An unresponsive customer, is now complaining

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by robgomez, Mar 29, 2012.

  1. Hello everyone.
    I want you to tell me if I am being professional and fair.
    I have been working with this woman for the past few months now about a sweet sixteen party. She lives far away from me, about 200 miles. I have never met her, or talked to her on the phone (because each time I've asked for a number, she doesn't give one). But we have emailed, and she has paid a retianer of half the agreed amount ($650) so far. So I know that she is serious about this.
    I have send her a signed letter and estimate that I will be there, and also an info packet. More on that later.
    But because she takes so long to reply back to me about things (what exactly she wants in her order, paying the retainer, party location (it's in two weeks!), and other details .... I have gotten just a bit more pushy about getting back to me.
    My policy is to pay the remainder retainer 2 weeks before the event, but we agreed that she can pay it 2 days before, because she gets paid her refund then.
    ----
    Here are the 3 latest emails.
    ----
    Hi Karen,
    thank you for getting back to me. Everything is going great on my part, I just like to keep in touch regularly to make sure we are in sync.

    I just sent a newly revised estimate, and invoice.

    I will ask for a small favor at the moment. I know we agreed to have the rest of the amount payed about 2 days before the event. Is there a chance that you can make the payment 2 weeks before? This is my standard policy, as you can see in my attached info packet.

    The reason I am asking for this is because so far correspondance from you is always much later than I wish, and I do need to make sure that the payment is in before I can make arrangements days before the event. I'm sure you understand. I understand that you are very busy: I am trying to adjust as much as I can. Just let me know what you think and I will work with you.

    Yes, please let me know on the 4th where this event is taking place.

    Excellent. I will have instant printing for you so that the kids can have their photo in a few minutes!

    The photo book is always something that you can order later. I will always keep your photos safe and sound so that you have options down the road.
    It is a beautiful leather bound book with quality paper, showcasing the best photos of that night with friends and family.

    The signed papers are in the mail! Thanks for the address. Could you please provide a phone number? I know you must have your reasons why you haven't provided one yet. Most clients like to speak on the phone before I work with them. But if you prefer not to, that's cool as well. Ha.

    Thank you Karen. Hope everything is going great! Be healthy, let your daughter know she will have a great photographer, and keep in touch.

    Rob
    ------------------And-------
    As i told you before payday is not until two days before and only comes once a month, if this is ganna be a problem please just issue me a refund as i dont need to worry about this too. That is why i asked you ahead of time before i paid the first amount. Also i never said i would not give my phone number.
    I dont know why but it seems now your having an issue about getting paid and i have been straight forward with you about the reasons on money, i told you i was waiting for tax refund which still hasnt got here, now i cannot depend on that the only solution is payday. I asked you if that would be a problem you said it was fine. I completely understand you have your end to prepare as well that is why i gave you the heads up on the date of payment if it was a problem you should have said so then. I can hire someone else its not a problem. To be honest i dont like the idea of paying before the work is done anyway and i thought half down remainder at the party. Ill have to referback but i will and get back to you.
    ------------- AND THIS IS WHAT I AM PLANNING ON SENDING HER BACK--------------
    Karen,
    let me assure you that payment is not my priority. Getting my job done right is.

    As I said just in the last email, you can decide on this. Yes, you can pay me two days before. I am not going back on any of my words. If you can't do it, just tell me ... which you already have. It's not a problem. You can pay me 2 days before.

    The only reason I asked, which I stated in my last email, is because, yes, there has been a lack of communication. I totally respect that you are very busy. I know what that's like. You have a party to run, but I also have a business to run. I am confident that we both respect that. One of my traits is staying on top of things and conversing with my client.

    I assure you, that if you look around and do your research, every photographer is payed in full before the work begins. It's just the way things are ran. Believe me, I have learned my lesson in my early career as a photographer. It is nothing personal. You are getting a very fair deal with me.

    About the phone number: yes, you never said that you would not give me your phone number. But I believe I have asked for it many times in numerous emails, and still I have not received one. If you don't want to, that's fine. In my experience a new client feels better talking to a new photographer over the phone. That's all.

    Please let me know that we are in agreement. Everything is to what we have planned. Everything is going to be great!

    Oh, I forgot to mention the background. I am thinking of very pleasant white or cream pattern, and the kids can play with a lot of props that I bring (glasses, hats, vests, etc). It will all be setup in a convenient place at the venue.

