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Properly Setting & Managing Client Expectations

Managing client expectations is by far one of the most difficult parts of running an agency. It can be really difficult to find a balance between working as hard as you can to exceed clients’ expectations and setting unreasonable expectations in the long-term.

So, whether you run a big agency or operate as a small team, in this post, we’ll be covering 7 key rules to managing client expectations.

Why Does Managing Client Expectations Matter?

Keeping a pulse on and managing client expectations is an essential part of client communication. But when does the process actually start?

  • Is it after the client has already been onboarded?
  • Is it on your first call with them?
  • Or is it only once you’ve started working together?

The truth is that it’s all of the above and actually starts long before that as well.

All of the content you share about running a business and what it is that you do defines you. The way you choose to represent yourself is what clients will come to expect, so this is a choice you have to make. And so this

In this post, we’re going to lay out some ground rules. But remember, rules are meant to be broken. This isn’t supposed to be a stupid quote, what I mean when by “rules are meant to be broken” is that you hopefully will and definitely should put everything here to the test, so that you actually understand the logic and don’t just blindly follow what some “gurus” in the industry tell you too, which is something I think we can agree we see far too often.

Managing client expectations is one of the easy to overlook parts of running an agency that actually matters.

It is without a doubt one of the most important parts of running a business that involves working with clients on a daily basis. I wholeheartedly believe that this is what has allowed me to retain clients for years and not have to constantly work to replace lost revenue.

Sure, you can work hard to make money consistently – or you can work both smart and hard – and, in my opinion, that’s the happy medium. The one where you really get to enjoy agency life, satisfy (or even impress) clients and build a business you love.

All in all, you want clients to enjoy working with you, so much so, that they’re going to refer you to other businesses, stay with you for months – if not years – on end, pay invoices on time and maybe even offer to pay more (yes, this has really happened).

I’m sure you get the idea by now, so let’s dive into the 7 key principles of managing client expectations…

1. Once you set an expectation you can’t break it

If you reply to a text at 1 AM because you’re still up for some reason, or you get work done over the weekend, this becomes an expectation.

It becomes a given. Not something that clients will feel indebted to you for, or forever be grateful for. I really wish this were the case but sadly, it just isn’t.

The logic behind this is the idea behind why the key to being great is simply being good, but consistently. You should strive for service to be consistent, not exceptional one week and then ok the next. Unrealistically or failing to manage expectations sets the tone of incoherence & unreliability in your process.

2. Set clear deliverables

Even when clients claim that they don’t care about the specifics surrounding how you plan on achieving the solution they’re looking for, you still need to detail a plan of action with timelines.

This is extremely important to keep your team on track internally as well as ensuring they don’t suddenly change dates or start expecting additional work that wasn’t a part of the original scope.

I am by no means a lawyer or certified professional to comment on this matter, but the one thing I can say is that having legal documentation, such as contracts or at the very least signed proposals is extremely important.

Especially if you manage or have access to the customer data on clients’ sites that are on care plans – in a post-GDPR world, you should seriously consider having all clients sign a GDPR data processing agreement since you act as a data processor in this scenario.

In an ideal world, none of this documentation would be necessary, but with what’s at stake, hoping for the best just isn’t good enough.

You never know when you’ll lose a client and they’ll suddenly turn from being your favorite client into having reason to believe that something you did result in customer information being exposed, which is why you need to take the necessary to indemnify yourself where possible.

4. Enforce systems that centralize client communication at all costs

If you run a WordPress design or development agency, while we are a bit biased, thousands of agencies will agree that using a system like Atarim is the best way to streamline & scale client communication.

Having systems that centralize communication and let you collect client requests from all of the websites you’re working on or managing on a care plan is essential if you want to be able to operate at any scale.

5. Communicate more than you need to but less than you want to

Take the time to understand and get to know them and their business because this is something that not a lot of people actually do.

You need to actually care about your clients’ businesses. Not doing so makes you a commodity. It makes you easily replaceable and doesn’t set you apart.

