An Open Letter to Vendors About Communication

(Apologies in advance for the manifesto-like nature of this post. After reading hundreds of my own vendor emails and talking to other people about their vendor experiences, this post is a distillation of all the things I’ve learned about what makes for successful, and not so successful, communication between vendors and clients.)

Dear Vendors,

When it comes to communication with your clients or potential clients, I have two words for you: tone matters. The only thing worse than receiving a blah, upsetting, cold, confusing email from a potential vendor is to receive that type of email from you once you’re MY vendor and I’ve given you a significant chunk of my money to document our special day. Talk about maddening!

To clarify what I mean by tone, my sense is that tone is comprised of two different types or areas of communication. Type one I’m going to call the rules of professional and courteous communication. Type two I’ll call the feel of those communications, an obviously more nuanced topic that has to do with your ability to convey who you are and how you feel about working with your clients.

The Rules

In this day and age I’m willing to bet that about 90% or more of your client communications come via email. So, with the caveat that I am by no means an expert on professional communications, I’d like to propose that there are some basic things that apply to most of your professional email communications.

  • First, unless it’s a rapid-fire back-and-forth exchange, I think every email should have some kind of salutation (such as “Hi Sally,”). Personally it feels a little jarring when I get an email from you that just launches right into the matter at hand, especially if we don’t have a pre-established relationship.
  • Second, email responses should be timely. I’m planning a wedding, which means that I’m juggling contact with multiple vendors at once. I don’t want to have to wonder if you got my email, or if I should send you a follow-up email, or if you’ve decided you don’t want to work with me. I have enough to worry about without wondering if my vendor has flaked when really you’re just on vacation or something.
  • Third, if you’re writing a response to a client’s email, your message should answer any and all questions posed to you in the original email. By not ensuring that you’ve answered all of my questions, you put me in the awkward position of deciding between bothering you with another email, trying to remember to ask you later, or just assuming that it must not be an important enough issue to ask about.
  • Fourth, it really helps if you’re organized and you remember the details specific to your client’s event. Email is not in-person on-the-spot communication, so you have time to go back and review our previous emails before you respond to me. I don’t mind refreshing your memory every now and then, but I don’t want to feel like I’m the only one who’s on top of things. I want to have confidence that I booked a person I can trust and who cares about my event.

The Feel

This is the tricky part. Here I’m talking about not what you say but how you say it. The truth is that you can follow all of the rules above, and clients might still find your email off-putting. Sometimes they won’t even know why they’re turned off by it, they’ll just know that it doesn’t give them whatever feeling it is that they’re looking for. Naturally this can’t always be avoided, since not every client is a good fit for every vendor. But I think there are specific things you can do to increase the chances that I will get a good feeling from our email communications. Here are some suggestions.