    Thank you Karen.
    Rob
    ---------
    So, I would just like to know .... am I being fair? How would you guys handle this? What would you change/keep in this email? How can I calm her down and still seal the deal? (I know I probably screwed up by asking for her to pay it sooner, now.)
    ----
    I sent her an info packet when she first contacted me about the job, but I made a mistake.
    In the first draft of it that I made, it didn't say that the deposit/retainer is non-refundable. Since doing my research, I have updated it saying that. AHHHHHH, what do I do?
    Please don't reply back only saying I am unprofessional. I know I am new to this, that's why I am asking for your opinion so that I can be more professional.
    Thanks guys,
    R
     
  2. My own view on this is that I wouldn't pay anyone the full sum for a product or service until that product or service had been satisfctorily delivered. With that in mind, I wouldn't expect to have been paid in full two days before the event, let alone two weeks.
    However, photography seems to have managed to get away with this practice for many years!
    As far as professionalism is concerned, the most professional thing you can do exactly what you agreed to do. As for changing your payment terms in your contract, this is not allowed. Whilst that is fine for all future contracts, you can't change the terms in a contract which has already been agreed upon and, in this case, for which part payment has already been made (I am referring to both written and verbal contracts here).
    All terms and conditions of a contract have to be known before a contract is entered into. After the fact changes are not valid.
    As for your planned return e-mail. I would re-word it so that it reads more like a business letter. At the moment it reads more like a casual conversation between friends. The content and intent is o.k. though.
     
  3. I'm afraid I think you are in the wrong here.
    Put simply your client made her financial situation clear and on that basis you made an agreement. You then tried to change the agreement when doing so would do nothing to solve the actual problem (lack of communication) and, due to its nature, would almost certainly cause upset.

    Asking for money she had already made clear she didn't have was almost certain going to cause the client to get upset. If I was the client I would assume that you were just trying to get out of the deal (but didn't have the professionalism to just say so) and it seems that this is the conclusion she jumped to too.

    Your problem was her lack of communication and asking for more money doesn't solve that. What you should have done was tackle the real problem. You should have told her what the problem was and what the solution was (a phone number and/or communication in a timely manner) and made clear that without that you weren't comfortable to go forward with the project, and would refund her money.

    Now, having said the above I think you are making a further mistake by being too soft on your client saying the following...
    About the phone number: yes, you never said that you would not give me your phone number. But I believe I have asked for it many times in numerous emails, and still I have not received one. If you don't want to, that's fine. In my experience a new client feels better talking to a new photographer over the phone. That's all.​
    Your being wishy washy here. If communication is important then why is it fine if she doesn't want to give you her phone number. This makes it sound like you don't actually think the issue is serious so why all the fuss in the first place?
    The client is not always right. You are running a business and if you need something (within reason) to do your job then it is perfectly OK to insist on that; and you shouldn't weaken that message by then back-peddling by then saying it is OK if the client doesn't want to do whatever.
    In the first draft of it that I made, it didn't say that the deposit/retainer is non-refundable. Since doing my research, I have updated it saying that. AHHHHHH, what do I do?​
    You send the correct version to your next client. As the previous poster pointed out you can't change the terms of your existing contract without the clients agreement and I very much doubt she will agree to such a change.
     
  4. Who can genuinely control when some refund check comes in? Why deal with people that don't provide proper contract data? Why believe trying to get a client do more than they are required to, when you know they can't, is going to fly?
    This arrangement was prone to causing drama. The first letter, containing all sorts of drama, fired the first shot of drama. The drama stirred up, the inevitable response of more drama ensued. Now more drama is proposed. Also, ,the drama is broadcast here for the entire world, including the client, to see (assuming there is no pseudonym used). More could come.
    Cut the drama from the equation and reset the situation. Simply follow what you agreed to follow. Cut to the chase about it kindly and avoid more of these meandering letters. If it doesn't work out, just return the funds even if you are entitled to keep it. Learn your lesson of the dynamic between legal vs. practical and move on to "be more professional". Avoid drama inducing situations and don't issue drama infested communications.
    Bottom line: Avoid drama by setting up a process that doesn't promote drama. When it arises, don't stir it up. Follow your process.
     
  5. edit: contact data
     
  6. I agree that you seem to be in the wrong... Her being late with email responses is not a reason to ask for early payment. You had already agreed (either verbally or via email) to take payment 2days prior, NOW you are are going back on you initial agreement, thus creating problems/"drama".
    Also I agree with Steve, that asking for full payment before doing the shoot is not how I run my photography business, but thats up to you. I would personally not hire a photographer that asks for full payment 2weeks (or 2days prior to the shoot)... maybe for a wedding...but even then. Photographers usually get full payment when they actually show up to the photo shoot, and usually after it is over, or when they deliver the final product (prints or CD). But, if that works for you, then continue. But, I think you are going to have future problems with that business practice.
     
