Guide To Managing Client Expectations
Avatar of Deian Isac
Deian Isac
Head of Agency Success

Your Guide To Managing Client Expectations

Clients’ expectations don’t always match what your agency is offering. It’s essential to start your working relationship on the right foot. In the long-term, you’ll find this will decrease your stress levels while maintaining your clients’ satisfaction.

At SPP, we’ll discuss how managing client expectations can be done effectively. The following tips will reduce your stress while ensuring your clients stay happy.

Why does managing client expectations matter?

Managing client expectations is a crucial aspect of managing your business as a whole. The reason is incredibly simple: if you fail to meet your client’s expectations, they’re unlikely to remain a client.

Whenever someone commits to a transaction of goods or services, they have expectations—a mental image of their desired outcome. In some cases, this mental image is based in reality. This is the best case scenario for a business because it gives them the best possible chance of actually matching the client’s mental image.

In other cases, the client’s expectations are way off base and the business is left in a tricky situation. Why?

Because from both the client’s and the business’ perspectives, failing to meet expectations has the same outcome, whether the expectations were reasonable or not. 

Fail to meet reasonable expectations and the client is disappointed. Fail to meet unreasonable expectations and the client is disappointed. The only meaningful difference is that meeting unreasonable expectations is—by definition—more difficult.

So, to summarize, managing client expectations is important because:

  • Client’s want their expectations met or exceeded

  • Meeting unreasonable expectations is difficult

  • Exceeding unreasonable expectations is nearly impossible

Where does the expectation disconnect happen?

When we say “expectation disconnect” we’re referring to the differences that arise between your business’ service offering and your client’s expectations of your service offering.

Within a business’ funnel, this disconnect can begin in a variety of places, including:

1) Pricing Pages

Pricing pages can be a major source of disconnect between what a business offers and what a client expects. This is often due to the fact that a pricing page is often one of the first places a potential customer will look to get an idea of what a business offers and how much it will cost. As such, it’s important for businesses to ensure their pricing pages are up-to-date and accurately reflect the services they offer.

SPP.co pricing page

Another issue that can arise on pricing pages is mismatches between what’s offered and what’s expected. This can be due to businesses not being clear about what they offer, or clients not understanding what they’re buying. In either case, it’s important for businesses to take steps to correct these misunderstandings.

2) Service Descriptions

Service descriptions are another common source of expectation disconnects. This is often because businesses change their offerings over time, but fail to update their service descriptions to reflect these changes. As a result, clients may have an outdated understanding of what the business offers, leading to disappointment when they don’t receive the services they expected.

SPP.co service descriptions

It’s important for businesses to regularly review their service descriptions and make sure they accurately reflect the current state of their offerings. If there are discrepancies, businesses should take steps to update their descriptions or provide additional clarity to avoid misunderstandings.

3) Sales Processes

The sales process can also be a major source of expectation disconnects. This is often because businesses put too much emphasis on closing the sale, are not targeting the right people, and don’t ensure that the client understands what they’re buying. As a result, clients may have unrealistic expectations about the service or product they’re purchasing, leading to disappointment down the road.

sales transparency of SPP.co

To avoid this issue, businesses should focus on ensuring their sales process is transparent and that clients understand what they’re buying before they make a purchase. This can be done by providing clear and concise descriptions of products and services, as well as answering any questions clients may have.

4) Onboarding Processes

The onboarding process is another common source of expectation disconnects. This is often because businesses fail to properly onboard new clients, leading to confusion and frustration down the road.

spp.co onboarding process list

Properly onboarding new clients is essential to managing expectations and ensuring they have a positive experience with your business. 

At SPP, our onboarding process is built around explaining our offerings in detail, answering any questions clients may have, and setting clear expectations for what they can expect from the relationship going forward.

5) Client Communication

Finally, client communication is a key part of managing expectations. This is because communication is necessary to ensure that both parties are on the same page and that there are no misunderstandings.

