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Inbound Marketing Blog

    The Art of Expectation Management: a Crash Course in Client Communications

    Posted by Bill Faeth

    How often will your clients hear from you?

    If you don’t really know the answer to that question, imagine how your clients feel. Even if your organization isn’t taking enormously high-risk projects or routinely finding yourselves up against tight deadlines, communication management is critical. There’s a serious art and importance to managing client expectations. Consider the following factors:

    • Up to 24% of clients have terminated relationships with an organization due to perceived bad customer service

    • Clients believe that only 2% of organizations exceed expectations

    • 61% of consumers say they would purchase more if they had better access to information

    Once your organization has landed a client and kicked off a new account, the battle is far from won. This is especially crucial in professional services based organizations, where your company relies on monthly recurring revenue to stay afloat. We’ve all heard that client expectation management is crucial, but why is that precisely?

    The Science Behind Client Expectation Management

    Academic research has indicated that client expectation management and satisfaction investments actually benefit your entire brand. Happier clients make for happier employees, because they feel more appreciated. When coupled with existing research that indicates happier employees make for happier clients, it’s clear that effective structures for expectation management are crucial.

    Forrester research reports that 29% of enterprise organizations are currently engaged in proactive outbound customer service, and voice of the customer (VOC) surveying programs are also quickly becoming the majority (56% of enterprises). Despite the fact that consumers are increasingly turning to social media, online forms and chats to voice concerns or praise, the simple art of reaching out to clients just isn’t dead.

    In this blog, you’ll learn how to navigate the tricky art of managing your clients’ expectations around your outbound communications. Proactive communication without pestering can feel like a fine line, which is why strategy, policy, and procedure are key in this arena.

    Communicate About Communications Early

    Professional services firms who do client communications exceedingly well never want for clients or referrals from their existing client base. Honestly? It’s because managing client communications and expectations that surround this area is really challenging. Really challenging.

    You’ll have clients who feel like a weekly call is simply too much communication. Others may want to check in every other day. Still others prefer to receive structured reporting, and respond to these reports on their own if they questions. What’s the solution? It isn’t to pick a single plan for your entire base, and stick to it. It’s to make client communications and expectation management an integral part of your business model. Conversations about how you’ll collaborate as two firms working side by side should start relatively early in the process.

    If your business development team can begin managing expectations during the sales process, that’s optimal. Onboarding specialists should be heavily trained in the art of expectations management. Most importantly, make sure your brand’s content that’s geared to early-stage prospects is clear and honest about how your company works with your clients, with a goal of leaving as little room for surprise as possible.

    Make All Communications Tailored

    Your organization could (and should) opt for certain forms of recurring communication to your clients. This could entail a weekly client newsletter which is segmented according to your client’s business size or organizational needs. Perhaps it means exclusive access to a weekly office hours webinar.

    However, during the client discovery phase of a new business relationship, focus on tailoring your communication strategy. The experts at Pershing write that it’s critical to “use the method the individual chooses.” Let your client dictate the rate and mode at which they would like to hear from you, and tailor your account representative’s proactive outreach accordingly.

    Be Conscious of Quality

    Can your new clients expect a weekly newsletter from your organization, or a Friday afternoon call from their account manager? More importantly, can you honestly attest that these forms of outreach are meaningful and useful to each of your clients?

    Never commit to or sell services based on forms of client communication that just don’t matter. If your weekly client calls will be unscheduled, rushed, or just a way for your account representative to hit their call quota at the last minute, don’t sell services around these forms of outreach.

    Be Agile and Multi-Platform - But Mostly Agile!

    How many ways do your clients have to reach you? Effective client expectation management should involve conversations around platforms for communications. In general, the more means you provide your clients for reaching you or receiving communications from you, the better. Your clients might not currently receive text messages or live chat messages from their account representatives. But if would enhance their experience, perhaps you should seriously considering adding these methods of outreach.

    Forrester reports that “agile service” is becoming more important than multi-channel service, according to the results of a recent customer service study. This means that simply providing the option for your clients to reach you in more ways than just phone isn’t always enough. You may need to take a highly fluid approach to your customer’s channel or service-related needs, and train your account representative staff for a great deal flexibility in this arena.

    Enhance Your Self-Serve Knowledge Resources

    In many cases, consumers are becoming increasingly self-reliant on finding information. In fact, many modern professionals actually prefer to access high-quality resources on their own. Effective client knowledge management is extremely cutting-edge. The idea of a client wiki may seem far-fetched when many organizations are finally investing in crucial (but costly) internal wikis and other forms of employee knowledge bases.

    However, Forrester Research reports that as many as 60% of professional clients rely on self-serve knowledge bases when available. To be clear, providing your clients with a well-organized, comprehensive knowledge base is no substitute for proactive communications. However, when coupled with a well-managed communications strategy, it’s definitely a means for ensuring your clients have the information they need.

    Does your organization have a clear strategy for managing client expectations around communications? How do you manage expectations in a way that keeps your staff happy, while still ensuring high customer satisfaction across the board?

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    image credit: chris perriman/flickr/cc

    Topics: Inbound Marketing