Expectation Setting

    Consultants need to work with clients to deliver satisfaction by setting the right level of expectation for them.

    This week Lew and I discuss how consultants can satisfy clients by setting and meeting realistic expectations. Although on-time delivery is an important deliverable, expectation setting involves other elements. Here’s some of the questions we addressed:

    1 –  What are some of the important factors in setting expectations with the client?

    Answer: Client expectation setting is both an art and a science.  You want to make sure that you’re not low-balling the client.  If you think you can achieve a certain challenging level of service to the client, you don’t want to set a lower expectation just so that you can exceed it.

    It’s important to set a level of expectation that you know is challenging and will provide the client with value and then working hard to either achieve or exceed that level.

    To give an example, let’s say the client asks you to estimate a fairly large task, and you feel you can accomplish this in a week.  You could go to the client and estimate a week and a half.  Then, when you complete it in the week that you though you would, you may feel that you’re exceeding their expectations.

    The problem with that is two fold:

    –          First, they may know enough about the task that they know a week is more reasonable.

    –          Secondly, if you consistently “fool” them into expecting a longer estimate only to beat it every time by a significant margin, they will come to expect you to beat every estimate.  They catch on to your game and you will inadvertently set the expectation to beat every estimate.

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    The better approach in that situation is to estimate the week and work hard to either meet it or beat it.

    2 –  Are you saying you’d rather meet expectations rather than exceed them?

    Answer: I’m not against exceeding a client’s expectations by any means.  I just feel that exceeding their expectations should not be artificially set to a point where you’re in effect, gaming the system.

    Also, if you’re aiming to exceed the client’s expectations, beating an estimate isn’t the best way to do it.  When you give an estimate for something and set an expectation for a time that you’ll finish something, the client will often plan other dependent tasks around that.

    For instance, I work in the IT consulting world.  If I tell the client that my programmer will have her task completed next Friday, the client may need to set up a testing environment and have one of their users ready to test it on that date.  If I come back on Tuesday and tell them we’re all done, they may not be ready for it until Friday anyway.

    3 –  So how do you exceed a client’s expectations?

    Answer: I prefer to exceed their expectations from a quality perspective.  Using the example we just discussed, if I tell the client that my developer will have the task done on Friday and the developer finishes on Tuesday, I may have them put more effort into their testing.  At the same time, I’ll give the client a heads-up that we may have it done sooner if they will be ready.  If it’s a critical path item, they may be able to expedite things to be ready for it sooner.

    Doing it that way, I can both provide the assignment to them sooner, and can maybe build in a higher level of quality.  I believe the client will be more impressed that they could find no bugs in our code that is delivered on time rather than something delivered before they’re ready for it, with a lot of defects.

    4 –  Are there other ways to exceed a client’s expectations

    Answer: First, let me say that it’s not always about exceeding expectations.  That should be like an occasional treat.  I think meeting their expectations is just as important, if not more.  It’s so much more important to do what you say you’ll do.

    If the client can count on a consistent level of service that is low on surprises and high on quality, it sound very boring and mundane, but that’s the type of service level that keeps them coming back.

     But aside from quality, closely related to that is value.  That certainly comes from quality, but it can also be accomplished in the many ways that you can help them.  For instance, if they ask you about a topic that you don’t have any expertise in, you may be able to connect them with someone your network and provide them someone that can help them.  You may not make any money directly on that, but you’ve provided them with value that exceeds their expectations.

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    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101 provides you with 101 useful tips to optimize your professional performance and jump-start your consulting career with success.


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