request filled out. When I parked the car on the street in Magnolia, another short reminder vibrated to my phone. I pulled the phone from my jeans and saw it was a work email. I thought, “Don’t look.”
But I did. I always do. My job is also the love of my life and like all huge crushes, it’s hard to ignore.
I read your feedback and my whole body began to warm. I could feel my heart beating through my chest, and the whole world around me froze. It was not only the first bad customer feedback letter I have ever gotten, it was thorough, well thought out and honest. Oh no, no, no no. How? Who? What? No. No. Who was this person she was talking about?
It was me. She was talking about me at my worst. The stressed-out control freak side of me. The perfectionist who forgets to see the people around her and moves like a freight train.
My ego slid to the floor of my dirty Subaru and just laid there. My husband’s voice came from behind me in the back seat, “You need a minute?” I am sure he thought someone died. “Yeah,” I said.
How did this happen? How could I have screwed up so badly? How could she not like my photography? I went back and looked at her session over and over; I loved it. It was cute! It was moving and she looked great! But she didn’t like it; that was all that mattered. She also didn’t much like me or my attitude. It cut through me like a knife. Criticism hurts, and even more so when you know it is true.
It was Thanksgiving Day, and I could not bring myself to feel thankful or present at my father’s amazingly planned meal. I was too busy replaying that day over and over in my head, desperately trying to figure out where I went wrong. I am a very reflective person (to a fault), overly sensitive (to a fault) and have incredibly high expectations of myself and others (yes, to a fault). Thus, you have a people pleaser capable of turning this really small ant hill into Mount Rainier in about five seconds. Fine, I thought; don’t like me but come on, my photography? I was so confused.
Today I got home from my sessions, and I realized what you were saying. I came home and set my camera down on my desk. As I watched the images import from my camera to my computer, I felt something I had not felt in months. It felt good. I had a great time. Man, I missed that. What was different?
Me. Because of you.
Because of your disappointment, I tried harder today.
I arrived 15 minutes early like I used to when I started my business. Instead of sitting in my car, I stood on the corner of Western and Broad Street in the 36-degree weather. I wanted to make sure my client had an easy time finding me. On this crisp winter morning, swaying from side to side to stay warm, looking at shadows, light and fog over Seattle, I waited and planned the session in my head based on how the sun projected onto the buildings. I was more than ready; I was present.
I greeted them like they were distant relatives I had been excited and nervous to meet. I asked them what was really important to them for this session then I listened. I repeated their words back to make sure I was understanding correctly and so they knew I heard them. I consciously worked hard to make their wishes come true. Then it hit me. The weight of life in general had become heavy. Until today, I was running on autopilot. I had become complacent and lost sight of the little things for weeks, maybe even months.
Bogged down by the other ninety-percent of my photography business, I lost what mattered. Laying underneath the weight of marketing strategies, emails, administrative work, editing, color correcting, keeping up with social media, getting my work published and search engine optimization, I lost the experience of photography. Not to mention balancing work, life, parenting and a marriage, my proverbial lens went out of focus on why I do what I do. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks said, “Nobody comes to Starbucks to pay $6.00 for a cup of coffee. They come for the experience. I don’t sell coffee. I sell an experience.” I stopped selling the experience without even realizing it.
Because of Your Disappointment, I Paid More Attention Today.
My clients left and I met promptly with my next family. The same thing happened. I connected with them and they connected right back. Instead of a photography session, I created an environment where people felt safe to smile, laugh and giggle. I had so much fun, and I think I can safely say they had a great time, too. It felt so good. All of the things that were important to me when I started my business came flooding back. All the little things that are so important to the success of a business came back to me because of you.
Because of your disappointment, I came back to the starting line.
You were brave to write that letter. It’s not easy to give negative feedback, but I am so thankful you did. You lead me back to the starting line of my business and reminded me why I am here in the first place. You reminded me of the values I want every single one of my clients to see. Thank you for coming to me about your experience so I could have a chance to learn and repair.
Because of you I am going to be better.
I am thankful for you.