Because let’s face it.

If you run a WordPress design or development agency, there are 10s of thousands of freelancers that are cheaper and could potentially do a great job with your client as well.

If you run an SEO agency, there are thousands out there that can build links and write (not so great) content for your clients.

And if you’re a copywriter, well heck, it feels like there are 100s of thousands out there soliciting their services to me alone.

So what is is that sets you apart and makes you and invaluable, irreplaceable resource clients?

Spending time to understand a client’s business and really hitting it off with them and their team is essential if you want to retain clients.

In addition to this, being upfront and anticipating potential issues is extremely important. You should always and consistently keep your point of contact updated. Everyone has to be on the same page.

If you communicate everything with your client effectively, not only will they know where the project stands, but problems can be dealt with as soon as they arise preventing them from escalating into anything further. If there’s something the client isn’t happy with, that’s something you want to know as soon as possible so that it’s something you can rectify as soon as possible.

Set a time, perhaps at the end of each week, that you’ll speak to the client. It lets you develop your relationship and pick up issues as soon as they arise; no nasty surprises for you or for them!

6. Be your own customer

You really don’t need to read your clients’ minds.

Clients will only tell you what they expect but won’t ever be capable of fully communicating what they are thinking to you. This is why it’s essential to put yourself into their shoes.

What would a client expect from you? What do they need?

Not only will this help you better manage their expectations, but it allows you to serve them from end-to-end. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, it’s safe to say that you actually know more about what it is that their business needs (in terms of design, marketing or SEO – whatever it is that you do), than they do, so use this to your advantage.

7. Be honest, authentic and tell the truth

Being completely transparent and upfront from the beginning is not only the key to managing client expectations, but it’s also essential to fostering a good relationship with clients.

Remember that most clients don’t actually know the specifics of your creative or technical process which makes this the perfect chance to be clear about what you can and cannot do. For example, redesigning a website isn’t going to make your client rank #1 on Google. Doing so would actually be overpromising – which is a terrible idea in general – and being transparent on matters like these will indicate to your client that you know what you’re doing.

A great example of this specific to the work that I do at ScaleMath – applicable to marketing agencies – is when prospects or current clients ask me about results. Conveniently, all of my proposals have a selection of case studies and already briefly touch on the topic of results, and projections that we can and cannot make. As an SEO & marketing agency, you have to be careful not to overpromise because deliverables and results are not as clear-cut as they are with other types of agencies, such as web design agencies.

However, in both cases, it is important to clarify the scope of the project. Make sure that the client is aware that even a projected deadline for the project or any partial milestone is subject to change based on their ability to respond and provide feedback on revisions.

On average, agencies using Atarim managed to cut their project completion time down by an incredible 2 weeks. So if collecting feedback on website revisions and design changes is something that eats up your internal resources and consumes far too much time, give Atarim a try today.

Use every suitable communication touch-point to restate that thee are some things you simply can’t guarantee. This will help them understand your creative or technical process, have more realistic expectations going forward and make it easy for them to trust and rely on you in the long-term.

8. Ensure the client is aware of their responsibilities

This goes hand in hand with managing expectations, but it’s worth reiterating that you have to ensure the client is aware of what is and what isn’t their responsibility.

  • Will you be writing all of the copy for their site as well?
  • At what stage of the design process will you need their feedback and approval to move forward?
  • What images will they need to provide you with?

Ensure that both you and the client have the answers to the above questions and are on the same page when it comes to anything else that could potentially hold a project back from being approved.

Summary – Setting & Managing Client Expectations

Nobody wants their clients’ experience to feel incoherent and unstructured, and with this guide to setting & managing client expectations, you’ll be far from it.

This post covers a number of prerequisites and things you should discuss with each of your clients before and during projects with them. If you want to make collecting website feedback from clients even easier and less stressful, give Atarim a try today.

Have any other questions about setting & managing client expectations or want to join the conversation? Leave a comment below.

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