The Art of Managing Client Expectations


As Warren Buffet says, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." 

What can cause more damage- a sudden crisis or disappointing your clients over time? The answer is both. It's not always a crisis that can ruin a reputation.  Mismanaging client expectations can.  So how do you ensure you are managing client's expectations so your business thrives?  

Here is a powerful yet simple rule: Always give people more than they expect. 

Consistently managing and exceeding client expectations builds trust equity, and increases repeat business. Conversely, when you fail to meet expectations, clients are invariably disappointed and trust is lost. 

One Saturday morning last month, I visited my friend Joanna for a coffee and a catch-up. I noticed she had a new big, beautiful, bright painting in her living room. So I asked where she bought it. I was inspired, and the blank walls in my new office were crying out for some bold colour. Joanna was quick to refer the artist -- John Frederick Cox, of PEI, who sells his paintings exclusively on social and spoke very highly of her experience with him. Happy customers are the best sales team - 68% of people worldwide refer products and services they trust. 

Game to try something new, I messaged Cox about buying a painting. Within minutes he responded, "You prepay, then you'll get a number, when your number comes up, I'll create your painting." 

It was a bit unorthodox, however with Joanna's glowing referral in the back of my mind, I sent the e-transfer, and my painting became #33. When it was my turn, he sent me this personalized message:  

"I’m starting your painting today. I’m making myself a yummy coffee, and I’m going to paint the best painting I can for you." This note kicked off the experience, but it was just the beginning. Over the next few days, the artist sent messages. From outline of the timeline and process to the first picture of the charcoal sketch, to the first brush stroke, to the shipping box waiting for pick up -I was in the loop. 

It was as if I was there, in the studio with him, watching the creative process unfold and painting #33 come to life before my eyes. I saw the product produced online in real time.  

My expectations of the experience were not only met but blown away! Painting #33 hangs in my office today. 

What does this have to do with business? It goes back to Give people more than they expect. Under promise and over deliver.  Expectations include keeping clients informed.   

How many times have we worked on a project with a partner excited to start the process and then midway felt left in the dark with no clear understanding of when the final report or product would land in our inbox? Feelings of anxiety and doubt creep in, which creates disappointment before receiving the finished product. Many companies wrongly assume clients or colleagues tire of hearing about the initiative and under-communicate.  

This simple mistake can erode trust. Consistent communication can build it.

In business, unless it’s a new client, we rarely start with a ‘blank canvas’.  The challenge is to continually manage expectations so you can realistically exceed them.

Here are three examples of businesses that have operationalized client expectations and are reaping the rewards. 

1. "Getting Specific: The End of Day Deadline Policy"

An engineering firm is so focused on exceeding client expectations, they have operationalized it inside the organization with policies. For example, 'end of day' means noon inside the company and 4 pm local time for clients. This policy applies to every commitment communicated to clients, from returning phone calls to project updates, to delivering the final report. This way, they always have a few hours for additional quality control. Consistently delivering high-quality error-free reports, correspondence and projects is a priority, as is providing certainty to clients. Clients know 'end of day' means 4 pm, and they can depend on them. More often than not, they deliver early, and the firm is rewarded with repeat business and clients who trust them to get the job done.

2. "Over Communicating the Last-Mile Delivery"

A manufacturing company strives to provide extraordinary customer experiences to their wholesalers. Like many customer-centric companies, their dashboard allows customers to track deliveries. Knowing clients appreciate certainty and personalization, they take extra steps at each stage, including texting and phoning when products are shipped. 

When we measured their Client Trust Equity, it's not surprising their high Trust Index score reflects the fact that they continually exceed expectations. Even when lead times are long…. communicating throughout the process has built trust with customers. 

3. "Placing Importance on the Relationship, Not the Transaction"

An insurance company treats every client like they are a forever client. Employees are hyper focused on relationships, and are empowered and compensated to delight and overdeliver. Regardless of their role, everyone is focused on anticipating client needs and becoming trusted advisors. Clients have responded to the predictable schedule of communications and extraordinary service with high retention rates.  

The way to a client’s heart is much more than managing and exceeding expectations.  

Making clients evangelists is about earning their trust and creating experiences worth talking about.  

John Frederick Cox did that. My niece is planning to buy a painting, my sister-in-law is thinking about buying one of his paintings, and I'll most likely buy another one. When customer’s attract business and become referral magnets your top line grows. It's not surprising Cox has a waiting list.

Members of the Becoming a Trusted Advisor Group Training cohort, learn the art of managing client expectations. If you are interested in learning more about how to roll out a trusted advisor program to grow your business, book a call or subscribe to my newsletter for more insights.