The Trick to Managing “Off The Chart” Client Expectations

(By Angela Stringfellow)

When you set the bar too high, you’re setting yourself—and your clients—up for failure. Be straight with yourself and with your clients about your capabilities. If a project is outside the scope of your expertise, turn it down. Recommending a contact qualified to perform the work is a good way to enhance your relationship with a client, who may come back to you for other projects later.

Service-based businesses face their own unique set of challenges. It’s more difficult to market an intangible product and provide evidence of ROI. But these businesses also interface with clients more regularly, not to mention deal with longer and more relationship-intensive sales cycles. Many small-business owners have dealt with unhappy clients at one time or another, but it’s not always due to poor service delivery. Other factors, such as unrealistic client expectations or blurred boundaries, can lead to communication issues and create turbulence in the delicate client-business relationship.

Be Realistic About Your Qualifications

When you set the bar too high, you’re setting yourself—and your clients—up for failure. Be straight with yourself and with your clients about your capabilities. If a project is outside the scope of your expertise, turn it down. Recommending a contact qualified to perform the work is a good way to enhance your relationship with a client, who may come back to you for other projects later.

“A lot of service providers fudge their capabilities in the hopes of closing a sale. But, in reality, being extremely honest will help you close more sales, and will save you endless headaches in the long run,” says Anthony-James Green, who runs an intensive one-on-one SAT tutoring business at NewYorksBestSATTutor.com.

Get a Clear Picture of Client Expectations

Karen Thackston, president of Marketing Words, points out that clients tend to focus on a single element to make or break a campaign. “If the website owner were focusing on Web design or search engine optimization, they would categorize those as services that would have the greatest impact on their conversions, sales or the bottom line,” she explains.

Therefore, Thackston recommends carefully outlining the various factors that could impact the outcome of any project—whether or not those factors are within the scope of your company’s offerings. This avoids disappointment when, for instance, landing page copy alone isn’t enough to increase conversions for a pay-per-click campaign. Make sure your clients have a clear understanding of how your specific services will impact results and other factors that may play a role.

Charge Accordingly

If the nature of your business leads to hours on the phone spent one-on-one consulting with clients, set your rates accordingly. If this type of individual consulting is outside the scope of your usual project outlines, include it or offer it as an add-on service or up-sell.

This reduces headaches on your end, and your clients know where the boundaries lie. If they call you to pick your brain for hours, they’ll expect to be charged accordingly. Those hours on the phone or in meetings aren’t as frustrating when you’re being fairly compensated.

Unexpected Changes

Wendy Kurtz, president of Elizabeth Charles & Associates, stresses the importance of having a written, signed Scope of Work (SOW) agreement before beginning work with any client. This makes it easy to identify when a client’s requests are creeping outside the original Scope of Work, providing an excellent opportunity for you to suggest revising the original agreement to account for the client’s additional needs.

“I’ve learned to be very comfortable using the phrase ‘that’s outside our current Scope of Work’ in a way that highlights my desire to help, doesn¹t come across as if I¹m trying to nickel and dime the client, but also maintains respectful boundaries,” Kurtz says. In your initial contract, specify that requests outside the agreed-upon Scope of Work may be renegotiated to accommodate the client’s needs. It can still be difficult to determine when to peg a request as a simple question or scope creep—but when your judgment tells you something is blurring the lines, the SOW offers a respectful approach to an otherwise awkward situation.

This doesn’t mean that service-based businesses are nothing but headaches. Working with clients can be a highly rewarding experience when all parties are on the same page. Set clear boundaries and expectations upfront, and your projects will run smoothly and be more enjoyable for both you and your clients.

(Source: Openforum)

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