  • Try to match (within reason) the length of your client’s email. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more frustrating to me than when I take the time to write you an email detailing what I like about your particular service, what kind of event I’m having, what feel I’m going for, etc. only to receive a two sentence response from you. Think about what message that sends the client, even if technically you address all of their points. I don’t know if other people will agree, but when it comes to email communications with wedding vendors I don’t think I’ve ever had the experience of feeling like I was given way too much information.
  • Try to match (within reason) the writing style of your client. If I tend to use emoticons or humor in my emails, try to throw in some smileys or funny statements yourself. On the other hand, if I’m more brief and to-the-point, by all means do the same. I don’t want you to pretend to be someone you’re not, but ultimately I want to know that you can be flexible and work with my personality.
  • Be thoughtful. This should go without saying, but obviously if I’m saying it here that’s because it doesn’t always happen. I’m not asking for anything more than a simple acknowledgement of a point I’ve made in my email to you. So if I say something like, “I will get back to you early next week with the information you requested. Sorry I can’t do it sooner than that. My mother is coming into town for my shower,” then it would be really nice if in your response you acknowledge what I said: “I look forward to hearing from you next week. Hope you have a great time at your shower.” Now that doesn’t seem so much to ask, does it?
  • Although it’s impossible and unreasonable to expect that you’ll always have time to go the extra mile, sometimes you really should just go the extra mile. Email is quick, and the payoff is worth it for the minimal amount of time it would take to proactively reach out to me one or two times leading up to my event. Could be something as simple as, “Just realized today marks two months until your wedding. Really excited to work with you soon.” Or, “We haven’t needed to be in touch for the last few months, but just wanted to say you’re still on my schedule and I look forward to talking with you next month.” I would be flabbergasted if a vendor sent me that, and it would go a long way towards making me feel like I’d hired the right person.
  • Don’t just be open to questions, invite questions. Remember that you are likely much more experienced with weddings than I am, and it benefits you professionally to be someone who can alleviate some of that anxiety for me. Trust me – that’s the kind of vendor I’d tell a friend about in a heartbeat. But you can only do this if I feel comfortable getting in touch with you. Because I don’t know what’s a “normal” amount of contact to have with a vendor, I find myself worrying that I’m intruding on your time with my questions even though I know logically that I hardly ever ask questions. So when I get an email response that curtly says, “I’ll arrive at 3:00″ and nothing else, I’m probably going to assume that you can’t make enough time to write back more thoroughly. Whereas an email like, “Hi Sally. I plan to arrive at 3:00, so that will give us about 2 hours to do x, y, and z before you have to take pictures. That sound good?” tells me that you have time to answer my questions, you wants me to understand what’s going on, and (perhaps most importantly) that you like me. Explicit messages such as, “So glad you asked about this,” “good question,” or “let me know if I can help with anything else” also tell me that it’s okay to be in contact with someone, which gives me much more confidence in a vendor’s service.
  • Convey a can-do, it will be alright attitude. Recently I had a vendor meeting where at some point the person said to me, “Don’t worry. We’ll get this figured out. I can handle it.” And I can’t tell you have relieving it was to hear that. There’s so much pressure, especially as things are down to the wire, to make decisions and make them quickly. I know you need to get information from me, but it would be nice if you could do so in a way that decreased my stress level rather than increased it.
  • Remember that this is a wedding, and weddings are expensive, (hopefully) once in a lifetime, emotional affairs. I know I’ve never thrown a party of this scale or this importance before in my entire life, and probably never will again. At the risk of sounding overly entitled, I am paying you a lot of money to render a service for me so I think I should be able to ask for clarification about the details of how you will render that service. I also hope it makes sense to you that I’m worried sometimes about particular aspects of the day, and it would be great if you could allow me to be worried without making me feel like there’s something wrong with me for it.
  • One last thing – if you can find a way to be excited for your clients at this important time in their lives, that would be incredible. I know this is your business, your livelihood—I get that. And also, this is my life. Just like I hope my guests will be excited for me, I hope you will be excited for me too.

For the vendors out there, I hope this is helpful. And for all of you juggling your own (sometimes frustrating) vendor communications, know that you’re not alone.

What has your experience been communicating with vendors? If you’re comfortable, do share some of the good, bad, and the ugly. And vendors, do you have any communication tips for potential clients? I’m always open to learning.

BLOGGER

Anonymous

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comments

  1. Member
    aunt pol 1519 posts, Bumble bee @ 4:47 pm

    Oh I so wish my photog had read something like this before we hired him – in fact I wish I had read something like this before we hired him.

    I think often now you find you might have one face to face meeting with a vendor before the wedding and then not see them again until the day of. Thus the email becomes incredibly important as it’s the only communication, the only thing sustaining this several thousand dollar relationship. If I’m paying that kind of money for something then hell yeah I want to be coddled a wee bit! Bring the smileys!

    mind you they’re obviously no substitute for solid good service – they’re just the icing on the cake. At the end of the day, you have to assume vendors want business and want you to be part of a great word-of-mouth loop that brings them more business. Why the hell don’t so many of them get that? keep me happy and I’ll sing your praises. Simples.

