Meeting and managing expectations

October 15, 2017

Meeting and managing expectations

Expectations are somewhat 'mysterious' things. They are usually implied, unspoken, assumed, and rarely spelt out or written down. 

Your clients, suppliers, colleagues, and you will all have different sets of expectations based on preconceptions and experiences. Just when you thought an account manager's job was challenging enough you will be expected to satisfy these unspoken expectations as best you can.

To complicate matters further, everything you do will be judged based on the memories and notions inside a person's head. This process is, unfortunately, impossible for you to either predict or control and may never be an 'apples-for-apples' comparison with the work that you are producing. All you can do is the best you can based on the information you have been given, plus your knowledge and experience. 

The difference between what someone (e.g. a client) expects and what you deliver will determine their overall level of satisfaction, and whether they will choose to use your agency's services again (no pressure!).

To be able to meet expectations you first have to have a pretty good idea of what those expectations are. Core expectations will likely fall into one of these three groups:

  1. Explicit expectations. These are defined targets for performance, such as delivery dates or the number of impressions from a Facebook advertisement.
  2. Implicit expectations. These reflect established norms for performance. They will be standards set by agency business in general, other companies, cultures and personal experiences.
  3. Interpersonal expectations. These cover the sharing of knowledge; ability to solve a problem; ability to communicate; courtesy; patience; enthusiasm; helpfulness; assurance that the parameters are understood; communication skills; and professionalism of conduct.

Managing expectations

  • Make no assumptions. Don't fall into the trap of assuming someone has the same understanding of a situation, project, deadline or task that you do; and always clarify essential project details before you begin.
  • Create a detailed plan for all projects. All of your projects (small or large) will have a plan of attack of some description. At the very least your stakeholders should know the brief, pricing, process and deadline. If you know it, and they know it, then everyone will know the basics of what to expect.
  • Communicate regularly and clearly. One of the best ways to manage expectations is to communicate with all of your stakeholders on a regular basis (casual communication or informal/formal reporting). This will help you to provide status updates and manage any delays, risks or barriers. It's better that you risk over-communicating to keep people informed than to keep people wondering. You won't (usually) get in trouble for over-communicating!
  • Handle changes quickly. Change happens regularly in AgencyLand, from changes that your client makes, to delays, errors, or market forces beyond your control. If any change is going to affect pricing or timing, then you need to communicate it quickly. Your swift action will help a client to adjust their expectations and to trust that you've thought through how a change or delay may affect their project.
  • Explain how your agency works. By explaining to your client how your team, systems and processes work, you are helping to create expectations based on what you do rather than what they assume you do.
  • Set the expectations from the start. The beginning of a new client relationship is an excellent opportunity for you to set expectations that you are happy working within. For example, you could supply your client with a list of promises that you will adhere to, such as:
    • If any work requested will affect the quoted price, your permission will be sought before doing the work.
    • We will respond to your emails within 24 hours.
    • We will always close the loop of communication and never leave you in the dark.
  • If you are feeling brave, you could also give your client a set of your agency's expectations, such as:
    • We will notify the agency if we know of any change that will affect the timing of a project.
    • We will respond to your emails within 24 hours.
    • We will supply all content on or before the agreed-to milestones.
  • These expectations could then be included into a yearly agency/client review process as part of the 2-way KPIs.
  • Push back if you need to. You have to be comfortable that the expectations are realistic and achievable. If they are not, you should push back in a way that will still benefit both your client (or supplier) and your agency. Nailing the push-back is half the battle toward managing expectations.
  • Be aware of campaign goals. Clients will always want a decent ROI for the money they spend on any campaign - this could include a specific sales target, or an ideal number of new leads, shares or impressions, etc. You'll need to make sure that your client's expectations are realistic before you agree to them. If you find that targets need to be adjusted part-way through a campaign, then let your client know as soon as possible. It's far better that they know during a campaign than at the end when you show them a less-than-satisfactory report.
  • Anticipate your client's needs before they realise they need something. By doing this, you circumvent any pesky expectations, and wow your client instead.
  • Be honest in all your dealings. Expectations based on a lie never end well.
  • Be realistic with all your promises. People will base their expectations on what you say, so your promises need to be realistic and achievable. Be transparent about what you can and cannot accomplish within the given time, and if there are any limitations within the process
  • Demonstrate integrity. No matter what, always do what you say you will do. For example, if you say you will have a proof to your client by a particular time, do it. If you say they will receive delivery of their goods on a given day, drive the goods there yourself if you have to. Accounts are easily lost thanks to empty promises.

The longer you spend in account management, and the more you get to know your clients, the savvier you will become in anticipating expectations. 



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