In today's consulting world, a lot of talk is made about setting expectations. "We have to meet and exceed the expectations of our clients". This phrase is discussed with the same certainty as looking out the window and seeing if it is raining or not. My experience with expectations, is that it is far more difficult; closer to deciding if it will rain during my vacation this summer.
"Expectation - a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future."
Expectations require discussion, analysis, synthesis, and some push back to the client to properly "set the expectation". It is important to realize that one of the reasons the client uses consulting services is that they have a need (however undefined the need has been stated). Defining and clarifying that business 'need' is the key to setting expectations. The business need is what is the driving force for customers to reach out and look for consulting.
- Proactive - if the client has to voice their expectations, you already have lost some credibility ground with the client.
- Early - have the expectation discussion early. Don't believe that everyone understands, no matter how many times you have interacted with this client. I believe in setting expectations during pre-sale meetings (much to the account manager's dismay/objections).
- Firm - don't agree to something your company cannot do or a time schedule that cannot be met.
- Decision Maker - your only true client is the person who writes the checks. Solving the decision maker's business issue(s) is the priority.
- Communicate in writing where possible. This is hard for some to find time in this cellphone/texting world. If communication is done well, there is a start of a checklist to customer satisfaction.
Now comes the harder part, meeting and exceeding expectations. I learned from Bob Palioca that by setting realistic expectations, exceeding expectations is an achievable and sustainable goal. His point is that if I promise 110% of what is achievable and I reach 99.9% of that goal, then my customer will be upset. However, if I promise 98% and deliver the same 99.9%, my customer will be delighted (I met and exceeded the customer's expectations).
"Anger always comes from frustrated expectations" - Elliott Larson
Like the last good dinner at a restaurant you had, what clients desire is a predictable outcome at an agreed upon price.
David Haynes, PMP, is Director of Consulting at Ideate, Inc. (www.ideateinc.com). David's experience is in providing companies with business process analysis and change implementation. @dhaynestech.