048: Melissa Ghionis – Why Customer Service is More Important Than Great Photography in Business

To hear Melissa Ghionis, wife of one of the worlds best wedding photographers, say “customer service is more important than great photography” was a real surprise to me. In this interview, Melissa dissects what both Jerry and she do in regard to their clients and customer service.

From the initial contact to album collection and after, you'll learn what one of the best wedding photography studios does. I try to leave no stone unturned, down to how they present water to their clients in an attempt to learn what you can be doing better in your studio.

Here's some more of what we cover:

  • Running two separate studios for two separate markets under the same roof
  • Running a contest for clients to help choose a studio name
  • Is it possible in todays market to have a saleable photography business?
  • Why the biggest asset for any business today is your data base
  • How to cope with going from a primary shooter to a second shooter at weddings
  • Working with your spouse and the benefit of having clearly defined roles to enable a happy and successful working relationship
  • What you don't have to do in your business, you shouldn't do… outsourcing is the key to success
  • If your client can't tell the difference between your work and the outsourced work, there is no reason not to outsource
  • Why customer service is more important than shooting
  • It's always cheaper and easier to rebook existing clients than chase new ones
  • The best way to reward your good clients
  • The right way to handle the very first client contact, whether it be via email or phone
  • A phone call trumps an email every time if you're aiming to make a great first impression
  • The key focus at the first meeting is to have your clients as comfortable as possible when around you
  • There is a definite right and wrong way to offer your clients a drink that could be costing you bookings.
  • Having different albums to show, depending on the clients you are meeting with
  • Customer service is so much more than under promising and over delivering
  • Dealing with unhappy clients… the best way to deal with them

When suggesting this topic to Melissa for an interview, as enthusiastic as she was, I was a little concerned there just wouldn't be enough good content to fill an episode… how wrong I was!

One surprising thing I  know you'll come away with from this episode is you can emulate what Jerry and Melissa are doing in your workflow right away. Although your prices may not be on par with theirs, there is nothing outrageous that Melissa and Jerry offer or do in their customer service that you can't.

Melissa Ghionis Interview_02

What's on Offer for Premium Members

Premium Members, in the interview, Melissa talks about “The Wedding Works” which is a collection of modifiable word documents that you can customise for your studio and start using right away.

This collection has recently been updated and never been discounted… until now. And for Premium Members only, you will receive a whopping $90.00 off by using the promo code found in the Members area and only till February 28th 2014.

In the download, you will receive a collection of documents including client letters, phone scripts, sample email responses, contracts, order forms, sample price lists and more.  This collection contains all of the documents you will need to run a successful wedding studio and all of the necessary tools to educate your clients for better communication and increased sales.

ICE Society Promo Code for All Listeners!

Melissa and Jerry wanted to offer something special to all listeners of the podcast and have kindly created a promo code to save you $100.00 off an annual subscription to the ICE Society.

Not only is this a fantastic offer but the ICE Society is a great resource where you will learn more about being a better wedding photographer. You get monthly videos teaching you how to shoot better, understand lighting, posing, camera settings and creating amazing photos in every part of the wedding day.

As a member, you will have access to all previous episodes plus the next 12 months. As a previous member myself for a few years, I have never regretted spending the money I did to improve my photography.

PROMO CODE:  “photobiz” to save $100 off membership to Ice Society (normally $299).
Melissa Ghionis Interview

What is your big takeaway?

How is your customer service? How does it compare to what Melissa is doing for her clients? Is there anything you're doing in your business that Melissa didn't mention that is working well for you and you're happy to share it?

Following this interview with Melissa – what is the one thing that you'd like to implement or remember from what she had to share? Let me know by leaving your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have any questions for Melissa that I missed, a specific question you'd like to ask or if you just want to say thanks for coming on the show, feel free to add them below.

iTunes ratings, reviews and Shout-Outs

Each week before recording the podcast, I check iTunes for any reviews but this week is a little different – I'm on holidays so I've prepared these show notes ahead of time and there aren't any new reviews to report.

If you haven't already, please don't let that stop you leaving a rating and review though!

The iTunes reviews make a big difference to the podcast being ranked well and found in the iTunes store. If you have the time and are happy to leave an honest rating and review, head over to iTunes. Don't feel your comments have to be long, involved or gushy, an honest opinion is all I ask.

