8 Ways to Manage Customer Expectations
Managing Customer Expectations Makes a Difference
Whether you’re a freelancer, small agency owner, contractor, or anything in between—your business thrives on bringing in new customers and helping their business grow with your specialized productized service. Working for yourself is exciting, and believe us, we know the thrill of having a new customer inquiry or referral for a project that perfectly fits your skillset.
However, sometimes the demands from your new customer may be far out of range of what’s possible. And, being a “yes man” doesn't always work out in the end. So, to keep relationships with your customers from going south, how are you managing their expectations?
It all starts by setting boundaries, priming, establishing communication, and truly getting to know your customer—are you doing this? Let’s dive into a few strategies and how I think about this.
Here we’ll go over the eight golden rules for managing customer expectations, ensuring that you and your customer get the most out of your relationship.
1. Define Your Deliverables
Seems obvious, right? But it may not be so simple.
Think about the last receipt you got at the grocery store—typically, there’s no questioning what you purchased and how much those items cost you. But occasionally, you may look at a receipt and find yourself scratching your head.
Confusion is bad for business. So, give your customers “pre-work receipts.” Create a well-defined list of all deliverables and timelines to ensure you are on the same page. I outline strategies around this here.
A detailed outline including both the work and expected timeline keeps you covered and keeps your customer’s expectations under control. And, if the timeline needs to change, be sure to let your customer know immediately—trust us, they’ll appreciate the honesty.
2. Keep Communication Clear & Often
Start your working relationship by establishing a communication channel that will work best for you and your customer. It could be through Google’s chat feature, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or anything else—but whatever it is, make sure that it works for your customer.
With an open channel for quick communication, you’ll have the luxury of reaching out to your customer should any questions pop up (and they will), rather than waiting days or weeks for a response and then handing over work that doesn't meet their expectations.
3. Understand the Customer’s Goals
Discovery calls are always enlightening, and often under-valued. Talk to the customer, understand their goals, consider your offerings, and determine if you’ll be a good match for their needs. This is your chance to ask questions and gain as much clarity as possible on their needs and expectations to ensure that the project runs smoothly.
And remember–honesty is the best policy. If you’re not a match for their specific goals, then respectfully bow out. There’s nothing wrong with turning away a customer that you can’t properly serve, and doing so might save you from a major headache down the line.
4. Get to Know Your Customer
You can do this through one-on-one conversation, but let’s be real--it’s the 21st century. Look them up on LinkedIn, Facebook, and maybe even TikTok if you’re feeling frisky.
Seriously though, let’s not get creepy; just do some light digging to figure out what kinds of hobbies they enjoy, what state they live in, or even what they dislike (now you’ll know what to avoid.) Getting to know your customer enables you to connect with them on a professional level, and you will have better luck with managing their expectations for your services.
5. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Think about it–they have a problem, and you have a solution. They’re turning to you for your service as a sort of saving grace. They need to navigate a business issue and continue to grow their business. You have a potential solution.
With this in mind, put yourself in their shoes—there’s probably a feeling of anxiety and nervousness with hiring a contractor or freelancer. So, while it’s essential to ensure that you’re managing their expectations, you should also have some empathy, and be prepared for slight variations or minor mishaps along the way—it’s all part of the ride.
6. Prime, Remind, Repeat
Predict, anticipate, and understand your customer’s needs. Indeed, you’ve solved similar problems before—so when your customer forgets to mention an important detail about a deliverable, timeline, or expectation, use your common sense. With mounting pressure, it’s common for customers to make mistakes regarding specific details, and as an expert in your craft, you should be ready for this, and deliver the obvious for them, even if it’s “accidentally” left out of the initial conversation. Believe us; they’ll be thrilled that you were intuitive and thought ahead.
7. Set Up a Contract
You can find a variety of contract templates through a simple internet search, so you won’t need to start from scratch here. Writing up the details of your project will make it easier for both you and your customers to understand and hold true to the terms of your agreement. This way, if customer expectations become unrealistic, you can always refer back to a signed contract that clearly outlines the services you are exchanging.
This can also be something you can have customers agree to during the payment process if you don't have a more formal signed or digital signature requirement.
8. Under Promise and Over Deliver
This might sound cliche, but it’s one of the most effective ways that you can have long-term success in managing your customer’s expectations. There’s nothing more impressive than when you bring your customer an aspect of a project that they might not have expected. It doesn't have to be huge, just a little piece of extra effort to show that you truly care about them as a customer.
Of course, on the flip side of this notion, you never want to over-promise, and under-deliver. If the customer is expecting something out of you, that you agreed on, then you should deliver it. Remember that when you’re defining the deliverables of the projects, make sure that you agree on things you can actually produce—avoid disappointment!
Recap + What to Do Next
Most likely, you started doing what you do because you have a passion for the work—not a passion for managing customer expectations. However, there are simple ways to avoid headaches and frustrations when you set boundaries, establish clear communication, and develop relationships with your customer that lead to more productive work and deliverables that “knock it out of the park.”
So, when your next customer inquiry comes in, consider trying out a few, or all of these practices. You might be surprised at how smoothly your projects can go.