  2. Guest Icon Guest
    Ida, Guest @ 5:10 pm

    Great post… So detailed… As a vendor myself, I always try to put myself in the Bride’s position in how stressed out she must be in the overwhelming task on getting all the many details she has to put together for her big day…
    Emails tend to be a little “cold”, that’s why I like using smileys to make them look friendlier…
    Christmas postcards are a must for all our Brides & Grooms… Those nice touches make a whole difference and for return, we get great reviews…
    Wish you the best… :o )

  3. Guest Icon Guest
    Christy, Guest @ 5:15 pm

    Great post. As a vendor, I can appreciate everything that you are saying. Not everyone is good with email. I work with vendors (I need to purchase goods and supplies as well) and there are some suppliers that I KNOW do not communicate well over this electronic medium, but are great in person. As we are in a more digital age now, obviously, those vendors that communicate well via email will be the most desirable.

    I DO want to add though, that I have been courteous, timely, and detailed in several emails to potential clients, only to not hear back from them at all. I would encourage all those that are seeking out services to send a short polite email to vendors that did not make the cut, to just thank them for their time and state that you will not be using/needing their services. They will appreciate that.

    –ct

  4. Member
    mszebra 1047 posts, Bumble bee @ 5:53 pm

    Word. Great post!

  5. Member
    Rgeddy 2188 posts, Buzzing bee @ 7:15 pm

    While I agree with almost everything in this post I have to say from a pt vendor’s perspective it goes both ways! I’ve been a photographer and had to pester the bride just to get details, contracts signed and info conveyed. It can be frustrating for anyone. My advice – find vendors who are on the the same page as you overall – some love email, others only do phone.

  6. Guest Icon Guest
    Vendor, Guest @ 9:51 pm

    I can agree with this but as a vendor I think this is a two way street.

    The Rules from a VENDOR stand point!

    First, unless it’s a rapid-fire back-and-forth exchange, I think every email should have some kind of salutation (such as “Hi Sally,”).

    How many times have you e-mailed a vendor without addressing them by name or even starting with a simple hello? This is a two way street.
    —————
    Second, email responses should be timely.

    I couldn’t agree more. When we send you a quote it would be nice if you would respond back with a simple “Thanks will look it over” or when we follow up because we have not HEARD BACK from you, a simple: “I’m still reviewing quotes”, or “I’m still looking them over” would be nice. WE understand you are planning a wedding and are busy but it take 2 minutes to send an e-mail to give us an update. You had time to ask for the quote, please take a moment to respond to the quote
    ——–
    Third, if you’re writing a response to a client’s email, your message should answer any and all questions posed to you in the original email.

    Again…a two way street. When we ask you details about your event i.e. Location, Guest Count, Budget, its not because we just like to ask questions. Your answers will help us give you a price that meets your needs. The more we know about you and your event the better we can help you! All to often us vendors have to send 3-5 e-mails just to get this information out of you. It makes us feel like we are bugging you or being annoying but we can’t do our job without these details!
    ———-

    It really helps if you’re organized and you remember the details specific to your client’s event.

    Total agree with you! We need you to be organized with details as well and not forget details as well. One main detail is payment and contract terms. When you sign our contracts please pay attention to dates and remember to pay us on time just as we remember to show up to your event and deliver your services/products on time.
    ———–

    Be thoughtful. This should go without saying…

    You are right it SHOULD go without saying but oh so often bride forget this. being thoughtful can go both ways.
    —–
    Don’t just be open to questions, invite questions.

    I think this depends on the type of “professional” you are hiring. Is this a seasoned professional or someone you found off of craigslist? What you pay for services is a direct reflection of the type of service you receive . When you pinch pennies it comes from somewhere and most likely it is services.
    ——–
    Remember that this is a wedding, and weddings are expensive…

    You hit the nail on the head. Weddings are expensive and you get what you pay for. You can not expect a vendor to discount their services and still provide the same quality of service. Do you work for free? If your boss told you. “I want you to keep doing your job just as you do it now only I’m going to pay you 10% less” would you keep that job? So why should we work for 10% less? If we offer to throw in a discount or bonus so be it. But do not expect us to lower our prices to meet your budget. Be upfront about what you can can and we will be upfront about what services we can offer in that price range.

