A Guide to Establishing and Managing Customer Expectations
Clients and customers expect a lot from companies. Do you know how to give your customers—both new and current—what they want?
Start at the beginning: The new client.
Getting to know each other with a new client or customer is essential. That way, you can determine the expectations on each end. Getting these issues in check as early as possible is crucial. It's the age-old analogy. If you don't start with a strong foundation, what you're working to build will crumble.
Below are some ways to establish these early expectations.
- Set clear deliverables: Send your client a detailed list of deliverables with realistic deadlines for each line item.
- Be realistic: Make sure you and your customer are on the same page about what your product or service can give them. Sometimes, this means saying what you can and cannot do. By setting realistic expectations up front, you can manage or exceed expectations.
- Establish regular communication: Reach out regularly to stay on top of expectations. Ask clients or customers what channel they want you to use.
- Personally get to know them: Show you're a real human being. If you can understand their values, goals, struggles, and interests as a person, it helps you figure out how to work with them.
- Always sign a contract: Be sure it states in detail what the expectations are for both the client and the business. Having details in writing helps eliminate miscommunication and makes it easier for all parties to understand the terms of the agreement.
- Be transparent: Share stories of why you had client relationships go wrong. Prospects then see that they have a role in achieving common goals. This shared understanding helps lay the groundwork for the relationship.
- Be honest: Be clear with clients about what they will receive.
- Ask the client about specific goals: This allows you to set accurate expectations. Ask what they hope to achieve; get at specifics. Discuss in depth what success looks like.
- Think like the customer: You’ll realize what it feels like to be them. You can better manage expectations because you see more of their wants.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away: Clients can lose sight of the original deal. Don't be afraid to rein in the client as necessary. Be sure the client understands the deliverables. If the partnership is no longer working, you can always end it.
- Have a client kick-off meeting: This is a great way to set clear expectations for deliverables, both what they are and when to expect them.
You Need a Plan
Having a plan in place to be able to manage customer expectations is essential to a business's success. These are some questions to ask yourself when crafting any customer expectation management plan.
How will we prioritize and meet the needs of this client?
Your team needs to understand what the client wants and what you've promised to deliver. Identify how you're going to meet your client's needs.
Also, ask the client what they expect from the business relationship. You should understand the client's values, what they are buying, and why they are buying it.
How are we going to communicate effectively with this client?
Establish a schedule, so the client knows when they will hear from you. Establish whether you'll primarily check in via email or phone call, or any other means. Note any changes promptly.
Having a good communication plan in place ensures everyone is on the same page and eliminates negative surprises. Always be honest with the client, even when it's tough. If you run into a circumstance where you've made a mistake, clearly communicating what has happened and being honest about it will go a long way.
How can we consistently serve this client?
Customers expect consistency. When services or goods change, the client, at best, will feel lost and helpless and, at worst, will lose their trust in your business and seek help elsewhere.
By staying consistent, you can keep your clients content. They'll know what to expect from you and continue to build a relationship with you because they trust you to do what you say. Don't ask your client or customer how they think you're doing. Their feedback can help highlight ways you can improve your deliverables.
Are we making realistic promises?
Sometimes you have to say no to a customer. While it can be difficult to admit that you can't meet a need, it is much worse to say that you can, only to backtrack. In the first case, you and your company come across as honest and knowledgeable about your product or service and what it's best for. In the second case, you come across as untrustworthy.
When making promises to a client, be realistic. Then, do everything you can do to over-achieve. It's a win-win, as you both keep your word and impress the client by going the extra mile.
How do we need to get organized to serve this client best?
If you're organized, you're more likely to stay on top of everything you've promised to your client. Nothing will fall through the cracks if all communication contact dates and times, benchmark dates and deadlines, are on a list and available to all involved.
In conclusion: it’s about respect.
You can tell your clients they matter to you by managing their expectations upfront. Do so by being realistic and authentic, communicating clearly and consistently, and delivering on your promises.