Customer Service Tips

The Importance of Setting Proper Client Expectations

Written by Cory Thompson for Gaebler Ventures

Few things can raise the ire of a client more than failing to meet an understood and agreed to set of policies or plans. It's so simple to avoid and pays huge dividends later.

I had the opportunity once to be on the receiving end of failed expectations, so the story I am about to tell comes from personal experience.

As the story unfolds, be sure to pay attention to what was the root cause of all the problems.

Some time ago I was selected as a primary focal point for a large contract. I was the last person in a long chain of others who were unable to get the job accomplished in a timely fashion.

Upon receipt of the project, and gaining a proper understanding of what had happened in the past, I proceeded to take steps to ensure the job could be accomplished in a timely fashion.

The situation was this: my organization had released a request for a vendor proposal some eight months earlier, to which, at the point I received it, no response had been received.

My discussions with that vendor revealed that they had been unhappy with the original request for proposal from us, and because of this they were unable to provide a response.

After some discussions, a new course of action was set and a plan was developed.

I was to modify our request to meet terms and conditions that could be accepted by our offer vendor who then agreed to provide a response to me no later than 2-3 weeks from that time.

My end of the deal was completed the following day. The clock had started.

Three weeks passed with no response. Four weeks passed with no response. At this point, I was furious.

Keep in mind that by this time, nearly nine months (in total) had elapsed since the original request was sent. But I wasn't angry about that. This request meant potentially millions of dollars of business to our vendor, and was a critical part of a larger effort underway in my organization.

But I wasn't angry about that either. The reason I was so angry about what had happened was that to my mind a plan had been developed, and EXPECTATION of a response had been established, which was not met. To top things off, I also failed to receive a response when I wrote and called for an update.

To me, the vendor's failure to respond or return my calls was terribly insulting, and indicated a general lack of either responsibility or competence at their level.

While this may or may not be true, the sheer appearance of indifference was enough to alter my perception of that vendor, and created additional friction on future actions. It wasn't the fact that I received my proposal later than I wanted or that it was challenging working with their folks that made the largest impact.

While these things do create some tension, they are normal in a business environment and to be expected. The true measure of my disgust was simply in the fact that I was told one thing, and given another.

If you think my story is unique because of its circumstances, I would not be surprised to learn your organization has a hard time with repeat business. You may be susceptible to false promises within your own organization, and, believe me, the effects can be devastating. Clients will abandon ship over something as simple as no ketchup on a hamburger.

Trust me on this one -- if you want to get repeat customers and referral word of mouth, be sure you delivery on what you promise.

If you can't, be sure you let them know ahead of time so they don't get caught off guard. I can think of few things more important to a properly functioning business than setting and meeting the proper expectations.

Cory Thompson enjoys writing about topics of interest to entrepreneurs and small business owners. He is an MBA graduate from Weber State University and is currently working as a contracting officer at Hill Air Force Base in Roy, Utah.

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