How to Set Client Expectations

Miscommunication on expectations can ruin a project faster than anything else. When a client expects you to deliver one thing and you deliver something completely different, 2 weeks later than they were expecting, it’s not pretty. So how can you ensure that you and your client are on the same page about what you’re delivering and when they can expect it.

As with everything else in life, communication is the key. And it’s not your clients job to communicate clearly with you. It is incumbent on you, the service provider, to communicate exactly what’s going on. The customer is always right. Even when they’re not.

So how do you do it? You start with a process. When you’re first discussing the project, get an idea of timeline and the budget. This will start to sketch out the framework. As you progress through the project discovery, you will continue gathering specific details. Through this process, you need to be listening. Pick up on the small details that are either said or unsaid. If you pick up on something unsaid, take note of it and follow up with an email to clarify.

It’s also good to communicate your communication boundaries. Unless, of course, you like getting phone calls at 8pm on Saturdays. Is a weekly status call enough? Maybe it’s too much. Maybe email or a project management tool will suffice. It all depends on the project and the client. Without a plan in place, you can expect that clients will contact you whenever they have a question or a need. That’s something good to remember when you’re scoping the project. If the project (or client) requires daily, hour long phone call updates, you need to account for that in your budget. Or more likely, run like hell from that project.

Some good questions to ask

  • Who are the decision makers for this project?
  • Are there any technical hurdles that we need to be aware from your IT department?
  • Do you have brand guidelines that this project needs to adhere to?
  • Is the timeline being driven by a hard deadline (trade show, product release, etc)?

All of these questions are essential to setting client expectations up front. You also need to continue to communicate with your client as the project moves along. There may be periods of time in the project where you need to be more hands on, or even sit side by side with the client. While other times it may be a couple a weeks in between interactions. It’s incumbent upon you to set those expectations and follow through on your end of the deal.

What have you found are good ways to manage client expectations?