Master Client Expectations: 5 Proven Tips

In project management, there are many facets to the job that go beyond managing tasks; you have to manage expectations as well. Learn more on Symetris blog.

5 tips on managing client expectations

1. Always be transparent

This is not only a big part of our core values at Symetris, but also a key factor in managing expectations.  If you are honest and transparent right from the get-go, you will be more apt to under-promise and over-deliver, instead of promising the world because you think that is what the client wants to hear. The latter doesn’t benefit anybody and the client will end up being very unhappy, because you will have inevitably reneged on your promise.

When managing expectations for timelines for example, it’s a good idea to point out the fact that it can always change as the project evolves, seeing as there may be different factors at play that would require the timeline to be revised, such as:

  • Additions to the original scope of work
  • Additional revisions that were not planned
  • Bugs that may have arisen during production
  • Resource changes

2. Anticipate

Yes, this can sometimes be challenging, but we’re not talking about reading minds or anything like that, but rather to try and be one step ahead of the game.  If you’ve done your homework beforehand and are able to bring forward concerns you have right from the get-go, then you’re not only showing the client that you are well prepared but that you’ve thought ahead and anticipated the progression of the project in its entirety rather than just in its current state.

Another good way to anticipate is to bring recommendations to the table when communicating with the client.  As the project progresses, you may notice things that could improve it and step it up a notch; making recommendations to make the project better will be nothing but beneficial for everyone.  Not only will the client appreciate your dedication to making their project better, but this will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that you contributed to hitting this thing out of the ball park so to speak.

3. Communicate regularly

Being transparent is one thing, but without clear and regular communication, that point can quickly become moot. By communicating regularly with the client, you ensure that they are up-to-speed on what’s happening, when it’s happening and what is coming up.  For example, you could send an update e-mail in point form listing the following:

  • Actions taken in the current batch
  • Upcoming action steps
  • Timeline of completion of upcoming action steps
  • Upcoming client implications (ex.: QA/testing period & feedbacks)

When the client is regularly briefed on the progress, they have a better understanding of the process and the likelihood of timely deliveries or delays to expect.

Fixing a set date and time to speak with the client on a weekly basis at the start of a project is a great way to ensure that their expectations are under control, because they know that they will get the play-by-play every week, thus lessening the chances of unpleasant surprises.

4. Don’t make assumptions

Making assumptions can quickly bring you down a very slippery slope.  Communicating regularly is one thing, but truly understanding one another is a whole other story. Sometimes it is difficult for a client to clearly state exactly what they want or need and it can sometimes be a monumental task to extract the correct information and get to the heart of what they are really asking for. 

If you don’t dig further and ask questions, the client will assume that you understood everything he wanted and then could end up disappointed if you don’t deliver. Learn how to listen properly!  Often times, we tend to listen in a "how will I respond" manner, which is not actually listening, but rather preparing your responses. Try shifting this thinking into "do I really understand what this person is trying to communicate? What question could I ask to ensure that I understand before I respond?"

Following-up with a recap of everything that was said and understood and asking the client to confirm, is a good habit to get into following all communications.

5. Learn to say no

For some people this is one of the hardest words to say to a client, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil to keep things on track and manage expectations.  If the client makes a request that just doesn’t work within the scope of work or the timeline, it’s ok to say no, but offer up an alternative or a solution that would benefit them and help you stay on track. 

It’s important to explain your "no" to make sure that the client understands the implications of their request.  Following up your "no" with an alternative solution should soften the blow and even end up making the client happier, because you’ve offered up an idea that he may not have even thought about; Prime example of the whole anticipation point.

In short, the main take-away from all this is that the key to managing expectations is communication.  By properly communicating you will not only better manage expectations but also contribute in developing a lasting relationship with your client.

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