Businesses should make sure they communicate with their clients regularly, and that they’re clear and concise when doing so. They should also take care to listen to their clients’ concerns and feedback, and make changes to their offerings or processes as needed.

Grow your industry knowledge

Join thousands of agency owners and get our best agency growth content in your inbox, one email per month 👇️

How can you manage client expectations?

Now that we’ve looked into the importance of managing client expectations and a few of the major sources of expectation disconnects, it’s time for a few tips about how to avoid this issue.

1. Identify the level of service they require

This is the first and most important step in managing your clients’ expectations. You need to be very clear about what services you offer and what level of service they can expect from you. This will help avoid any misunderstandings later on.

To find out what level of service your clients require, you’ll need to ask them a few questions. This can be done through surveys, interviews, or focus groups. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to adjust your offerings and processes accordingly.

2.  Identify their needs and wants

After you’ve identified the level of service your clients require, you’ll need to find out what their specific needs and wants are. This step is important because it will help you tailor your offering to meet their individual needs.

To do this, you’ll again need to ask your clients a few questions. This time, however, you’ll want to focus on their specific needs and wants. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to create a custom offering that meets their needs.

3. Write client expectations down

Merely hearing and understanding the expectations of your clients isn’t enough. Our memories aren’t as good as we’d like to believe. With this in mind, take note of your clients’ expectations. SPP.co has multiple options you can choose from. Write a note inside an order/ticket, or add a note to the client’s profile:

SPP client profile notes field

Whenever you have a conversation, it’s always a good idea to send a quick email follow up providing a summary of what was discussed. You can also include the next steps and the outcomes you’re looking to produce following the conversation. By writing everything out, you’re keeping track of what you and the client are agreeing to do. As a result, you can expect fewer misunderstandings.

Once you’re on the same page, you can also add tasks to the order, and work on them one by one. Once you complete a task, send your client a quick update to let them know about it.

SPP tasks in client order

Keep in mind that verbally communicating doesn’t have the same effect as written communication. When you agree to conditions or terms, having everything in writing with precise wording ensures there’s no misunderstanding.

4. Set clear boundaries

Lots of service owners are guilty of overdoing things at times. Unfortunately, this can result in clients taking advantage of your team and your time.

Have you ever replied to an email on a Sunday, although you’re only available Monday to Friday? If so, you’ll notice how client expectations suddenly shift.

When that happens we’ve found being straightforward and explaining your limitations in a way clients can understand is the least painful solution.

For example, setting hours of operation and maintaining them ensures your customers aren’t expecting replies to their messages on weekends.Having these boundaries in place is important. If you do decide to answer an email outside your hours, your clients are appreciative rather than expecting.

5. Use plain language in all documentation

Most business owners implicitly understand the importance of plain language when they're creating their websites or writing sales copy. They avoid jargon and get straight to the point.

However, this practice sometimes falls by the wayside when it comes to more technical documentation like policies, terms of service, and contracts.

Despite the prevalence of long-winded, complicated, and jargon-filled legal documents in our societies, it isn’t a requirement. In fact, many people see it as a major flaw. There are tons of Plain Language movements around the globe seeking to put an end to bureaucratic language in legal documentation once and for all.

The benefits include:

  • Increased comprehension

  • Improved accessibility

  • More reasonable client expectations

Tip: For help improving the readability of your business documentation, check out: Five Steps to Plain Language.

6. Use reporting to show results

If you’re providing SEO services, you may already be using reporting tools like AgencyAnalytics to do rank tracking for your clients. Many of our sellers are showing these reports directly in their client panel.

First, this allows customers to sign in and get up-to-date reports on their campaigns and results. Second, it helps establish your values as a service provider (assuming those reports reflect you in a good light).

It’s also very easy to embed Google Data Studio reports right in the client portal, and show each client a custom report. Basically, any sort of resource should work as an iFrame as long as the host is not blocking embedding.

7. Share project milestones

By showing the progress of a customer’s order, you’re helping to limit the communication between you and your clients. When your clients know where they are throughout the month, there’s no need for them to micromanage the process.

