If ever there was a line of work in which there’s no such thing as black and white, it’s consulting. There is no grand consultant’s code to follow. There is no standard framework within which to conduct your activities. Every project can be as clear cut or as vague as you and your customer wish to make it.
Of course, vagueness is far from desirable. If you want to avoid vagueness, ambiguity, and misunderstandings, you must put your own framework in place and most especially, manage customer expectations from the point of first engagement, all the way to the project’s end.
In this short post, you’ll find some tips to manage customer expectations. Following them will help you to streamline project delivery, improve outcomes, and ultimately, to delight your customers in every case (even when outcomes don’t meet initial “expectations”).
Know Your Customer’s Initial Expectations
In order to manage customer expectations as a consultant, you must first know exactly what they are at the outset of your relationship. This is something you can only find out by asking questions—lots of questions.
For example, perhaps at an initial meeting, a potential customer tells you she wants to hire you to help secure operational cost savings in a specific area of her business. You’re going to need to ask questions such as:
- What is a realistic percentage of costs to be saved?
- Over what duration of time do you wish to realise the savings?
- What is the budget available to invest in longer-term savings?
- What trade-offs are acceptable to achieve the required savings?
Be Prepared to Manage Implicit Expectations
No matter how many questions you ask though, your potential customer may also have implicit expectations that will never be articulated.
Managing customer expectations that remain unstated is less difficult than it might sound. The important thing is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about the list of expectations you would have if you were her.
The list will likely comprise behavioural expectations more than anything, such as honesty, effective communication, reliability, empathy, and the ability to listen.
Further down the line, when the project is underway, watch for signs that your customer appears to be unhappy. Unhappy customers often tend to become more and more demanding as the relationship continues.
If you have met all the spoken expectations, there’s a good chance that the customer’s implicit expectations are not being met. If this situation arises, it’s important to take a step back and put yourself in her shoes once more. Try to identify where you might be going wrong and then address it.
Be Explicit With Your Own Expectations
While your customers may have implicit expectations, it’s a privilege to which you are not entitled. An important part of managing customer expectations is to be explicit with your own. Be honest and clear with the customer about the limits and scope of your consulting services.
Let the customer know what is achievable and what is not. Be explicit about your own working standards and what you will deliver—but don’t promise anything you’re not capable of.
A good customer will respect your frankness and with everything on the table, your relationship will be stronger. If a client is not prepared to accept that you have expectations too, your best bet might be to decline the project. As a consultant, it is perfectly acceptable to choose which customers you work with and which you don’t.
Ongoing Management of Customer Expectations
Finally, don’t limit your customer expectation management to the initial stages of your relationship. It’s critical to check and double check expectations throughout a project’s duration.
Most importantly, always check that you have clearly understood the points made in every communication.
Follow phone calls up with emails. Follow emails up with more emails confirming what you’ve understood. This allows ample opportunity for your client to correct you if you’ve misunderstood something.
If you’re able to confidently manage customer expectations, you will enjoy rewarding relationships and achieve better results as a consultant. If not, you can easily find your profitability eroded by excessive demands on your time and by rework conducted at your own expense. Trust me; those are traps you don’t want to fall into. Hopefully, the tips I’ve provided here will help you to stay clear of them.
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