  7. + 1 to what John said - try to reset the situation and if that doesn't work then gladly give her a FULL REFUND of the retainer with no hassle or questions.
    You don't change a contract after the fact. Doesn't matter if it was on purpose or accidential - you just don't do it.
    You had agreed to the 2 days before payment option and now you're asking to change it - after she had apparently explained that her payday is once a month and not until 2 days before the event. Not good - because now you are making her defensive for no good reason. If you were really concerned about the 2 day payment - then you should not have agreed to it in the first place.
    Email is the worst form of communication ever devised - e-mails tend to sit unread and unopened - and if she is doing 50 other things - she may not get to the email for a while. My wife is notorious for not opening / reading her personal e-mail for a week at a time. Her response is that if it's so important they will call me. Add to that the fact that you have no way of judging emotion from an email - and you are in a mess.
    I've had some clients that we did exclusively via e-mail - others insisted on talking - either way works - just need to be flexible and open to what works for them.
    As for the requiring payment in advance - yes, it is somewhat unique to photographers but it is a practice that has been around forever or so it seems - when my wife and I got married 19 years ago, we had to pay the full price at booking. That was the standard - every photographer we looked at required full payment at booking. And most were non-refundable. I personally do the half down and half at the shoot for weddings, and larger events. For other events, portraits etc, I do full payment at the time of the shoot unless I have made other arrangements.
    What ever way you do payment, DO NOT GIVE OUT ANY IMAGES until payment is received and cleared.
    Dave
     
  8. Hello,
    I really hear what all of you are saying. There is so much info, that I won't refer to specific responses but I will address some things I have learned.
    First off, she is calm again and back on track now. I right away sent her a simple email stating "Yes, 2 days is fine. Like I said, it was going to be a favor. We can go back to two days, I am not going back on my word. I am sending over a singed letter stating this guaranteed, and I am throwing in free 8x10 prints". She responded back very well, even apologizing to me.
    2nd, I am thinking of changing this practice, of being paid full before an event. I didn't always do this, but the reason I started to was because I have had two people pretty much stiff me. One didn't even want the pictures anymore, because they are broke, and one of them just simply doesn't want the photo book anymore. ..... So you tell me, how I should do this. Because they did sign something that sad they have to pay.
    And yes, I am going to be a bit more stern about getting a phone number from her. I need to talk to her on the phone, and get her to A) Know that I am a real person that is going to shoot her party, B) Need phone numbers for the event.
    Do you guys think I should contact her and say that paying AFTER the event is fine, as long as I get a signed contract from her? Should I send her over the new one, .... attempt to fix things a little and get further back on track?
    Thanks, your all very experienced and great. I hope to one day be giving the advice here! Ha.
    Rob
     
  9. I would just be consistent. Stick with the 2 day before payment. Don't back-pedal too much, then you will get taken advantage of.
    In regards to your question about payment. If people order prints/books, other products. Then I would ask for complete payment on the day of the photoshoot. In fact, I usually give a DVD/CD with images (usually don't do print packages or other products), and even then I ask for full payment after the photoshoot is over (it is in my contract: 50% deposit to hold the date, and remainder on the day of the photoshoot). Worst case scenario, they don't have the money on the day of the shoot, I would explain they need to mail me the payment before they get photos. You could even specify that you won't start to process/work-on the photos until after the payment is received. (basically, won't devote time to the project until full payment...I wouldn't word it that to the client). They don't pay you the remainder, then yes you did waste some time, but at least you haven't wasted more time or money on the project, any further. I would not order prints or products unless I have full payment. But, like I said above, I ask for full payment after I do the shoot, not before... but everyone works differently. I'm sure other people's methods may work for them. I like my method, seems to create less problems.
     
  10. Also you need to be clear on how many 8x10s you will give her, you didn't specify on your post. But, you should have with her. You maybe thinking 2-3 8x10s, she might be thinking 6-10.
    Another thought about not getting paid. Technically, your scenario #1, you could have taken the client to small claims court, depending on the amount they owed; it may or may not be "worth it". If you brought the contract and completed photos, you (in theory) would have a strong case. Other "iffy" option is an online gallery (or a CD) with photos in low-resolution and large watermark across every photo, showing the client the product. Hopefully, enticing them to pay for what they ordered.
     
  11. How long ago did she pay you this retainer? You may find yourself in the awkward position of sending her a refund, and then finding from your bank that the check she sent you was bogus, and you're out the money. This can happen weeks after a check has "cleared".
     
  12. Regardless of who is right, and who is wrong, I would take a look at whether the relationship is one you want to engage in. This gets easier with age<g>, but frankly, there are people and situations that are difficult from the start. My philosophy is if it's too big of a PITA, then gracefully bail out. It is hard to do, especially when money is tight, but in the end, you'll be happy you did.
     