Don't be shy about leaving your business name in the review either – that way I can add a link in the show-notes and show my appreciation with a proper thanks and a Google loving back-link to your website.

If you'd like to get in touch, ask a question or make a suggestion for the show, you can email me andrew@photobizx.com, find me on Twitter https://twitter.com/andrewhellmich or on Facebook at https://photobizx.com/facebook – I'd love to hear from you!

Melissa Ghionis Interview

Is part of the reason Melissa and Jerry are booking clients like this in locations like the one in the photo due to their customer service or photography?

Links to people, places and things mentioned in this episode:

Melissa Ghionis on Facebook


Melissa on Twitter

The ICE Society

The Wedding Works

Professional Photographers of America (PPA)

The Resources Page

Remember the ever expanding resources page that has a listing of products, programs, hardware, books and directories mentioned in each episode of the show. If you're looking for something that a guest has mentioned on a previous episode but just can't remember who or what it was – you'll find it listed in order on the resources page.

Jerry Ghionis Studio

If you've been enjoying the podcast, I'd love for you to tell just one other portrait or wedding photographer about it – it could be in a Facebook Group you're a part of, a photography forum, a photographer friend or on twitter. Any help in growing the audience of the show means a better show for you in the future with bigger name guests and a higher quality podcast.

If you do have a twitter account, simply click here: https://photobizx.com/tweet or use the share buttons below to help spread the word.

That's it for me this week, hope everything is going well for you in life and business.

Thanks and speak soon


By | 2017-02-13T18:04:07+00:00 January 13th, 2014|Podcast|28 Comments
  • Thanks for another excellent episode Andrew!

    Melissa, the tips you brought up were very helpful, and relevant to what I am working on right now. Firstly, the tips about how to interact with clients all the way from the first contact to handing over the photos were great! I have no problem being friendly and outgoing after I get to know them a bit, but usually that is about halfway through the session which isn’t anywhere near ideal. But being more aware of my own body language should really help that. (Right now I tend to let my wife take the lead on those sorts of things, but I really don’t want to be limited to having only one of us be the outgoing one).

    I have definitely experienced the issues you talked about with email. I just recently got an inquiry on our facebook, and even though it seemed very promising from our conversation over email, there was no personal connection and I haven’t heard from them since. They really liked our photography, but clearly that was not enough to get them to book with us. So I will be getting phone numbers from now on.

    I also love your way of doing things with the client meetings! Saving the pictures for the end of the meeting, and telling the story of the album instead of just letting them flip through. Since we were actually at the wedding, we already know the story, but unless we tell it to the new clients, it will just be someone else’s wedding photos and may not convey the emotions that go along with it.

    Thank you both for the excellent episode! I’ll be listening to it again with my wife so she can hear it too! Thanks!

  • P.S. I also loved how you make the full album and have them narrow down the pages instead of making a small one and asking if they want to add to it. Great idea.

  • Great podcast and interview always, Andrew! I loved what Melissa had to say about speaking with potential wedding couples. I need to try harder to get these couples on the phone. What I get 99% of the time when I receive an email is “Hi. We are getting married on such and such date, can you send your package info.” It seems that no matter what I say; no matter how warm and personalized my response to them is- all they care about is the price. I can tell (just like Melissa said) that these couples are emailing multiple photographers, and for the most part, they are going with whoever has the best prices. Is that the case always? No. But in my area, which is saturated with photographers, I know that many of these couples go for the cheapest price, and many times, they sacrifice quality and service for it.

    I am going to try calling all of my inquires now, and see if that makes for a higher booking success rate.

  • Superb interview, great to hear more about Melissa and how she started in photography!
    It was also so refreshing to hear about all the little things, the majority of time get overlooked!

  • Hi Chris & Shae, thank you so much for that great feedback! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It really is amazing what a difference it makes when you can speak to them over the phone. You know how you said at the moment, you start to feel that personal connection about halfway through the first meeting? When you get a chance to chat with them on the phone, another little perk is that when they do come in for that meeting, you feel as though you already know each other because you’ve had that conversation on the phone already. It becomes so much less awkward when they first come through door because you already “know” each other. Thanks again!

