As a creative, happy customers are the ultimate goal. They make your day-to-day work easier, are more likely to recommend you to their network, and often come back with repeat business.
Now compare that to unhappy customers. According to Helpscout, “News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience.” Yikes. If you’re working in a small niche, this can be devastating to your business.
So how do you get happier customers and avoid giving a poor customer experience? Hint: It’s all about managing expectations. Plus, it’s just math:
Expectations > Reality = Upset Client
Reality > Expectations = Happy Client
You want to make sure your customer’s experience far exceeds their expectations.
To do this, you’ll have to find a balance between making sure their expectations are reasonable (but not too low) and doing everything in your power to exceed those expectations. So how can you make sure you set your client’s expectations at a reasonable level while making sure you overdeliver on their reality?
Here are 9 things you should be doing to manage your customer’s expectations.
1.) Set expectations as early as possible
First impressions matter. Let’s take a scenario where your client heads to your website, checks out your portfolio, learns how your creative process works, and decides they like what you’re doing. They hire you. So when the work they receive is nowhere near the quality of the projects they saw on your website and the process is totally different, they get upset. Who can blame them? If the work on your website doesn’t match up with what is delivered, your clients aren’t likely to be happy. Their expectations exceeded reality.
How can we fix this? One way is to carefully craft your client’s first impression of your brand. Make sure your website is representative of your work, you answer correspondences with haste, and you let them know what working with you will be like. Another way is to discuss expectations early.
People learn what to expect based on what they’ve seen or experienced before, so make sure what your clients see and experience in their first moments with you is representative of what they’ll be getting by working with you.
2.) Communicate, communicate, communicate
This one is pretty obvious, but it needs to be said because it’s so important. Communication is the key to successful client relationships. You should always know where you two stand. Communicate your values. Communicate your vision. Communicate your concerns.
Your communications with your client should be proactive and professional. If you need something from them, ask them for it. If there’s something you want to share with them, let them know. When something is going to be late, tell them now rather than waiting until the last moment. They may not always like what you have to say, but it’s better than going dark on them. Ghosting is for sketchy Tinder dates, not creative professionals.
3.) Have a process and explain it to your clients
You may have heard the presentation strategy of “tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.” The same strategy works in creative businesses. When you’re working with clients, reinforce what’s going to happen, follow that process, and then show them how you followed that process. Your client will appreciate the transparency.
If you don’t have a process you follow, it is worth your time to create one. If you’re looking for a production process you can use out of the box, be sure to check out Jar to help you reign in your ongoing requests and improve client communication.
4.) Proactively anticipate customer needs
As we mentioned in the “communicate, communicate, communicate” section, proactivity saves relationships. Proactivity means trying to figure out what your client is going to need next and then figure out a way to make the possible. For example, if you’re working on their new spring catalog, suggest some complementary facebook ad graphics or instagram pics they could use to create a cohesive experience for their customers. Doing small things like this will surpass their expectations – leaving one happy client likely to tell others about how awesome you are.
5.) Send weekly reports about status
Even if they didn’t ask for one, a weekly status report keeps your client in the loop. They’ll likely refer to it often and use it to track progress without having to bug you at random times. While it may be a little additional upfront work for you, clients will be feel better knowing that they’re on your mind. However, once you start doing this you should make sure you follow tip #6.
6.) Stay consistent
Imagine how annoyed you would be if you turned on the television on a Sunday evening and your favorite television show still hadn’t gone live like it normally would. You would probably think something went wrong.
The same thing goes for client communications.
If you start sending something out every week and then just stop one week, your client may think something is wrong. So stay consistent, and if you’re going to miss something, let them know so they’re not expecting something that isn’t coming.
7.) When talking about projects, avoid giving hard dates
In the creative world, we thrive on deadlines. There is just something about them that makes us coop up, shut off the outside world, and just crank out the work we’ve been putting off. However, deadlines are frequently missed, often due to events outside of our control.
Setting a deadline is setting an expectation with clients. When those expectations aren’t met, you can guess that your client isn’t going to be happy. That’s why we recommend that you give a range of expected delivery dates instead of a singular due date. You can still keep an internal due date, but giving your client a range gives you a bit of padding to get work done. Early completion is one of the few surprises a client will actually like.
If you want to learn more about this tip, we talk more about how this works in our client happiness guide.
8.) You know what assuming does…
This may sound obvious but it’s often overlooked. If you’re making assumptions about anything with your clients, check to make sure those assumptions are correct before proceeding. Incorrect assumptions can lead to angry clients and a lot of re-work.
9.) Gather feedback to better manage expectations
Feedback will tell you the difference between what was expected and what was delivered so you can improve your expectation management for the next go around.
Spontaneous feedback is a goldmine, but rare. More often than not, clients will just keep on chugging along without explaining to you why they’re happy or upset. So to get feedback, you have to ask for it.
Want happier clients?
Those are our top 9 tips for managing client expectations. How many of them do you currently practice in your creative business? Are there any you’d like to adopt into your business?
For even more actionable advice on how to increase your customer happiness levels & grow a better, more profitable creative business, download our Client Happiness Guide by clicking here.