When you get a new client, they are usually all over the place when it comes to their expectations of what you can do for them. Managing their expectations is one of the most important things you need to do early on. If you underpromise too much, you risk driving the client away. On the other hand, if you let the client have their dreams and expectations dictate the pace, you could end up disappointing them.
As a business owner, this is a fine line to walk, and one that can hold long-term impact on your reputation. That’s why we asked 13 entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following:
What is one approach for better managing client expectations early in a relationship? Why does this approach work so well?
1. Prepare and Sign a Written Agreement
“Whether you are signing a general contract or vendor agreement, write down all of the expectations, negotiate them with the client, and then ensure that all the parties involved sign. Psychologically, clients feel more secure with a business that has their terms in writing to which they can cite. Practically speaking, a contract protects a business’s interests and reduces communication errors.” ~ Duran Inci, Optimum7
2. Read the Contract Together
“Too often, contracts get looked over by legal teams, omitting the key stakeholders that are involved in agency-client relationships. As a service provider, make sure that you also clearly outline what is required of your client to be successful. Mismatched expectations are the biggest reason for failed engagements, and in most cases they can be completely avoidable with better communication upfront.” ~ Dan Golden, BFO (Be Found Online)
3. Underpromise and Overdeliver
“It seems pretty straightforward but oftentimes, sales teams like to promise the moon and hope their team can deliver. We prefer to set nice boundaries and buffers so that our client knows exactly what to expect. Then, when we overdeliver, they are stoked!” ~ Torrey Tayenaka, Sparkhouse
4. Ask a Lot of Questions
“Keep asking questions until you have a complete picture of all the expectations for the relationship. The more specific questions you ask, the better chance you will get at receiving specific answers that guide your work toward achieving those expectations.” ~ Serenity Gibbons, NAACP
5. Communicate Regularly and Truthfully
“Ensure that communication is planned and regular, and use it to create an open and trusting relationship from the beginning. Be honest in these communications about what you can deliver, and don’t be shy of clearly explaining why you have made certain decisions or recommendations. The transparency you create will be a solid base for setting up clear and achievable client expectations.” ~ Thomas Smale, FE International
6. Interview and Record Expectations
“Take the time to interview each new client to find out what they want to achieve. Once you have that understanding, put it in an agreement form and formalize that approach. It works because you clarify what’s expected upfront.” ~ John Rampton, Calendar
7. Create a Deliverables List
“It is a must to have a deliverables list. A contract is good to have, but often the contract will have legalese that the clients don’t read or react poorly to when confronted. A better way is a clear list of deliverables and timelines. Ideally a one-page list of bullet point deliverables will make sure everyone is clear on what needs to happen and when.” ~ Peter Boyd, PaperStreet Web Design
8. Keep Your Estimates Realistic
“We all have a habit of talking up our business when we meet with a potential partner for the first time. While it might sound effective at first, you’re actually hurting your chances of meeting client expectations in the long run. During your first meeting, establish clear and obtainable goals. If you overachieve, then everyone wins.” ~ John Turner, SeedProd LLC
9. Get to Know Them a Little
“I’m not saying you have to learn personal details about your clients, but talking to them one-on-one and getting to know them better doesn’t hurt at all. In fact, it may help you to deliver a product or service better than you previously could. Learning more about your clients is a great way to give them the content they want and not disappoint.” ~ Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
10. Explain All the Processes in Detail
“Clients may expect more than you can deliver, and that’s OK. They don’t know how everything works, and that’s why they came to you in the first place. To avoid any misunderstanding, set realistic deadlines and milestones, but be transparent with the client. Explain to them in detail what needs to be done to achieve the desired results. As a bonus, they’ll probably value your help even more.” ~ Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
More in: Customer Satisfaction
And most of these steps should happen BEFORE the written agreement is signed. That’s when you can still easily back out if the fit isn’t right.
You need to have a requirement list to ensure that the expectations are there and the both of you are on the same page.