Great expectations: Managing client and customer expectations
In business and in customer service, success can come down to one thing: a happy customer. Yet, it can also be the most difficult result to achieve. Perhaps the key to this is managing expectations to balance what your client or customer wants and what you are capable of delivering. Managing expectations has a lot to do with perception, semantics and communication and a little to do with project management. Here are a few things to consider before starting that next big project:

  • Be specific about your customer service elements so the customer knows what to expect.
    With customers, this means outlining specifically what they can expect from your business, from your overall scope of business, to product and service listings, to your customer service approach. With clients, this means setting the expectations at the onset of a project. Some clients provide detailed briefs and scope documents when requesting a quote, others do not. No matter what type of client you are dealing with, it is best to make sure both parties know what to expect. Record overall goals of the relationship, project-specific objectives, a detailed timeline and an outline of deliverables.
  • Never assume: Find out what expectations your customers have so you do not have to guess.
    Go beyond just telling customers and clients what they can expect from your business and ask them specifically what it is that they are looking for from you. If your business is prepared to meet these expectations, put it on paper. If not, reach a compromise for more realistic requests.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    Communication is the backbone of interpersonal relationships. At the start of a relationship with a client or customer, ask how they prefer to be communicated with—e-mail, phone, in-person meetings or all of the above. Then go out of your way to communicate status updates and respond to their communication in a timely matter. Where customers are concerned, make sure that they can contact your business for support as easily as possible. Mail magnets or pens with customer support numbers on them with each order and place contact information prominently on your website. Be sure to respond to all customer service issues voiced by phone, e-mail, in-person or online in a timely matter.
  • Stay organized.
    Part of managing client and customer expectations is project management. Be sure to mark deadlines on calendars, schedule meetings and assign tasks in a central location, whether online or off. Use simple tools like desktop calendars and sticky notes to keep important dates top of mind.
  • Be open and honest.
    Being honest and transparent with your clients is something that should start prior to the beginning of the project, in the business development stage. Educate customers and clients on your business practices and approaches to build trust and confidence. If an expectation can’t be met, say so and explain why.
  • If you have employees make sure everyone knows what the standards are.
    Follow the lead of many Fortune 500 companies and offer service training to all staff members, new hires or veterans. Make sure they know what the general customer and client expectations are so that they can communicate and respond adequately to any complaints. Take it one step further and empower employees to meet any additional customer expectations within reason without needing to seek approval from a supervisor, which will allow employees to take care of any issues as quickly as possible. At the end of this training, offer mementos of service expectations, like key-shaped key rings or stress relievers.

Managing client expectations is a talent—but it’s also a necessity for success and building business. Is your small business taking steps to do what it can for clients and customers?

 

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