The link between realistic client expectations and healthy business relationships

Unhappy customer yelling into a phone

Setting realistic expectations early promotes healthy business relationships. It discourages clients from expecting too much of you and being disappointed when you can’t deliver and also gives you more chances to exceed their expectations, especially when your product or service has a lot of promise.

I recently went to a very busy food court that was full of stores offering pre-prepared sandwiches and day-old sushi rolls. Amongst all the fast food I noticed a new store.

This new store was offering “fish and chips, pasta and freshly cooked steak” but it stood out, not just because of the aromatic food the chefs cooked right before your eyes, but also because of the growing line of impatient and disgruntled people waiting for their steaks to be cooked.

Most of these foot-tapping, watch-checking customers had family and friends sitting at nearby tables who had purchased pre-prepared food from other stores in the food court. These friends and family members were already eating their food, and the foot-tappers did not seem to like this. How inconvenient, they were thinking, I should have just got a soggy sandwich! We all know that steak takes longer than one minute to cook, but that information hadn’t been conveyed to the foot-tappers.

If the new store had advertised the steaks as “15 minute steaks”, would its customers have been this irritated? I’d bet you my lunch money that if they advertised them as “15 minute steaks” and then went on to cook them in 10 minutes, its customers would be delighted! You see, they would have prepared themselves for a wait, taken a seat with their friends and family members, started a conversation about what groceries they needed, then all of a sudden their number would be called and their expectations are likely to have been exceeded.

Setting expectations early on in a business transaction is critical. It’s not just about letting the customer know what they can expect for their money, it’s also about giving them peace of mind, setting the tone and keeping them informed throughout the entire process.

Here are some ways that you can set expectations for clients:

  1. Give new customers a welcome kit. There are no set rules as to what you should include in a welcome kit – think of it as an opportunity to introduce your business and important contacts, answer any questions that the client might have at this stage of their customer journey, and provide an overview of what they can expect from you in the future. A special offer or ‘thank you’ wouldn’t go astray, either!
  2. Issue them with a ‘what to expect’ flyer, brochure, email, booklet or PDF. Similar to a welcome kit, this is a simple overview of what goods and services they are getting for their dollar, and what the next steps are.
  3. Email your clients. All email correspondence presents an opportunity for you to set expectations, provide deadlines and let the customer know when you’ve exceeded expectations. In your industry, an SMS or letter in the mail may be more appropriate.
  4. Make your proposals and business agreements clear, detailed and (where possible) specific to each client, so there is no room for misunderstanding or assumptions. Unclear or vague business proposals and agreements can lead to future disappointment and dissatisfaction. It goes without saying that this is not good for business.

Setting realistic expectations early promotes healthy business relationships. It discourages clients from expecting too much of you and being disappointed when you can’t deliver. It also gives you more chances to exceed their expectations, especially when your product or service has a lot of promise (like the new store’s mouth-watering steak, which for the record, was worth the wait!).

Have you ever been disappointed by a good or service you paid for because expectations weren’t set? What about with your business – have you ever had a dissatisfied customer for the same reason?

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