For those of us in a service-based industry, there are so many things to consider when starting work with a new client, right? From our workflow to maintaining a helpful stream of communication to doing our best work consistently, there a more than a few action items and steps to walk through with every project we take on. And a huge part of the work we do when we partner one-on-one with new clients is to manage their expectations to ensure they have a positive experience while working with us, on top of walking away with quality deliverables! So how is one to juggle all the responsibilities of client work, on top of managing expectations? Well, friends, I’ve found over the years that the best way to ensure you’re creating your best client work, all while maintaining an overwhelming positive experience, begins when we’re able to set the tone for success from the get-go.
Think back to the last time you had a client who was even the slightest bit unsatisfied. That’s an unpleasant memory, I know, but think about how your relationship got to that place. Chances are, unless your client was totally unreasonable, there was at one point another a breakdown of communication and expectations weren’t met appropriately. In order to avoid those types of unpleasant encounters, we have a responsibility as business owners, and the professionals our clients trust, to educate them on not only how our project together will transpire, but also what they can reasonably expect. As a brand designer and strategist, I’ll be the first to kindly let my client know if their goals are unattainable, or if the design they’re envisioning isn’t the best fit for their brand. And, as we educate our clients on industry standards, reasonable expectations, and how they can anticipate working with us, we’re often setting our clients up to enjoy a prolonged sense of fulfillment or benefit from the work we do together over the long term.
So, how can we practically educate our clients and truly set the tone for success during client work? Today, I’m sharing some of my top suggestions so you can serve more satisfied clients, and bring those unhappy endings to a close for good!
Make Expectations Known
Going into a project with a new client, ask yourself how you can better be educating them on what to expect. One of the top reasons for unhappy clients stems from improperly managed or unrealistic expectations, so in order to avoid that sort of unhappy scenario, let’s make expectations known upfront, and on both sides. From project deadlines, to turn time, to industry standards, to everything in-between, it’s not all that uncommon to work with a client who knows very little about your specialty. In order to set both of you up for success, be sure to clue them in on how you work, what you need from them, and what they reasonably can expect from you. Likewise, have what you expect from them properly outlined in either your client contract, a welcome guide, your website, or a medley of all of the above! Expectations are a two-way street, and it’s totally reasonable that you ask your clients to engage fully in the process for the best results.
As you’re setting expectations, and as you dive into new client work, I find it’s better to over-communicate requests, timeframes, or anything in an honest effort to avoid miscommunication. Obviously, don’t send a client 80 emails asking for a pre-coaching session worksheet, but do let them know that a little client homework is expected during your initial client consult, as they book with you, and right before you send said homework their way. That way, when it winds up in their inbox, there’s no confusion about what this item is or what they’re supposed to do with it.
Under Promise + Over Deliver
This is one facet of maintaining a quality client experience that many of us have already heard, but it bears repeating for sure! As a general rule, under promise in order to exceed client expectations as you over deliver on a project. Now, this doesn’t mean you should set your clients’ expectations unreasonably low in order to blow them out of the water. But, that does mean that when you estimate a standard turn time of 4-6 weeks editing a wedding that when you deliver the full gallery the week after their wedding, you blow them away in the most thoughtful of ways! Likewise, when I partner with my brand design and strategy clients, I make no mention of surprise client gifts throughout our project together. That way, when a little something special shows up at their door, they’re completely delighted because I’ve attempted to over deliver on the already thoughtful experience I’ve designed for them.
Ask for Feedback (And Mean It!)
As we’re creating better, more thoughtful client experiences, we have to be willing to discover what we’re doing well, and what we could continually improve. Ask your clients for feedback through a standard feedback form, or a more personalized email, in order to hear how you’re doing, where you could grow, and what they enjoyed most about your time together. Yes, it can be challenging to hear what aspects of your work a client didn’t love, but that type of constructive criticism will challenge you to constantly improve and edify the way you’re currently doing this.
There you have it, friend! Over the years, these steps have been so helpful as I strive to avoid disaster with new clients I partner with. And the best part about this way of working with others? This approach gives you the opportunity to care for your clients and maintain a fantastic experience, all while giving you the space and clarity to create original, inventive work. Because when we set our clients up for success, we all win.
I want to hear from you, lovely! How do you approach working with a new client? What are your tried and true keys to setting the tone for success?