Managing Client Expectations
December 07, 2019
Working as a consultant, one of the most crucial parts of the job is how you manage your communication with your client and ultimately deliver satisfaction (or even sheer joy) with your performance. Perception of your performance from client side is probably one of the most important factors to your success as a consultant. Furthermore, if the client is really happy with you he/she will probably even end up referring you to their friends in the business. Keeping the importance of client communication and ultimately client-side perception in mind lets go over some of the most important factors that we can influence from the start of our client relationship.
Pick the right clients
Some clients are easier to manage than others. In your initial meeting please be sure to ask questions that ascertain how much experience the client has in dealing with consultants and how he/she expects the consultant-client relationship to be. Some clients want daily updates, some weekly and some even monthly. Some clients have clear deliverables and expectations and some have vague ideas that they want you to execute on. Asking these questions from the beginning also communicates to the client that you are an experienced consultant and are adept at dealing with all the expectations that the client might have.
Be honest and authentic
As it goes for every relationship, honesty is also key in client relationships. In your initial meeting be honest about your capabilities and what exactly they can expect you to deliver. Set realistic expectations on how much time you take to deliver these things too.
Overselling your capabilities or efficiency will only end up in a bad situation later when the client has higher expectations from you than you are capable of delivering. Please tell them what are the top skills that you are extremely proficient at and the others that you are trying to improve on. The client should come out of your initial meeting with a clear view of exactly what kind of expert you are. In general its much better to be a master at one trade than being the jack of all!
Develop a personal relationship
At the end of the day, we humans are emotional animals and we always are more infiuenced by how we feel than how we think. Therefore it is of utmost importance that there is at least a little personal bonding and trust between the client and the consultant. This is an area of high subjectivity so there are no rules of thumb but mentioning a bit about your personal life and having a shared sense of humor can be really good in developing this personal bond and trust. Please make sure not to go overboard with comments about your personal life, the goal is just to give the client a little bit of an idea of who you are as a person and what kind of life you lead.
Anticipate client requirements but clarify
What really differentiates you as a professional is how well you anticipate the requirements of the business even before you are told what they are exactly. It is important however to not make any assumptions and always ask the clients the specifics. Things can go wrong if what you anticipate and what they actually require are different things. So while its good to anticipate its better to always ask and clarify.
Think like the customer
Ultimately what will give you a good insight and anticipations of the client business is your ability to empathize with their customers. This is one of the most important skills in business and its importance cannot be overstated. Its good if you identify with the client base and can understand their problems but in case you dont its probably a wise idea to talk to your friends who might be in that market segment. For example if you are dealing with a business about mountain-climbing equipment and you are not a climber yourself it is probably wise to talk to some to understand what they do and what their problems are.
Agree on clear deliverables
The less subjectivity there is on what exactly the client expects you to deliver the easier it is going to be manage those expectations. For example if you are a developer ask the clients for specific designs on what exactly they want you to develop. Before you even start working on the deliverables there should be an a somewhat clear agreement on what exactly the finished product is going to look like, how it will perform (in case it is a software product), and in what format or programming language it is going to be written in. In case of software products it is also useful to talk about whether they expect you to write tests and documentation. (Hint: It is usually the case that they do!)
Sign a contract
Drafting a contract is a great way to lay out in specific detail about what the terms of the relationship are. Furthermore it is a great way to get the client to actually read and understand the finer details of the service that is going to be provided so there is no miscommunication at a later stage. Most bad business dealings are a result of miscommunication and there is no better way to avoid that than to put in fine print the terms of your business relationship.
The kick-off meeting
Its always good to start off the business relationship with a kick-off meeting. This is the meeting where you can agree on the deliverables and the timeline. It also goes a long way in starting a little bit of a personal relationship as well.
An open communication channel and communicating on a regular basis on the challenges and progress made is going to make you stay on top of the perceptions about how the relationship is going. Be sure to ask the client in the beginning about what their preferred method and frequency of communication is and then stick to those preferences very strictly. If the client wants to communicate with email only then its probably not a good idea to call them about minor issues. On the other hand if they prefer calling then just emailing them is probably going to not make them happy.
Don’t Be Afraid to Walk
And finally, as a professional it is important that you have the ability to walk away from a business relationship that you dont think is going well or according to the terms you set in the beginning. Dont be afraid to remind the client what the terms of your agreement in case they seem to have forgotten them. If the client wants to change the terms, thats a discussion to be had but its not a good idea to let them exploit you.
With that being said, I wish you the best of luck in finding good clients and even more in being able to maintain good long-term business relationships with them.
Written by Sumeru Chatterjee who lives in Cali, Colombia and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Follow him on Twitter.