Managing Client Expectations
Whether you are an employee that interfaces with clients or are an independent consultant, chances are you have disappointed a client or two - probably because expectations were not properly understood.
We all know how easy it is to hear what we want to hear, especially when we're excited about a new client relationship or a new project. It's easy to assign our own level of importance to comments that our clients make in a conversation. Documenting clear objectives and agreeing on deliverables will ensure that both you and your client understand the project.
Some tips I've learned the hard way regarding defining and managing client expectations:
- Use or develop a Project Form with fill-in-the-blanks questions that will define the project. Ask the client to clearly define objectives and how success will be measured.(An alternative to the client filling out the form would be for you to fill it out for them in a meeting or phone call, then asking for them to review it and sign off.)
- If the client balks at providing complete information, it's okay to pass on the business. If you skip this step and proceed based only on a meeting or phone conversation, you run the risk of a misunderstanding on one side or the other.
- Clearly outline the statement of work, each task and the person or entity responsible, deadlines and what happens if deadlines are not met. (For example: Info A due from Client by June 1. Each day past June 1 may delay the project by 1 week).
- Set a schedule to review progress during the project. This can be done in person, or virtually if you're using a collaboration tool. Checking in periodically to make sure everything is on schedule can save time later and allows for adjustments when necessary.
- When you review, start by reiterating their objectives and how your recommendations or solutions relate to those objectives. This is easy to forget once the objectives are set in your mind. The client may need you to clearly connect those dots.
- Communicate with your client immediately if you cannot meet a deadline or complete a task as assigned. (Better yet, have an acceptable alternative in mind when you talk to them).Honestly and transparency goes a long way to building trust.
There's no upside to being "right" when your client is dissatisfied. Establishing clear guidelines and deliverables on the front end will ensure that your client knows exactly what they'll be receiving from you, and when.