  • Hi Matt! YES…. I know exactly what you mean. It’s the most frustrating thing. I actually love my email response to clients and, like you, I think it’s incredibly personalised. But if I don’t ring them, I rarely hear back from them. And I suspect you’re absolutely right – it’s because they’re reaching out to dozens of photographers at the same time. Not only that, if you do get one to come in, you still haven’t had a chance to qualify them at all so it could be a waste of your valuable time to meet with them. But when you get to speak with them on the phone, you can warm them up in just a few minutes and by the time they come in, they’re already excited to meet you instead of you just being another photographer on the list. Good luck – and here’s to higher booking success rates!

  • Thank you, Leighton! It’s so funny, since Jerry and I got married, I’ve met so many photographers who never realise that I was a photographer too. I have some funny stories about that. LOL Thanks so much for listening!

  • Andrew Szopory

    Thanks for another great interview Andrew. I love these simple tips which can make such a huge difference. I usually email back when I get a pricing enquiry but not any more. An hour after listening to this podcast I received an email enquiry with phone number GREAT, I was straight on the blower. Meeting setup!! It’s so easy to build that rapport over the phone when they realise your human. Thanks so much Melissa

    Andrew Szopory

    • Love to know how the new approach goes for you in the long term Andrew but it sounds like you’re off to a flying start.
      Glad you enjoyed the interview and thanks for adding your comments.

  • Rahim Mastafa


    I’m just trying my first outsourcing off the back of this interview. Outsourcing the post production in my case, which I hope will save me a lot of time!

    • I’m so happy for you, Rahim! I hope you enjoy the extra time you’ll have too!

  • Such a golden episode, Andrew. Melissa knocked it out of the park so many times.
    And such great comments on this thread. I actually enjoy reading how other people relate and what they’re going to do different from now on, like more phone calls for example.

    What I have implemented so far after finishing to this episode was to send out a thank you card. I plan to send out hand written thank you cards from now on. A previous episode touched on this as well.

    And my goal, along with I’m sure the majority of listeners, is more phone time with potential clients where possible.

    Thanks again for all you do for us, Andrew!

    And thank you, Melissa for sharing such golden advice with us!

    Joey Joiner
    Fort Worth, TX

    • Great idea with the thank you cards Joey and getting clients on the phone is definitely the big-takeaway from this episode judging by the comments. I’m sure it’ll work well for you too.

  • Wow, Melissa is a dynamo. I love how she talked about delivering a drink. Sometimes I want one so I’ll ask my client “would you like a drink?” and when they say no thanks I’m thinking bugger now I have to wait. Next time i’ll be ” hey I’m having coke what would you like water, coke, coffee or tea.” Its such a little thing but I bet it puts a lot of people at ease.
    Im definitely looking into outsourcing now. I want someone who can do all the data entry and admin stuff for me such as entering leads into my Tave account and sending invoices etc. I think it would be great to have someone do all the editing and album design too. . . those tasks take up so much time and I always procrastinate with them.
    Im also changing my inquiry form to make a phone number compulsory. That way I can call them and follow up on emails. I don’t mind if my prices send them running, the price is the price and if I’m out of their budget I don’t want to waste either of our time. If they are still interested after they have an idea of what they may spend then a call will be the best way to sway them my way. 🙂
    Hope the holiday has been amazing. I’ve always dreamed about going to Japan

    • Isn’t she just Te!

      You definitely have to try the “drinks thing” it works so much better than simply offering something. I find once the clients have a drink, the session always goes well – they just seem to feel more relaxed and enjoy the sales session or consultation more.

      In your case with a full time job (I think from memory, a long commute too) outsourcing will be a great help as long as your pricing is high enough to be profitable – which it should be and sounds like it is.

      Many album companies now offer album design and colour correcting services so that should be an easy one. You could also train a junior but this takes more time and effort in the beginning.

      For someone for your data entry, don’t discount a year 11 or 12 student for some after school or weekend work. Our first employee, Simone, was a student and she went on to become a full time employee and an integral part of our business.

      I’d love to hear how you go with the compulsory phone number field on your enquiry form – make sure you let us know.

      Japan was amazing! If you like the snow, you HAVE to go to Niseko.

  • Hi Andrew. Just became one of your premium members.. In all truth I feel I would be doing you and you guest a big disservice if i didn’t.They have shared so much great information, and like you said if you only implement a few of there tips and advice you would make your money back.. So thank you and thank you to all the guest that you have had on your show..


