Client Expectations – the most important question of all

What are you expecting from this blog? If you are looking for a short read, to pass a few moments and to understand a point of view about a topic that could be related to your work – hopefully those expectations will be met. However, if you are expecting this post to provide you with a new business strategy, which will increase your revenues by 20% and provide you with a scintillating topic of conversation for your next dinner party….you are likely going to be left disappointed!

The expectations that we have of a situation ultimately frames our whole experience. Think back to your last holiday. Were you left delighted, satisfied, or let down by your hotel? You will have likely looked online at the hotel information. Probably picked the location and budget and checked the pictures to make sure it ‘looks nice’. However, the type of hotel that you are after and how closely the reality matches your initial thoughts will be a huge influence on your overall satisfaction. For a proof point, look no further than a Trip Advisor review. More often than not there will be a mix of 1,2,3,4, and 5 star reviews – but how can there be such a variety? Surely if a hotel is good, it will receive good scores? It is not as simple as that. People leave a review and give justification for their score and by reading through them, you start to garner a greater understanding of whether their expectations were met. “This hotel was great, the staff were friendly, location great and they went the extra mile to really make us feel special” – 5 Stars. And from the same hotel listing. “This hotel is a disgrace, I stay in many 5 star hotels throughout the world and I can honestly say that the service at this hotel is not fitting of a 5 star hotel.” – 1 star. We could surmise that the 5 star reviewer is staying in their first 5 star hotel and are left delighted as they did not know what they should expect. The 1 star reviewer, though, has perhaps had more exposure to 5 star hotels. Was it really terrible service? Or was service the just slightly under their expectations for what it should be?

The challenge for anyone working in professional services is to understand the most important question of all – as quickly as possible. What are the client expectations?

The challenge for anyone working in professional services is to understand the most important question of all – as quickly as possible. What are the client expectations? If you know what a client expects, you must first meet these expectations – and then ideally exceed them. If you are able to do that, then you are likely to have a satisfied client. So – how can you go about asking the most important of questions?

  1. Just ask them. Firstly, you can ask. If you are able to have an honest conversation with a client at a briefing or proposal stage then it would certainly be worthwhile to ask them directly. Try to avoid cheesy clichés when asking. You are unlikely to get very far with an approach of “so, tell me what a successful project looks like to you” or “how will I know if you have been delighted’ and instead ask a series of questions designed to unfold the issues at hand and unpick the ultimate business objectives.
  2. Have a wider conversation. Your direct client is going to have a clear idea of what they need you to do – but there are likely other stakeholders involved. There is no substitute for speaking to people directly – so make sure to set aside some time to speak to all the important parties who will ultimately have to action any findings you have. Hearing their objectives in their own words can shed some extra light on the issues.
  3. Check in. You don’t need to constantly check in with your client and get every thought or idea signed off, but it probably is worthwhile letting them know some key findings as you go. Leaving everything shrouded in mystery to the end of the project and unveiling it with a dramatic fanfare may sound like a theatrical performance – but regular updates and idea sharing is a more collaborative approach to take.
  4. Present initial hypothesis. Taking the above point a little further, once you do get towards the end of the project and recommendations need to be formed, it is worth sitting down with your client and talking the general themes and ideas through with them. They are likely to have their own ideas and ways to improve upon your recommendations and crucially – this is where you avoid the bad ‘5 start hotel’ issue. Managing their expectations for what they will get out at the end by involving them in some of the initial thinking should allow for a greater levels of satisfaction.
  5. Review the project after it has been completed. This final point is your chance to take stock of what went well and what can be improved. It is also an opportunity for your client to download any improvements to you. Setting aside some time to review the project should put you in a better position to complete the next project – building up an accurate level of expectations as you go.

The ultimate goal is always to exceed client expectations. Finding ways, big or small, to offer some delight points for clients. Utilising some of the points above should give you the starting point of the level of expectation. Ultimately you want that 5 star user review and hopefully your expectations for this blog have been suitably met.