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Managing expectations is one of the most important aspect to maintaining a healthy and rewarding relationship with your clients. Needless to say, when a project is over, no one will remember how many meetings you had or how many documents you created, how fast you did something, or for how much or little.
But, they will remember the experience.
Throughout my career as a Project Manager, I have learned a lot about managing the expectations of various clients – Reputation is everything!
As you enter the new year, I’d like to share five tips on how to manage that experience or reset expectations with your clients:
1. Show Them You Care
From the very beginning of any project, make sure you care about it.
First and last impressions are everything and they set the tone for the working relationship between you and the client.
“No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them.” –Theodore Roosevelt
It doesn’t matter how many awards your agency have won or what you did with some other company, it only matters what you are doing right now and what you plan to do for them in the future.
Ask your client what they want to achieve, what they’re looking for out of this project or relationship. This shows them that you care about them personally. It’s also flattering for a client if you’ve done your homework and are prepared to talk about concerns they have too.
For brownie points, get to know them outside of a business relationship. Strike up a personal conversation when appropriate. This will help you figure out what makes them tick and you’ll start to understand their motivations and more importantly, they’ll start to understand yours.
2. Write Down Everything
Lets face it, information travels fast and you can only absorb so much before you lose track. Like witnesses reporting details of a crime, the information gets less accurate the further they are from when it occurred.
As time goes by, clients forget what was agreed upon or alter details into something else. So taking notes during meetings and conversations is critical.
This paper trail not only serves as a reference for what was discussed, it also allows you to organize potential new requirements and provide instructions for what to do next. Post these notes in yourcollaboration tool for all to see and refer back to when times get busy or when lines blur as new things are added last minute.
3. Agree on Strategy, Goals, and Timelines
Until you and your client agree on strategy, goals, and timelines, you are always at risk of them not understanding what success is and how it should be measured. Always create a scope-of-work document that outlines the program details, budgets, and metrics you will be tackling. This will alleviate any confusion over expectations and hopefully eliminate a difficult conversation.
All of our account strategists at IMPACT track client-related strategies, wish lists, activity timelines, and progress in a collaborative sprint-planning document. Clients have access to the document so that we’re all on the same page at all times.
4. Constant Communication
This is the single most important point on this list. Why? – A lack of communication is usually at the root of most problems associated with clients. Any good client relationship will weather setbacks if you are proactive in communicating both good and bad news.
When communication is direct and transparent, trust forms and helps to create a foundation for long-lasting relationships.
It is critical to point here that, how you present information is always subject to interpretation and clients absorb it in all sorts of different ways – some contextually from a situation, others verbally. Some need it drawn out on a whiteboard and others need to take their time with a cup of coffee and an email.
In order to eliminate this grey area of understanding, deploy a combination forms of communication and deliver it in the simplest way possible (or in that client’s preferred medium).
Probably not anyone’s favorite task, but reports deliver a clear, definitive explanation of work that was done over the course of a week or month.
At the end of each week or month, use all the data you've gathered and make a value report for your clients. Start by listing the goal-related tasks, including the finished result, and tying this in with your client's goals.
Creating weekly or monthly value reports for each client may sound like a lot of work, but they can help strengthen your client relationships. With them, clients can see exactly what you have been doing and what it has achieved.
Remember – reports don’t have to be very long, or in a format that sucks up a lot of your time. A simple email or powerpoint detailing key performance indicators, metrics, and tasks completed shows your clients what they’re paying for, and thus, keeps them happy. --
This gives them a concrete report that shows the results of their investment in you. With this in hand, when/if the time comes for the client to cut spending, your services will still be one of the essentials they'll keep around.
It’s A Wrap
At the end of the day, your ability to manage client expectations is going to pivot on how well you choose to communicate. If you leave things up to chance, chances are you and your client will both be disappointed.
These five tips are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to managing client expectations, but they’re simple and easy to execute at any point.
Put these into practice in 2016 and you’ll start to notice a shared vision and understanding of where things are going and what needs to be done to get there.
Plus if you’re consistent, you’ll create a great project experience for your clients.
What’s your strategy when it comes to meeting client expectations? Share your opinion by commenting below.