Recently one of my friends has asked me to consult him on the topic of Client Expectations Management. This request tripped me up because, on the one hand, client expectations management is something really critical for any business, but, on the other hand, I couldn’t remember any specific project management techniques and theories in this field. So, I decided to research this topic in order to share both my findings and my personal experience with you.
What is Client Expectations?
Before diving into specific techniques of managing client expectations let’s figure out what client expectations is. While preparing this article I read a lot of resources and here is the definition of client expectations I like most of all:
Client Expectations means the client’s beliefs or assumptions about the future of the project.
This definition is short and comprehensive, but who would have a thought that it conceals several problems inside! Addressing these problems is the main task of a project manager who deals with client expectations.
Problem number one is that client`s assumptions about the future are in most cases hopeful and optimistic. Clients foresee a final result that they want to get, but only a few of them can think of any roadblock or risk that may come up during the project implementation. Do you want to upset your client with this information? Of course, not. We all want to look nice for our clients and this often leads to promising even more than we can do. Promising more seems the easiest way to please the client, but, in fact, it is not, because the consequences may be catastrophic. The battle with unrealistic expectations is a real challenge for project managers who deal with client expectations.
Problem number two is that whatever you promise to your clients, it will be taken by them as a commitment, not a promise. In reality when you give a promise to a client, it means that you commit to do your best in order to keep this promise, but it doesn’t mean that you guarantee the final result. That’s because you can`t foresee in advance every thing that may stand in your way. Once Steve Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. The battle with unforeseen circumstances is another challenge that any project manager faces while managing client expectations.
It may seem that the career of a project manager is an entire battle. And it really is. It is the battle for project success and client satisfaction. As we have listed out the main challenges that we face while managing client expectations, let’s see how we can meet them.
How to meet client expectations?
- Clear Up Initial Expectations. When you start working with a new client and discuss the project scope, timeline and budget, make sure that you completely understand the client’s expectations at the point of making the deal. If something is uncertain, do not hesitate to ask questions and make clarifications. If you see any potential risks, speak them up and definitely document them. The same is valid for any assumptions. If your clients don’t have a vision for any particular item, work with them to make assumptions and document all of them as well. And never make commitments that you definitely can`t keep.
- Underpromise a Little. To underpromise means promising a bit less that you can do. This underpromising gives you an extra buffer (of time, budget, resources etc.) that you may apply in case if any risk is materialized. But if everything goes smoothly you may deliver the project earlier or with some extra features. This fact will definitely make your client happy. However, keep in mind that the key word here is “a little”. Otherwise, the client may think that you’re incompetent and declines the partnership.
- Outline Possibility of Changes. Clearly outline as many circumstances as possible, which may cause potential changes in your commitments. Also, clarify the action plan in case these changes happen. For example, you may discuss and eventually document in your agreement that the date of delivery will shift ahead if the client does not provide you with any necessary requirements or approval in time.
- Put Together a Solid Project Plan. It may seem that this point is not connected to managing client expectations. Sure, it doesn’t help you to manage the client expectations explicitly, but it helps you to meet the client expectations. A good project plan increases the chances of the project to succeed.
- Have a Regular Project Review Meeting. Regular communication with the clients serves two main purposes from the perspective of client expectations management. The first one is providing the client with the project status update and correcting the initial expectations in case of troubles. The second purpose is figuring out whether the initial client expectations haven’t changed.
- Be Honest and Transparent. When something bad happens on the project, the first thing that comes in mind is a temptation to conceal the information from the clients or stakeholders. It’s natural because nobody wants to be blamed and feels comfortable delivering bad news. I can`t rule out that there are cases and incidents that you client doesn`t need to know, but you should remember a golden rule: the sooner you escalate the issue, the less consequences it has. Instead of trying to conceal the information, think how to deliver it in a less stressful for you and your client way.
Do you have any own secrets on how to meet client expectations? Please, share in comments.