Problem Clients, Part 2: Managing Mom & Dad

(Editor's note: Today's post, which is part two of a four-part series, is a collaboration between WeddingIQ co-editors Jennifer Reitmeyer & Kyle Bergner.)


Weddings present a unique challenge in terms of customer service, because while the couple getting married is obviously of primary importance, emotions (and, often, buying power) run high for family and friends as well. We’ve broken down some common ways that Mom & Dad (and/or other relatives, and/or members of the wedding party) can make things extra tough for wedding pros, and some ways to handle the hassles.

Prior to the Wedding Day (Jennifer)

Planning by Proxy: Often, if the couple getting married is either busy with work or graduate school, or living overseas, a parent or honor attendant will take over the vendor research – and sometimes even the interviews and booking process. It’s extremely important that you connect personally with the couple if at all possible: this ensures that they feel involved with the decision, and more importantly, that they’re comfortable with you. It’s fine if they want to allow a third party to do the legwork, but if you can at least squeeze in a phone call or a quick Skype chat, you’ll vastly increase the chances that the engaged couple will ultimately be satisfied with your services. While most of my company’s clients have been overjoyed with us, I can safely say that the few who were underwhelmed often weren’t involved in hiring us. Whether there was a communication issue or just some residual family drama (Mom chose us, so daughter wasn’t going to love us, no matter what we did), I don’t know. But what matters is that someone out there wasn’t 100% happy, and that sucks.

On a related note, I’ve found it has been extremely helpful to include a clause in our contract stating that, no matter who hires us, who signs and who pays, the couple getting married is whom we consider to be our client. Our contracts specifically that the couple’s wishes and directives will supersede anyone else’s, and that they are whom we’re responsible for pleasing. Period. This may not always be what parents want to see, but it brings any potential conflict to the surface prior to a contract being signed, and it manages expectations from the beginning.

Decision by Committee: Even when engaged couples are involved in their own planning, it’s very common for them to involve family, friends and attendants in their decision-making. As a wedding business owner, you can make the process easier on yourself if you can let the couple know, from the beginning, that their opinion is the one you value most, and that you’d like them to be as clear with you as possible about their own preferences and decisions. That way, you can listen to their “committee” as they express their thoughts and opinions, but you – and your client – will know whose words matter most.

Communication Overload: As a vendor, it’s up to you to determine how comfortable you are communicating with multiple different people from the same wedding. Some vendors may be happy to respond to emails and phone calls from Mom and Dad, honor attendants, and random relatives, while others may be driven insane with that much outside involvement. Keep in mind that you have a job to do, and part of that job is to make clear to your clients (in a tactful, professional way) how they can best support you in giving them the experience they deserve. If you prefer to have just one point of contact – such as the couple getting married – then let the couple know this in the beginning, and explain that the reason is that you want to make sure nothing gets miscommunicated or missed. If you’re willing to extend your communication to a larger circle, that’s fine too! Just remember that you’ll need a system to keep all those emails and notes from phone conversations organized, so that when the wedding day comes, you’re clear on what everyone expects. Remember also that you’ll want to find a way to run any “committee” requests or concerns past your clients, so that you can make sure you’re pleasing the people who matter most on the wedding day.

Wedding Day and Beyond (Kyle)

Family Politics: Not all families get along. Sibling rivalry, divorce, and cultural differences can greatly affect the flow of the wedding day and the ease with which we conduct our business. I always make sure to ask my clients about the intricacies of their particular family relationships before the wedding so I know what to expect the day of. That being said, sometimes I’m a little blindsided and have to deal with issues on the spot. Knowing the order of importance for your clients (and you) will help you navigate these situations. I aim to please as many family members as possible, but not if it’s going to throw off the timeline, create an imbalance of attention to one side of the family over the other or simply annoy my clients. I also try to be as kind as possible when letting family or attendants know that their request cannot be fulfilled. I need their cooperation throughout the day and try my hardest to at least gain their acceptance of the situation.

Who’s the Boss? Occasionally, a family member, attendant or even a guest will take it upon themselves to micromanage the vendors. I have been asked to photograph a baby during the couple’s first dance, have had a bridesmaid “stylize” my portraits and have been told where to stand to get the best angle. Sometimes the suggestions are welcome; sometimes they are disruptive. Having a good sense of what is important to the client, the event and your brand will help you make these decisions with confidence. Ultimately, you are the boss and may need to ask someone to trust your creative judgment or quietly ignore them at crucial moments so you may perform your duties. In an effort to keep the peace, I do try to seek them out later to apologize (even though this is not necessary) and explain my decision.

Last Minute Changes: It’s great to have plans, but a true professional knows how to roll with the punches and say no sometimes. Mom wants the entire extended family in photos? Dad wants a different song for the father/daughter dance? Three more attendants want to give speeches? It’s up to you to decide if and/or when these changes will be accommodated. If we all did whatever anyone at the wedding asked of us the event would succumb to mayhem. If the change can be made easily, go for it. If it greatly affects the event as a whole or keeps other vendors from performing their duties, you may want to reconsider. Even if the couple is OK with the changes, it may mean they won’t get to enjoy another activity later on in the night. It’s up to you as a professional to look at the bigger picture and determine the importance of the request.

By managing your clients’ – and their loved ones’ – expectations throughout the planning process and wedding day, you’ll be creating the best experience possible for everyone, without driving yourself crazy.

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