    • Hey Ownen – great to have you as a Premium Member, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of value from it.
      I’d love to hear what you implement and be sure to let me know if you’d like to see or hear anything in particular in the membership area that’s doesn’t exist already.

  • I don’t really know where to start with commenting on this episode. My first comments were that ‘You Smashed It’ and ‘You really hit the ball outta the park with this one’ – and I’d barely got halfway into the episode!

    Takeaways – there weren’t any for me – this was a Michelin Star 5 course meal and all you can eat buffet rolled into one!

    Melissa speaks so passionately about customer service that it’s obvious why they are so successful. I was so inspired by a lot of the suggestions and processes that Melissa goes through. Also we’d recently been talking about our meeting approach and customer service in the RSP Group and I was so glad to hear that a lot of the things I do, Melissa is also doing – albeit far more refined.

    I put a few of the things like asking more in depth and leading questions into practice and also the body language thing too – I have a little voice inside my head now when I’m meeting clients.

    I’ve had major success so far this year with 8 wedding bookings so far – some I’d met already but then the next few that I met I felt much more confident in my approach and with the other little tips that I was putting into practice.

    Thank you both so much for this episode. I’ve loved all of the 50 episodes so far, but I definitely know I’ll be going back and listening to this one again.

    • So good to read your comments Lee – thank you!

      Some great takeaways and great to read about your successful start to the year with all the bookings.

  • Just to add I’m also going to get off my butt and sign up to being a Premium Member now and also look into the Wedding Works package too.

    I’ve also pushed to make more telephone calls off the back of this episode too and trying to be more interactive in my emails and messages to people.

    • If you’re serious about the Wedding Works from Jerry and Melissa, you’ll save 8 months worth of premium membership with that one promo code and I know you’ll love some of the other content available to Premium Members.

      It sounds like you have no trouble implementing what you hear on the podcast Lee (from your previous comments) so you will do well with the with the extra info.

      In regard to the phone calls, I’ll be working harder on that aspect too – in my business.

  • I have just listened to podcast #48 and wanted to offer a non-photographer perspective of Melissa’s advice.
    Some background about me: I work as a Civil Marriage Celebrant, I was the granddaughter of a passionate amateur photographer and was documented since birth. I have grown up with a love of looking at great photos as well as a love of being photographed. I’m not great with a camera, so I try once a year to be photographed by a Pro. I have had the pleasure of being photographed for my website by Andrew of Impact Images.

    When I first started looking for someone to take commercial photos for my website I was also working in the photographic industry importing and wholesaling budget photo albums (we no longer have this business as we gracefully backed out after 16 years). I knew a lot of photographers, but shyed away from Andrew as I thought he was probably “out of my league” price wise. After contacting 5 photographers (who were all customers), I was getting no where. I was getting email replies and price lists, but no one phoned. It was a personal dare that led me to contact Impact Images. I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and contact someone whose work I loved, but figured would be expensive. My initial contact was via Twitter and this led to the great experience of being photographed by Andrew… It was the Impact Images customer service that impressed me the most. That and the fact that Andrew was always happy to share information and advice.

    I have also experienced a tiny taste of Melissa Ghionis’ customer service and as yet I’m not a customer (it’s on my list of goals). I had seen the stunning photos of Jerry & Melissa’s wedding day. As a big fan of small intimate weddings, I connected via the photos with the Ghionis’s. I truly wished I’d been their Celebrant. I watched photos of their Little White Chapel renewal at the same time I was planning a trip to Las Vegas to renew my wedding vows. During my planning, I took to Twitter to ask a question and Melissa responded. I LOVE great customer service and little oil’ me was being answered (promptly) by Jerry Ghionis’s wife! She took the time to help me with a question about Las Vegas, she highly recommended the photographer I chose (John Michael Cooper) AND she was professional and just nice. Full stop. That taste of customer service has resonated with me. I may not be a customer tomorrow, but I WILL tell my customers about both Impact Images and Jerry & Melissa Ghionis Photography and one day I WILL be their customer.

    I was so pleased to listen to the podcast and hear so many things that I have been doing right in my business, including the surprise a few weeks after the wedding. I will be using the phone more after listening to Melissa. Great customer service should be offered from everyone involved in weddings, big or small.

    Thanks Andrew & Melissa for the excellent advice. As someone who sold presentation products and have been ‘presented’ with a CD of images with a texts marker (yes, really), I’ve always wanted to scream about the difference customer service and representing your business can make. Thank you.

