Friday, November 14, 2014

Following Through With Your Client

 "Jason,

 I read one of your articles, and I have some questions.  I recently got a tattoo and I am concerned about the way it is healing.  I don't want to ask my artist because I don't want them to get angry with me for doing something wrong..."

 I get an email like this at tattoonerdz@gmail.com at least twice a week.  Today, after responding to one such email, I found myself wondering why the client did not go back to her artist?  If I go to a doctor and have a question about the procedure or the instructions I was given, I call that doctor and ask.  Ditto for my electrician, my plumber, my auto-mechanic, even my grocer.  If I have a question about a service, I go back to the source.  Why is it different for these tattoo artists and their clients?

 I do not consider myself a great artist.  I am always striving to improve, and I do well as a tattooer, but I am not great.  I write a fair article that people seem to enjoy, but I do not consider myself a great writer.  I am not well known in the tattoo community.  I am making a bit of a name for myself, but even the greats in tattooing are only known by a minuscule percentage of the population.  My point is that these people did not seek my advice because of who I am.  They came to me because of something their artists did, or did not, do.  

 When I get a question from another tattoo artist's client, I do everything I can to avoid being critical of the artist or their work.  This is not a matter of professional respect for my fellow artists, but of respect for their clients.  They are already so clearly anxious about their tattoo that they have reached out to a total stranger for advice. They don't need some guy they will probably never meet making things worse by telling them they made a huge mistake with their choice of tattooer.  That ship has already sailed.  When they get to me, they want an answer, and they want to be re-assured.  

 I give them the information they need based on my own experience and research, and I always encourage them to talk to their tattoo artist and follow his or her instructions.  It is your work, and if you are a professional then you will be fully invested in making certain that the tattoo is the best it can be and your client is happy.

 But, if your client understood that, then why did they reach out to me?

 Getting a tattoo is intimidating.  As artists, I think we forget what it is like to walk into a tattoo shop for a client.  For us, walking into a tattoo shop is like coming home.  For a client, they have no idea what to expect, but they know tattoos involve pain and can go wrong. They know they are going to spend potentially hundreds of dollars in the hope that the artist they select can give them a tattoo they will be happy with.  There is always some trepidation for a client when getting a tattoo, especially that first tattoo from an artist they just met.

 Artists are usually very good at the sell.  They point out the strengths of their portfolio. They demonstrate a firm expertise about safety procedures and best practices when tattooing.  They have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of tattoo history and the industry.  When they get their client in the chair or on the table, they can be very personable.  They can chat the client up and keep their mind off the pain of the tattoo.  They joke and keep things light.

 However, once the tattoo is completed, it usually is about getting the client out the door.  For the artist, the transaction is complete.  They offer after-care instructions, maybe set an appointment for their next session, and thank them as they leave.

 That is not what your client needs.

 We generally tell the client that the tattoo healing process will take about two weeks.  We also know that while they are looking at their new tattoo in the mirror, they are not listening to us.  That ink in their skin is your reputation.  If you are wise about your business, you see every tattoo you do as an advertising investment.  You know that most issues with a tattoo occur when the client does something wrong during the first two weeks.  Why would you leave your reputation to chance in the hands of your client?

 When I go to the doctor, I get a call from a nurse a couple of days later.  It is called a "wellness check", just to confirm that I understand the instructions I was given, that the treatment is effective and not having any unforeseen consequences, and that I am generally content with the visit to the doctor.  In any real sense, how different is what we do from what a doctor might do who performs minor surgery?  

 I typically reach out to my clients after just a few days for the same reasons; do they understand and are the following the instructions I gave them, and do they have any questions or concerns?  That wellness check, after a few days and toward the end of two weeks, confirms in the minds of my clients that I am responsible for the work I did, and that I will follow through with making certain they are satisfied with their tattoo.  It confirms for them that I am a professional who cares about my work, and who sees them as more than a source of income.  That simple email, instant message, or call to ask how they are doing with their new tattoo lets them know that we are in this together.  That bond means they will come back to me for more tattoos, and that they will tell their friends.

 Close out the tattoo session with a solid discussion about after care and ask the client how best they can be reached (phone, email, Facebook, etc). Let them know that you will follow through with them in a day or two, and emphasize for them the ways they can reach you if they have any questions.  That conversation, and the wellness check, is what makes a client into a repeat customer.

 Again, I do not consider myself a great tattoo artist, but those artists who do not follow through with their clients, who do not establish that bond of trust and treat each tattoo as an investment in their own reputations, should know how their clients respond when I give them my advice.

 "Jason,

 Thank you for the email.  I feel so much better now, and I will follow your advice and talk to my artist.  If I were in Austin I would be coming to get my next tattoo from you!"  

 A client should never leave your shop thinking that you will be angry with them for asking a question.  Your client should have the confidence in you as a professional to reach out to you and know you will be as professional and competent as when they were getting the tattoo.  It is more than their ink, it is your reputation.

  Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at tattoonerdz@gmail.com

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