Relationship Era

4 Simple Rules to Manage Client Expectations

Managing Client Expectations
Dan Virgillito

Let’s begin with an imaginary tale—a cautionary story—of a service-based company that failed to manage clients and their expectations of its offerings.

It’s a travel planning website which will remain nameless, but it’s much like its real-life competitor, RoutePerfect.

Like RoutePerfect, it offers a sleek, user-friendly interface that seamlessly connects different features to make trip planning a breeze, but it also offers something more: a personal travel consultant.

Except...

While its home page and “what makes us different” page promise a customized approach to trip planning—complete with a personal travel consultant who would be approachable via email to help people choose the right destination—it didn’t deliver as expected.

Within a few days, clients found out that the ‘personal travel consultant’ is really only accessible on Mondays and Wednesdays for a couple of hours.

In fact, if people tried emailing the consultant on any other day of the week—say Tuesday—they received an automated response from a bot instead.

bad example of a bot automated reply

When all of this became apparent, people were taken aback, and several canceled the bookings they had made through the site within days.

Even though they liked the website.

Even though the other features were already helping them create the perfect travel itineraries.

Yes, even when people achieved their ideal outcomes, they left because of the mismatch between the services delivered and their expectations.

It’s a customer experience horror story that could’ve had a fairytale ending.

And it’s almost painful when you realize that nearly all of the website’s churn was 100% avoidable.

If only they had managed clients’ expectations by promising what they were actually capable of delivering.

People set expectations early, and they’re pretty hard to change.

And while this might apply to all facets of life, it’s especially relevant (and potentially costly) for service-based businesses. Managing client expectations is simply a must-do.

The trip planning website example above is a classic case of not being aligned with client expectations. Clearly, no one from the company put themselves in their customers’ shoes or thought it was important to make sure their clients understood the limited personal travel consultancy they offer.

When introducing a new service or working with new clients, it can be risky to assume that everyone is on the same page about client expectations.

How to better manage client expectations:

Managing client expectations can help create positive customer experiences, as your company will be regarded as trustworthy, capable, organized, and helpful. While unforeseen hiccups can arise in almost any project or phase, it really eases the situation if there’s a plan in place to deal with them.

So, before you dive headfirst into the market with your next release, try taking these measures:

1. Rethink those promises.

Don’t make commitments that you can’t honor. It’s always smart to under-promise and over-deliver. This is crucial for service-based businesses and always true with clients.

To manage clients and their possible expectations, set realistic timelines and add a little padding so you can absolutely deliver what you promised.

Also, forewarn them that a delay is one of the possible outcomes.

Say things like, “I’ll do my best to upgrade your package today, but there could be a delay based on when the account manager gets back to me.”

Communicate verbally or in writing how last-minute updates, change of plans, and delay in approvals can affect the timeliness of the delivery.

Here’s an example:

trello troubleshooting help

It usually takes 5-10 seconds for a Trello board to open, but the company keeps things transparent by stating that boards with a large number of open cards may see reduced stability and longer load times.

This approach will pay off later on. Customers will be more likely to trust you and more likely to refer you to others.

2. Provide status updates.

This one can get you tons of gold stars.

As you work on a resolution or request, you should keep your client updated about your progress. For example, try putting together a weekly status report to send to your clients.

Status reports not only help assure clients that their time (and, effectively, their money) is not going to waste. They also keep you honest and realistic about your timelines, work, and budgets.

(Status.net has some excellent templates.)

status.net status report template


Status updates also help you manage clients by making them feel like they are part of the process.

For example, you can refer to the need for clients’ input in your daily or weekly report. See how that pays off in terms of your relationship with the client!

With regular status updates, you can make sure that all stakeholders review and reaffirm the expectations you set at the beginning when you accepted the client’s request.

Pro-tip: Don’t forget to show your lighter side in status updates. Use them occasionally to catch up with your clients and their interests in non-work-related areas.

3, Communicate regularly.

This is the single most important step you can take to manage client expectations.

Why?

Clients don’t want you to burden them with decisions, but they also don’t want to be left in the dark. A lack of communication is usually the reason behind most issues faced by clients.

But let’s face it: when things go awry, communication is the first thing that slips through the cracks.

Fortunately, any good client relationship can be maintained if you’re proactive in sharing both good and bad news.

When communication is transparent and consistent, a bond forms and helps to create a foundation of trust for long-lasting relationships. And nothing is more important than that in the Relationship Era.

It’s critical to point out here that how you manage clients in terms of communication is always dependent on the number of people you’re dealing with—the higher the number, the more difficult it is to streamline communication.

That’s where a productivity CRM like Copper would come in handy.

copper crm automatically captures contact details

Copper scrapes and captures the details (company name, designation, etc.) of all your emails, contacts, and other vital accounts, so everything’s already there automatically and ready for you to build on.

Of course, besides getting a CRM, always listen to how clients feel things are going.

This will help keep open lines of communication and show your clients that you’re there for them. You might also get valuable feedback—which results in happier clients because they’re being heard!

Lastly, adopt an integrated and cohesive approach to communication and deliver it in the simplest manner possible, or in clients’ preferred medium.

For instance, if they prefer to receive updates via phone, ask your support staff to call them on a regular basis.

4. Be realistic about the industry.

Some clients might think that just because they have a reputation service in place, every mention of their company is going to be a positive one.

Or maybe they’ve signed up for Facebook ads optimization and think they’ll get thousands of clicks per ad and generate hundreds of sales per campaign.

You can make guarantees about the quality of the work you do, such as a whitepaper you’ll craft and when you’ll deliver it for review.

But you can’t guarantee the exact number of downloads or views that piece of content may earn, or whether it will generate ‘x’ number of sales.

Rather than promising a specific outcome tied to your service, you may want to give them an idea of market saturation and their standing in the industry. Not only will this help provide transparency, but it’s also great for clients with unrealistic expectations.

Use strategic analysis techniques to manage clients’ expectations for results and fame, especially if it’s their first real experience of working with a service provider.

For instance, you could present them with a detailed competitive analysis that shows where they’re at compared to their closest competitors. Here’s one you could replicate:

competitive analysis example

The visual above shows different e-commerce software providers in the market. It’s easy to see why ELYSIAN is the market leader in terms of cutting-edge features, and how others like Bezop could take some time to catch up.

Other factors beyond your control are regulatory changes, new brands competing with your client, and market fluctuations that can impact any aspect of your client’s work—or your campaign.

Provide some facts or examples to show clients how such changes have affected the final outcome in the past.

Once you and your clients have established some parameters on market standing, track and measure the results to see whether you’re on the right path to success.

Also, aim to go above and beyond the predetermined goal.

Throw in extras like follow-up, support, pioneer advice—whatever demonstrates your commitment to helping clients achieve better outcomes.

If you do manage to over-deliver once in a while, then maybe your client could begin to see you as a valuable partner they can count on and not just a vendor.

That puts you a cut above the rest, and it could lead to more contracts down the road.

Are you managing your clients’ expectations?

The hype surrounding client expectations is real.

And if you factor in your quickly growing competition, it’s crucial that you manage clients by giving them a transparent and unforgettable experience at every touch point on a consistent basis.

Put these four tips into practice and you’ll start to notice a clearer vision and understanding of where things stand with your clients and what needs to be done to keep them happy.