  7. Guest Icon Guest
    Chelsea, Guest @ 10:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. I agree with everything you wrote; I think your perspective was right on. From a vendor point-of-view, I think the hardest thing is getting a bride to be honest when telling me what is the most important part of the day for her and the groom (when surrounded by parents mainly) and telling me what her smallest to biggest fears are. If you think someone crashing the wedding is your biggest fear, then let me know so I can alleviate your fear by suggesting ideas that would decrease the likelihood that it would happen so have one of my staff stand guard during the ceremony. I can’t fix or find a solution to a problem I don’t know exists. Otherwise the blog is Top Ten perfect!

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    Blair deLaubenfels, Guest @ 10:42 am

    What a fabulous post! Every great business is built on relationships, and everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

    For those of you in business who are too busy to create a greeting and ending for every mail, consider creating a few templates with thoughtful salutations and endings, and use the one that fits best for each response.

  9. Member
    liljohns 24 posts, Newbee @ 9:35 pm

    This is a great post and I also agree with the Vendor commentary on comment 46 that it is a two way street. The other addition I have to the OP’s comments is for vendors to be as clear as possible about their offerings and what it includes and doesn’t include. As brides we are expected to become experts in so many different areas in such a short period of time that it would be good service for vendors to be more straightforward.

  10. Member
    funnelcake 1171 posts, Bumble bee @ 1:40 pm

    Ugh, I agree on so many points! It’s so maddening when I write 3 questions to a vendor and they only answer ONE after I write a reminder email when I’ve been unanswered for two weeks. It’s like pulling teeth sometimes!

    Also, I was totally disheartened when my parish priest wrote me back and was referring to someone else’s groom for a different wedding. Total confusion, and it worries me. A lot.

  11. Member
    Ms Rocky Point 474 posts, Helper bee @ 9:06 pm

    I have been both pleasantly surprised and totally pulling-my-hair-out frustrated with vendors I have contacted about our wedding. In general, if you don’t call me or email me back within one business day, I forget you exist and move on to the next vendor. Lets face it, there’s hundreds of bakeries/caterers/dress shops/rental companies/DJs/Parking services/venues in my area! (Disclaimer: if I get an auto response or quick email from you, stating that you will be getting back to me, but can’t right now, that’s cool)

  12. Guest Icon Guest
    Gregg Hollmann, Guest @ 6:24 am

    Glad to know that I am mostly doing things right in my email communications with clients! Great idea about the “check in” email when you haven’t had contact with client for awhile, just to say hello. Another tip – when receiving an email from client on weekends when I’m busy working, I write them a short note telling that I received the email and will respond in detail to them in the next couple of days! Finally, to-date, we have avoided some DJ software that produces automated email messages reminding and informing them… they are rather cold and impersonal in my opinion.

  13. Member
    ToBeMrs2011 98 posts, Worker bee @ 9:13 am

    I have to agree & disagree with this post. As far as the rules, I don’t think that it is too much to ask to have our questions answered & communication to be timely, etc.

    However, I do not agree that vendors must always use a salutation in every email (especially if I’ve already been working with them for a while), match my email length & include emoticons, a joke/show humor in the email, or anything remotely like that. And frankly I think that any bride that gets hung up on whether someone began their email with Hi and a smiley face in their email…should probably move their attention to other planning issues. There is no use getting upset and/or worrying about such things. If you have concerns about a vendor’s lack of communication, level of service, etc…then you can and should either call or email them to share your concerns, afterall they are being paid for their service.

    But at the end of the day I know that vendors are people too & everyone (brides included) have bad/off days… I’m willing to give a person the “hall pass” every once in a while.

  14. Member
    Toralina 34 posts, Newbee @ 10:30 am

    Thank you for posting this it makes me feel like I am not alone with the vendor angst I have felt when dealing with some. I had two weeks of back and forth dealing with a caterer for my rehearsal dinner and finally gave up. I couldn’t get an accurate quote or a response in a timely manner. It is frustrating when you want to use these people and they make it so difficult!