    • Hi Jo – first up, so cool to know you’re a listener to the podcast!

      It was nice to read about your experience with Impact Images and me 🙂 I always try hard when it comes to customer service and I definitely understand the difference it can make in business. Reading your comments though are a good indication we are doing all right in that regard.

      I was the same as you Jo, when listening to Melissa – happy that we are doing lots of things right.
      I also came away with a few good ideas which we’ve been implementing since. I’m hoping those little “extras” will help keep us standing out.

      “A CD of images with a texts marker” – that’s classic!

      I can’t wait to see the photos you get done by Jerry and Melissa someday.
      And I’m looking forward to working alongside you in the coming months. It’s always fun spending the day with a crazy woman 😉

  • I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective from myself as a customer as opposed to the photographer. If I were shopping around for something (not necessarily photography) I wouldn’t really like to be called by someone if I’d emailed them. It would probably put me off that person as salesy. Perhaps that’s just me, but when I’m shopping around I like to assess my options first before I pick someone to speak to directly.

    I tend to go with what the client does as they may not be comfortable on the phone straight away which is why they’ve emailed. If a client leaves a voicemail, I’ll ring them back rather than emailing. I just tend to take the clients lead as their preferred contact method. I will be putting a preferred method of contact into my contact form though, so they can at least let me know.

    I imagine that’s what brides are doing when they first start to shop around and email a few photographers they like. Whilst I appreciate you can build rapport on the phone, it might backfire as the person isn’t in the best place to talk, or busy, or hasn’t thought things through etc etc. I’d feel pressured on the other end of the phone, again perhaps that’s just me!

    Great episode though, a load of information to digest. Thanks Melissa! 🙂

    • Not sure if I agree here Chris. I think it all depends on the approach the photographer or “sales person” takes when they call.

      If I were looking at a new bike for example and emailed a store about a price, I would expect an email back.

      If however the shop owner called to ask about the style of races I do, what my current bike is, am I more of a sprinter or climber – I’d LOVE to chat to them about all that.

      I’d feel like they were taking a genuine interest in me and what I’m looking for in a new bike.

      In fact, I don’t think they’d even have to mention the bike I was enquiring about and before long I’d be the one to bring it up.

      I’m sure it would be the same with a wedding enquiry and would depend on the approach you take when calling. Strike up a conversation through questions about the day and you’ll make a connection that will more likely leave a better impression than the dozen email replies she’s already received.

      I guess the only real way to find out is tea it. Call 50% of your enquiries over a month and email the other 50% and track the results.

      Love to hear how this goes if you give it a try.

      P.S Have a listen to the latest episode with Anie Zanazanian for her views on calling a couple after an enquiry.

  • Hi Andrew and Melissa

    I just found your podcasts Andrew and I must say they are awesome! I am amazed at how generously your guests share they stories and strategies for success. I am actually a videographer (dun-dun-duuuuun!!) but I am very greatly for the opportunity to hear such great advice from real people – and Australian too!!

    This was a great podcast with Melissa, very informative, but I have a question/suggestion – how do you provide such great personal service and connection when you cant meet them in person? We travel a lot for weddings and cant always meet in person before the big day and I would love ideas for connecting better.

    Thanks again for the great work!

    • Hi Emily

      So glad you found us and great to have you listening and commenting… even though you’re a videographer! 😉

      I’m not sure what Melissa’s take would be in regard to your question but if I were in your shoes, I’d be using video for a start to make those connections and you’re in the perfect position to do that. I would also be careful not to over edit or over “polish” the videos you’re creating to talk to your prospective clients. A few mistakes will only make you look more human.

      Have a look at Matt and Katie’s website – they book a lot of weddings away from home and are big believers in video on their site.

      Also, use Skype as a way to get that connection. It’s not perfect but it’s way better than email and is the next best thing to not actually being in the same room together.

      You know what would be really cool.. If you made a Skype appointment then organised a bottle of wine or champagne to be delivered prior to the interview with a confirmation of the meeting. Share a wine over Skype! I’d book someone that dod that and at the very least, I’d be there for the appointment.

      I’ll put your question to both Matt and Steve in an upcoming Q&A episode too and see what they suggest.

      Stay in touch and speak soon.

  • MG is fantastic and she makes a great counterpoint to her husband. Thank you !!