This week, we in the photo industry got to witness "one of our own" (though I think we will all hesitate to call him that) go completely off the rails.
Now, if you've never heard of Jake Olson before this week apparently you're not alone. I had no clue who the dude was....but at 300,000 + "likes" and apparently uber famous, I was just living under a rock or something.
Jake Olson is a photographer out of Nebraska. He does some okay work (though he could probably do without shooting the exact same picture in the exact same spot over and over and over again....but I digress.....). He's also a major jerk. This isn't just my personal opinion....the man seems to PRIDE himself on being a major jerk. He's called out customers on his business page who DARED complain about his slow turn-around or his work, he's told other critics to "consider suicide", he's claimed to be world-famous and super-rich (both claims are pretty doubtful at this point).
Jake ran the gamut from saying the whole thing (years of being an abusive troll on the internet) was a marketing ploy.....to issuing what can only be called the most back-handed "I'm sorry you feel that way" apology-of-sorts in the history of photography-business screw ups.
What I saw as this all went down was a culmination of a social-media supported anti-professionalism movement that is running rampant through our industry.....as well as others.
And I'm here to ask.....is there anything WRONG with returning to an idea that the customer is gold and should be treated as such?
THE ME-CENTERED INDUSTRY
If you entered the photography industry in the last few years, you know that workshops, retreats, online-lessons have been gravitating towards building a business that is about "YOU". Your personality, your quirks....people are hiring YOU, not your work. People took to their "About Me" pages in droves to talk about their passion, how they drink lattes in the morning during their editing sprees while donning pajamas, they talk about their kids (SO GUILTY of this one!) and isn't that all very relate-able? Then, they sat back and watched their "likes" grow and their popularity swell because everyone wants to hire their BFF to be with them on their wedding day.
I did the same.....I've talked about my kids so much on my site in the last 8 years that people at the grocery store come up to me and say "OMG, is that Betty and Molly?!?!"
I have no idea who these people are. Kinda creepy.
But, I've been taught....nay....conditioned to think "Well hell, my reach is working"
However, have we created a monster? If it's all about US...the PERSON behind the camera, the PERSONALITY....what, then, of the customer? We are being tasked with capturing their day as a service to them, in a professional manner. And there are people out there with amazing personalities who still manage to do this incredibly well.
But then there are folks (**cough** Mr. Olson) who have gone off the rails so hard that it becomes so MUCH about them that they cannot see the needs of the customer anymore.
"They don't understand that I am SOMEBODY"....the customer, in their eyes, is trying to dictate their ART.....the customer is being out of line expecting a quick turnaround of their items or expecting timely service.
This is a major problem, folks. It reflects badly on us a service-based community, for sure. Granted, we are not all crazy cakes and we ALL fall victim to it sometimes. How many times, as a photographer, have you caught yourself saying "They just don't understand my style!"
And you know what, that may VERY WELL be the case! Sometimes we pair ourselves up with people who don't "get it".....that's human fallibility. I've had customers wonder why a "background was blurry" when I shot something at 1.4. A little irritating at first? Kinda....but it is then MY JOB to educated the customer....not get angry and all uppity about my "art".
CUSTOMER SERVICE IS CUSTOMER SERVICE
I've had a lot of people comment to me over the last 8 years how "fun" my job is and how "lucky" I am. How it must not feel like work.
And you know what? It IS fun. I AM lucky. Many days it really doesn't feel like work. I get to create for a living....I get to make fun stuff for people and I get to participate in BIG events in my clients' lives and that is awesome.
But, at the end of the day, it all comes back to be a customer service business. I have to maintain open, friendly communication with my clients. I have to turn their images around when I told them I would, regardless of what is going on in my life.
Now, of course there are extenuating circumstances. I remember when my grandmother died (because I'm ME centered, you've all heard that story....right? LOL ) ....I had a portrait session scheduled that week. I called 48 hours ahead of session time and told the client we would have to reschedule on account of the death. The client was unhappy with this and even went so far as to MENTION her disapproval with this at our rescheduled session. If that person had any idea how devastated I was.....how lucky she was that I even had the mindset to MAKE a rescheduling call at that point......whoa nellie.
