(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.)
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.
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.
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.