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Try To Define Client Expectations As Early & As Often As Possible

Be Sure To Define Client Expectations Early & Often

The other day I was with a fellow business owner when he turned to me and said, “Hey Case, how is it that I can deliver a project to my clients on time, within budget and meet all of the project scope of work, yet they still don’t seem to have that warm fuzzy feeling about my services when the project is over?”  I said, “It’s simple,” and asked him, “Did you meet their expectations?”

He looked at me for just a minute and said, “I think so”. So I asked again, “Did you meet every expectation they had?” He then fessed up and said, “You know what, maybe I didn’t. They were always complaining that I wasn’t getting back to them quick enough whenever they called me. You know how hard I am to reach, but my assistant was always there to speak with them every time they called!”

Unfortunately, this is a very common conversation for me. It turns out that this particular client of my associate was what you would consider a “high touch client” and no matter how successful the results were with the project he delivered, the client was just someone that required considerable contact through-out the project from the person they hired…and not from his assistant! Some people just like to be informed about what’s going on by the person they originally engaged or hired!

Defining customer or client expectations is a two way street and can be as simple as understanding exactly what it is that the customer or client expects from you, as well as you telling your customer or client what you expect from them UP FRONT!

I have found the next 3 steps to be invaluable in helping my clients define the expectations of their customers or clients early in their engagements to set the foundation of their relationship:

  • Do Some Soul Searching – Before you engage your next customer or client, determine exactly where you may have gone wrong with your last customer or client experience. An Example: Did I respond to their needs in the time frame THEY expected? It is essential that you are brutally honest with yourself here.
  • Define the Scenario – Step back and identify how you can easily determine EXACTLY what it is that your customer or client may expect from you. An Example: Do you conduct a client interview BEFORE the client engages you for your services? If not, consider asking a few key questions through-out the discovery process (the discovery process is very much like the period of courtship prior to a marriage proposal).
    1. Have you purchased this type of product or service before?
      If they had made this type of purchase before ask:
    2. What did you like or dislike about your experience with XYZ Company?
    3. How could that experience have been better for you and your business?
      If they had made this type of purchase before ask:
    4. What do you expect from the company you hire?
  • Deliver as PromisedDo what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it, it’s that easy! Don’t offer something you know you cannot deliver as expected. As the old adage says, Under Promise and Over Deliver! An Example: Did I not return their calls in the time frame THEY expected? If your voice mail says to “leave a message and I’ll return your call as soon as possible” change the message to say “if you leave a message, I’ll return your call in the next 24 hours”. This way, when you don’t call them back within 15 minutes after leaving a message, they won’t be angry. You now set a realistic expectation for returning their call!
A perfect example of a business defining my expectations as a
consumer can be found with my local fast food restaurant…

When my daughters ask me to get them a kid’s meal with a burger or some chicken nuggets, I already have a general idea of the customer service experience I plan to have at my local fast food establishment. As long as the counter person is not rude and completes my transaction in a reasonable, timely manner, I’m somehow pleased - but is this low expectation of mediocre service reasonable?

However, if I decide to go out to a fine dining establishment, I tend to raise my expectations considerably and I am not willing to settle for less than stellar service and a pleasant attitude from everyone I encounter at that particular restaurant. The “fast food” restaurant has done an exceptional job of lowering my expectations to the point I am willing to accept the least bit of competence as a positive experience! So what’s the answer?

The answer is to set your customer or client’s expectations early in the relationship and reaffirm these expectations often!

Take the time to educate your customer or client as to what you plan to do, remind them while you are doing it, and once you have completed it, be sure to reiterate that you did it as you had originally planned. If you expect to deliver your project in 30 days, tell your customer or client to expect delivery from you in 45 days; this way, when you deliver in 30 days, they’ll be thrilled!

When you ultimately deliver that next project earlier than expected, remind your customer or client that your delivery is early. Honesty is always your best approach, but establishing your customer or client’s expectations in such a way to ensure a quality business relationship is always good practice…

Define expectations EARLY and OFTEN! You’ll be amazed at the results!