SPP order status settings

For example, with SPP clients can see the status of their order changing as it’s going through the production process. This results in fewer questions or concerns because clients are constantly in-the-know (as long as orders are completed within the agreed time frame).

If your clients require a bit more hand-holding, you can set automated messages every time the order status changes. Thanks to our native Zapier integration, it’s very easy to set up:

You can set up a Zap for each order status change and personalize the message to the client.

8. Define desired outcomes

Defining the outcome you and your client are working towards is amazingly helpful for eliminating confusion.

Thankfully, it’s a core part of the productized services ideology. The specifics can vary from client to client. Having a clear deliverable helps alleviate your clients’ worries about what your services provide.

To ensure that both parties are on the same page, we recommend using project/task intake forms. Assuming you’re selling a recurring service, you can set it up in a way that allows clients to submit new tasks. Each of those tasks could require them to fill out an intake form with detailed information.

Having this information submitted by clients ensures that there’s no miscommunication, and it helps avoid disputes later on.

9. Under-promise, over-deliver

Some agencies make the mistake of overpromising to find new clients. While this can help gain some traction initially, this is a short-lived approach. When it comes down to it, overpromising will produce unnecessary problems down the line as a result of unrealistic expectations.

The key here is to maintain realistic expectations — so keep it simple, and under-promise.

What do you know your service is capable of doing for your clients? Now scale that back a bit, and promise what you know you can achieve. Anything extra your services does will be viewed as over-the-top, ensuring you going beyond expectations is met with gusto every time.

10. Over-communicate

Communication is essential for an excellent service-client relationship. This is precisely why you should constantly communicate everything that’s happening over the course of your interactions.

over-communicate in orders

Reach out to your client and let them know what you’re working on. Also, don’t hesitate to explain what you’re planning to do for them in the future.

Maintaining continuous communication with your clients means you’ll always understand their expectations. This also gives you the chance to build their expectations through your interactions.

That being said, there’s a fine line between communicating well enough, and overwhelming clients with too much information. You’ll have to adjust your communication strategy for each client. Some require detailed progress reports, others are fine letting them know once the work has been completed.

11. Maintain authenticity & transparency

The proposals many businesses are putting out into the world contain a lot of false information. Over promising is a severe problem in the services industry. So when you maintain your authenticity, you’re already a step ahead of your competition.

By staying authentic, you’re taking a step towards managing expectations. You’re telling it how it is, and your clients will appreciate the effort.

Rather than making false promises and giving unreal expectations, you give it to them straight. You don’t beat around the bush, and you’re honest with your assessment.

You’ll highlight the potential, as well as the challenges of working with them. And as a result, you can expect your clients’ expectations to stay within reason.

12. Have clear terms of service

Terms of service define your working relationship with the client. Make it clear…

  • What is it they’re getting,

  • Who owns the rights to it,

  • When the customer is charged,

  • What happens if they don’t pay their subscription, and

  • How you handle refunds.

Some agencies require an airtight contract signed by both parties, especially when the client doesn’t pay upfront. Most productized service sellers who use SPP.co go only as far as adding a simple terms and conditions checkbox to their order forms.

If you don’t want to link to an external Terms of Service page, use a scrollable box inside your order form. For more information, please check out the Overflow documentation on bootstrap.com.

Regardless of which option you choose, make sure the details are covered in writing.

13. In short, do what you say you’ll do

We all make mistakes, but having our head in the atmosphere can be a real hassle! When you operate a service, it’s your duty to have a clear idea of properly managing client expectations.

In short: do what you say you’ll do, and avoid making promises you can’t keep. That way, you’ll be well on your way to running a profitable productized service agency serving many happy clients.

Final Thoughts

Managing client expectations is a difficult task that requires careful attention. As your business grows, you’ll be handling more clients with different expectations.

The key to success lies in effective communication and maintaining realistic expectations from the start. By following the tips we’ve outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to managing client expectations like a pro!

Ready to give it a try?

You're in good company. SPP is helping agencies like yours sell millions of dollars in services every month.