  15. Guest Icon Guest
    AT, Guest @ 4:22 pm

    I don’t know how else to put this–I recently got married and I’m very sorry to report that NONE of my vendors were nearly as professional as I am. I know that sounds horrible…but truly… I had to “manage up” constantly. I was much more organized and professional than any of them. It was very time consuming and quite pathetic, to be honest.

    The wedding industry standard is bad…customer service training is needed, project management skills training is needed, and attitude changes are a must.

    I hear a lot of “you-get-what-you-pay-for”. However I noticed poor service from the pricey/experienced as well as the less pricey/less experienced vendors –both those I approached for proposals and those that I hired. It was consistently pretty bad.

    I also hear a lot of complaining from vendors about bridezillas (so unprofessional!)–and this was really maddening and saddening! What a way to set it up so that the customer right away feels like expressing her needs is being a b*tch! A bit manipulative, really.

    And guess what, most of us brides also have day jobs that are very demanding–many of us have MORE demanding jobs! Really! We too have to deal with difficult clients all day long! And now, on the SIDE, we have to deal with difficult vendors on top of all of the pressures of wedding planning…tons of logistics, lots of family issues, financial issues, and, hello, major life changes!!!

    Are men treated like this when brokering and managing big deals? Brides are customers–often significant customers.

    Anyway, you may not believe me since this note is so critical–but I was always very professional and kind and thoughtful. I would never be abusive or nasty to anyone! I am a seasoned professional and my correspondence and interactions were carried out with much expertise and care…

    I guess my wish is for vendors to be more professional and courteous in their communication and correspondence, and to lead by being timely and organized.

    Weddings are big business–and in this business it really is your job to make your customer happy–not because it is her “big day” but because she is the customer. That is 101. All of us in business have to mind that.

    Finally, weddings are emotional. Do some digging inside and think about how you feel about your business. Think about how you talk about your customers behind closed doors. Are you nasty? Are you angry? Are you bitter? Do you even like weddings? How are YOUR feelings about weddings and your customer base affecting how you treat the women and men who are are hiring and relying on you?

  16. Guest Icon Guest
    Danica, Guest @ 10:48 am

    Thank you for your input. As a vendor, it does baffle me when I hear of how other vendors communicate via email. I take somewhat of an informal approach to my emails rather than the copy and paste generic information. I love when my clients feel relaxed and have a personal conversation with me. As for length, brides are so excited to be planning their wedding so they are going to want every detail, why not give it to them!?

  17. Member
    kate02121 2929 posts, Sugar bee @ 2:24 pm

    Ultimately, I think this is a great and well thought out post, especially if taken as suggestions rather than a bible-like list. I agree that not all vendors (and professionals, period) are comfortable using exclamation points or emoticons and I think that’s fine. Also, some might not be “jokey” and “excited” types, and that’s fine too, as long as they are professional, courteous, and friendly.

    To the vendor who wrote up suggestions for the brides communicating with them – I totally agree! We contact and work with so many vendors it’s incredibly easy to forget that we owe them the same courtesies that we expect coming from them.

  18. Guest Icon Guest
    JB, Guest @ 11:20 pm

    I agree with this! But I don’t think you had to write it as anonymous! Be proud!

  19. Guest Icon Guest
    Tamika Quick, Guest @ 5:02 pm

    Thank you for taking time out to address your concerns with unprofessional vendors. On behalf of vendors in the weddingwire.com network we sincerely apologize for the inappropriate behavior the above brides and grooms have experienced during wedding preparation. We take pride in ensuring our clients receive detailed and accurate information in a timely manner and to ensure the experience is memorable. Congratulations and take time to enjoy every beautiful moment of planning, it’s your day to show your friends and family how much your significant other means to you. (And how beautiful your dress, flowers, and cake looks)LOL.

    @Ktell16
    Yes many vendors are aware of this post and saddened when our industry is tarnished by vendors in the wedding industry for other reasons than the LOVE, and Excitement for our brides and grooms to be.

    Now that’s over…..so go out and hire your wedding planner, photographer, florist, invitation designer, hair stylist and more.

    Smooches:)

    Tamika Quick

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