Managing Client Expectations
One of the greatest challenges businesses face is managing client expectations. I suspect the very word “expectation” creates a wide range of images for all of us. An expectation is defined as presuming the outcome of an activity. Expectations are generally based on perceptions, opinions, and other soft parameters, often without a rational basis, and often because of a lack of knowledge. Human expectation is skewed toward predicting the best outcome. Most people tend to expect positive outcomes. While it is certainly better to have high rather than low expectations, unrealistically high expectations will create disappointment. A disappointment is defined as a feeling of sadness, dissatisfaction, or displeasure when something is not as you planned.
We all are aware at some level that client expectation is very important, yet we may do little to proactively manage it. Many times our approach is reactionary causing us to gloss over expectations or to fail to listen to the client altogether. However, I believe it is very important to manage client expectations to ensure that the client understands the terms of the business engagement, and so ultimately, the client is happy with your work and deliverable.
Below are some tips to help manage client expectations.
1. Build a relationship.
People like to work with people they not only respect, but also personally like. Therefore, developing a personal relationship goes a long way in building a stronger business relationship. Experience is everything. My goal for each client is to create and implement a personalized, fun, and seamless experience that exceeds the client’s expectations and makes each and every client feel like royalty.
2. Regularly communicate and address problems directly.
I do not know about you, but when I am working with someone, I rather receive regular communication and updates from the person I hired to ensure expectations are being met, etc. When communication is direct and transparent, trust forms and helps to create and build the foundation for long-standing relationships. A lack of communication is usually at the root of most of the problems associated with clients. I make it a practice to respond within twenty-four (24) hours to client e-mails and correspondence to mitigate any misunderstandings and to show my clients that they are important to me. Clients want to know and feel important when they have hired someone to work with. Therefore, I believe it is important to be prompt in responding to all client communications.
3. Agree on goals, timelines, and deliverables.
It is important that you and your client at the outset agree on goals, timelines, and deliverables. Therefore, in the written agreement to be executed by the parties, it is very important to clearly set forth the goals; scope of work; fees; the specific deliverables; the specific timeline when events and deliverables occur, etc. This clear information, which is communicated to the client in a clear manner, will help to set expectations on both sides, and will lead to mitigating any misunderstandings leading to the client being dissatisfied. This process should make all of the goals, timelines, and deliverables clear to the client and it really helps to set the client’s expectations.
4. Be a counselor.
When you offer your client advice, direction, and input, etc., you become a truly valuable partner. This style of open dialogue helps to establish respect. Also, as a counselor to clients, you can help explain your services and deliverables so that the client can better understand your services. Not all people are experts in your area of business.
5. Be a good listener.
Listening is one of the most misunderstood and least used tools in managing client expectations. Many clients are unsure of what they are trying to accomplish or are not very good at articulating it. As such, you must have excellent intuition and listening skills in order to identify key messages being communicated by the client. One of the best ways to help clients and to manage client expectations is to repeat what you heard from the client and ask the client to confirm the accuracy of key takeaways, which will ultimately impact expectations.
6. Be kind.
It is crucial to always be kind, respectful, genuine, and consistent with your clients. Clients should feel valued and they should never feel like they are being an imposition. I know that I do not like working with others who are not kind to me, and it tremendously negatively impacts the client experience and relationship. Always remember the “Golden Rule” when interacting with clients. Kindness truly goes a long way in building trust and loyalty with clients.
7. Anticipate your clients’ needs.
I believe that anticipating your client’s needs is crucial to any successful business. Thus, it is important to put yourself in “the client’s shoes.” Making your clients feel important is a tremendous step in building loyalty. Clients want to know that they are valued by your business. Clients are the lifeline of your business and should always be treated as such. Though you may not know all the needs of new clients, try your best to read them and anticipate what they may need. Therefore, it is important to stay very organized and attuned to each client’s needs. Do not be afraid to ask what else you can do to make the client happier. Additionally, anticipating your clients’ needs helps to foster a seamless client experience for the client.
8. Always deliver on time what you promise.
It is extremely important to deliver what you promised on time to the client. One sure-fire way to not manage clients’ expectations is to not follow through on the terms of your engagement with the client on time. If clients are like me, they expect that everything be delivered on time as promised. This is really important because you want to have credibility with your clients. Clients should always feel very important and they should feel that you really are “taking care” of them. Clients should not have to worry about you delivering on your promises. It is very unprofessional, and very unfair to the client, to over promise and under deliver. Instead, exceed clients’ expectations and over deliver — this is a wonderful way to exceed clients’ expectations and have a happy and satisfied client who will refer your services to their friends and family!
9. Ask your clients what they think.
Once your engagement with each client has come to an end, ask the client what he/she thought of your services and deliverables. This will make your customers feel valued. Importantly, you will also gain valuable insights to use as a valuable tool in your business. You may learn things from clients that will improve your business. Thus, it is important to be open and listen to the feedback from clients. After all, without clients, what do we have?
10. Thank the client.
It is important to thank your clients for their business at the end of the engagement with the client. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Everyone loves to receive fun mail and paper thank you notes, which are quickly going extinct. A thank you is a sincere and personal way to tell the client that you appreciate them and appreciate their business. As a result, I think that it is really important to take the time to say thank you to each client expressing your appreciation, which is so often overlooked.
In the end, you will begin to attract clients like yourself — the ideal client! Knowing your ideal client, regardless of your line of business, is a key component to growth and satisfaction. The qualities of my ideal clients are people who (1) truly value and appreciate fine art photography; (2) are selective and cannot imagine working with and hiring anyone else; (3) wants to work with someone who is detailed and organized; (4) wants a seamless and fun client experience; and (5) likes my brand and my blog. I think you achieve this type of client relationship by marketing yourself in a personal way. Eventually, you start to only attract clients that desire you, your talent, and your services, which makes for outstanding client relationships!