Managing Client Expectations

contracts.jpgWhen we moved into the current house we live in, the property management company sat down with us to go over every inch of the rental contract. It took almost two hours. Never in my life has a landlord or rental company taken the time to do that. Frankly, it was a little annoying. I have places to go, people to see. I don’t have time to review a lease agreement for two hours. In retrospect, I now have a better understanding as to why they do that. And, in fact, I’m going to take a lesson from it.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

One of the best ways to help ensure a successful relationship with your client is to manage their expectations. Often times it’s mis-managed expectations that lead to a client’s dissatisfaction with a product or service. Maybe a video is not as “slick” as they thought it would be. Or, maybe a wedding client was expecting two parent albums automatically with their package. Whatever the situation, all the hard work and passion you put into a project can be erased if a client doesn’t get what they’re expecting. You may be thinking, “Wow. This is one of the best [insert product/service here] I’ve ever done.” But the client could be thinking something totally different.

For you service providers out there, I want to share a few tips that can help you in the area of managing expectations.

  • Put it in writing: it goes without saying that you should put into your contract any pertinent information about what you plan to deliver. Where applicable, you should include everything from hours included, approximate length of video, number of photos and albums, copyright ownership, use of the work created, payment and terms, turn around time, whether or not your fee is non-refundable, what happens if you can’t deliver the promised service (i.e. do they get a refund in that situation), do you get fed, travel fees, expenses, how many revisions the client gets, what’s the cost if they go over the number of revisions, etc. Every time I learn a lesson from a bad client experience that is a result of client expectations, I update my contract.
  • Put it in writing, before you put it in writing: even before the client signs your formal agreement, have some key contractual elements spelled out ahead of time. Create an email template and/or brochure that let’s the prospective client know what to expect.
  • Tell them verbally: make sure your sales team (whether that’s you or someone who works for you) verbally tells the prospective client what to expect.
  • Add lines for initials to pages and paragraphs: you’ve all rented a car and at some point had to initial in a few areas declaring you declined some extra overpriced option they tried to sell you. Or maybe you’ve rented or purchased a home and had to initial the paragraph that talked about asbestos. The concept is simple. For those particularly sticky points that are absolutely imperative for your clients to know, make them initial it. We currently have clients initial the bottom of each page. But I’m now going to have them initial specific paragraphs as well. Particularly if you’re providing a service that costs thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars, it’s crucial that the client knows what he/she is getting for their investment. Chances are, your client is the kind of person who is extremely busy. It could be very easy for them to quickly sign your contract without even looking at it.

How many of you out there have dealt with clients who were pissed off about something that was in the contract THEY signed? I’ve come to learn that it’s our responsibility to hand-hold them through the contract process so there’s no excuse. If they go away upset, it won’t matter that they signed a contract stipulating whatever it was that upset them. All that will matter is that they will now bad-mouth you. Don’t give them that chance.

I’m not suggesting you need to have a two hour contract review process with a client like the one my wife and I had to sit through last year. But, it is imperative that you do all you can to let your clients know exactly what they can expect from investing their hard-earned dollars with you. In the end, everyone will be much happier.

In my next installment, I continue my treatise on client services and cover project management. Stay tuned.

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