Some people suck. They just do. There was nothing I could have done in that situation to make this person happy....and I wasn't going to skip out on a funeral because she needed portraits. Priorities in that instance. However, these big time issues don't come about very often, and I have to say that in the 8 years I've been doing this.....I've only had to reschedule on account of my own issues maybe a baby handful of times. That doesn't make me some perfect person....good God no....but it does make me someone who has a feverish dedication to the service I provide and the needs of those hiring me. They count on me and I don't want to let them down.
Just because they're your clients doesn't mean they're always right, absolutely not. But, our job is to under-promise and absolutely over-deliver without letting our "Me-Centered Business Model" get in the way as excuses.
YOUR REPUTATION WILL PRECEDE YOU EVENTUALLY
There's a saying that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Will Mr. Olson (he of the "go kill yourself, I'm a genius" variety) still have a thriving business after all this hub-bub dies down? Eh....probably. People love a trainwreck. They love to be a part of it...whether it be as a detractor or a supporter ("You GO Dude! Don't let the HATERS get you down!")
But lets think about this for a second, if you are finding yourself with a litany of "hater-ade" lately.....there's a problem there. The community is letting you know that you're going down a bad path. Maybe it's better to listen....
I regularly check out the reviews out there in my industry. I want to know WHAT the customer base is thinking. What things are people doing that are irritating them?
What I find MOST often? Slow turnaround. Bad communication. These are HUGE. If a client feels like they're getting the shaft, they're not being given what was promised, or you're ignoring them....they're going to get pissed.
Think about when YOU'RE a client. Do you like going to a salon and waiting 45 minutes in a chair for the hairdresser of your choice to acknowledge you? Of course not. You would be completely irritated. Do you like feeling like "just a number" in a litany of clients when you call your insurance company or your doctor? Like you're not special or unique in any way. That they don't really NEED you, because they have so many others to take your place?
Crappy feelings, right?
One of my TOP 10 PET PEEVES is lack of communication from someone I'm trying to get service from. If I send an email inquiry to a business....or call them on the phone...and I get no response from my message or a very very slow response....you could probably bet I'm not going to give them my business. If they can't return a simple email....how are they going to be when they're actually providing the service? (And don't even get me STARTED on a business that doesn't bother to have a website. In the words of Mr. Wonderful, you're dead to me).
Eventually, the market will have spoken. Think of crazy-train examples like Amy's Baking Company . People who let it all get SO far away from being customer-centered that they became world famous.
That's a really extreme example, but I see glimpses of it all the time. We live our lives out on social media and sometimes that can come back and bite us in the butt.
FEAR IS OUR MOTIVE
I think we fear being left behind in the dust. We fear not having the "likes"....we fear not being relevant in this industry because we are trying SO hard to have our voice heard above the din of a very crowded community.
Think of it from the CLIENT'S perspective! There's THOUSANDS of us....just in Wisconsin alone. So many "photographers" throwing their marketing plans at the client and just hoping, praying that something sticks!
So I think we feel if we put it all out there: the "me" centered marketing, the quirky stories about our kids or our dogs or our napping habits, the problems we have in our business....everything for the world to see, read, and comment on....that will set us apart. We will be remembered.
They will take a side, and hopefully that side is with us.
What would happen if we just ran our businesses like businesses? If we just gave excellent service, amazing product, and did what people asked us to do in a timely manner? What if it were all that simple? No goose laying golden eggs. No trickery. Just a return to the age-old idea of ma and pa and the friendly corner store?
What would happen?
Does this mean I'll stop blogging about the fam or my kiddos or stop injecting a bit of my own brand of "weird" into what I do? Probably not....I like that it's part of my business (and lets face it, I like the occasional random blog)....but it's not everything.
I'd like to see. I'd like to return a bit to a more classic customer service based industry. Less us, more them. The people who built our businesses in the first place.
Right, Mr. Olson?