  13. And yes, I am going to be a bit more stern about getting a phone number from her. I need to talk to her on the phone, and get her to A) Know that I am a real person that is going to shoot her party, B) Need phone numbers for the event.​


    This is just silly. C) You get jacked up someplace on your 200 mile trip and need to tell someone . No computer. No email. No substitute - Only a phone call will do. You get lost. You get stuck. The guard won't let you in the door because no one told him you're OK. Etc. etc.


    No negotiation. No BS. You promise to protect her confidence by never sharing her personal information with anybody - ever. Part of professionalism is making sure that you get the help and support from your customer you need to succeed at the job she hired you to do.


    You ask for a contact number where you can reach her. It shouldn't matter to you whose phone it is. She just has to have a dependable way to pick up a call if you need to talk to someone in charge.
    Always be matter of fact and neutral about this. Act like an officer filling in a form. There's the blank where you have to put in a contact phone number. It's required. You can't leave it empty.
    You see part of running your own business is following your own rules. You try to do things because they make sense and some structure helps move things along. It's a good thing to accommodate your customers, but you can't throw away your business sense. Rules are rules, after all!
     
  14. I don't see where there's any debate here. The woman has said give me a refund and we'll forget about the whole thing. She's said it in writing. That's all the out you need. Ordinarily I would say keep the retainer but this is clearly a losing proposition -- she is saying she is so short of cash that she can't pay you a lousy couple of hundred bucks until payday or until she gets her paycheck? One important thing in business is you have to pre-qualify your customers. If in doubt at all, get some idea of whether they can actually afford your services before you book them, do the job and then find out they can't. Often that is by requiring payment up front but that clearly hasn't worked here. I would simply write back "As requested, enclosed is a refund of your retainer. Sincerely, xxx." That's it. No apologies, no discussions, no well wishes. Just get yourself out of this bad situation as quickly as possible. I can guarantee that if you show up and shoot, she will 1) not have the money 2) the check will bounce or 3) she will complain about your pictures. behavior etc. to get out of paying. Run, do not walk, from this one.
     
  15. I had clients in NYC flatly refuse to give out their phone# and address and only communicate by email. I dont do business like that. I need to sit and discuss with client what's to be done face to face.
    200 miles?! Why did you accept this job? Just refund her $, and good luck before it's too late.
     
  16. Ok, she has not been more responsive. I am seriously thinking of backing out. Your right, money is money .... but in the photography business ..... a nightmare customer IS.
    I made the mistake of only mentioning that the retainer is non-refundable, but didn't get a singed contract about it. What should I do?
    Like I said, I am new to this. Lesson learned.
    So, the problem is ... I don't have the money at the moment. How would you go about this? Can I make arrangements to refund her back in about 1-3 months? Is there a wait time anyways, how does this work?
    R
     
  17. As Mr. Richardson said, ask her the phone number because you realized that you could have problems in finding her house or other troubles when you are travelling (traffic, etc.).
    Continue with this job, don't back out. See what happens, next time will be better! And I'm pretty sure everything will be ok now, don't worry too much. Let us know ;)
     
  18. Just to avoid some confusion from this post. I assume that Steve meant after the fact changes that are unilateral.

    Steve Smith
    [​IMG], Mar 30, 2012; 03:36 a.m.
    .....
    All terms and conditions of a contract have to be known before a contract is entered into. After the fact changes are not valid. .....​
    After the fact changes to contracts are very common as long as both parties agree to the specific changes in writing. Usually done as an amendment page or if a very small change, a strike through, the change, and initials.
     
  19. So, to clarify you received the $650, but did not get a signed contract? Big mistake on your part... but especially on the clients part.
    Also, how is it that you already spent the $650? You should never, spend the deposit until after the photo shoot; unless, you already have money reserved to cover the deposit. Plus, do you not have $650 in your business or personal account? If you can't cover $650, you need re-think your business plan. Actually, with everything in this post, you need to re-think your business plan, in general. Also, 1-3months is completely unacceptable to return her deposit, 1 week, maybe 2weeks tops, she should have her money back. If you are that tight on finances, and don't have the money, then you should have kept the $650 deposit. She is clearly tight on money (apparently you too, so you should be able to empathize, but are not), what makes you think she could/should wait 1-3 months for a refund?
    Sorry, if the above sounds harsh, but you totally need to re-think how you are running your photography business. You need to do more research on how this business works. I only do photography as a side-business, (have a regular full-time job) and even then, I spent multiple hours researching contracts, money handling, and equipment issues before I started charging people. These type of businesses practices (going back on your initial agreement, and not refunding people for 1-3months) give photographers a bad reputation in general.
     

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