Getting Started on the Right Foot: Setting Client Expectations
For the Trade Professional
One of the most challenging parts of working with clients can be setting expectations. However, agreeing on what you can provide for a client and when, is the best way to set yourself up for success.
We spoke with Shelly Rogers, CliqStudios Design Studio Manager, and Bill Hoeppner, Senior Designer and Install Specialist, about the top five steps they take when setting client expectations.
1. Set Discussion Points for the First Meeting
The first client conversation can be exciting, filled with big ideas for the project. Having discussion points you want to touch on will help you set expectations right away. The initial conversation will be unique to your business, but they should all have at least one thing in common.
“Every project starts with timeline,” Shelly emphasizes. “Getting aligned with your client on timeline is the first step to a successful project.”
Understanding the timeline means listening to a client’s wants and needs. Everything they share with you helps you understand what they are expecting from you and the project. This conversation is also important to building a relationship with the client.
“Like anything in sales, they’re not just buying the product,” Bill says. “They’re buying you – your expertise, your time and your service.”
- How did you hear about our business?
- What is your project timeline?
- Do you have specific goals for this project?
- What’s your preferred form of communication?
- How have other hired projects turned out?
2. Explain Your Process in Detail
Once you understand what the client needs, explain how you will help them achieve their goals. The next step of setting client expectations is to explain your process and how it works to the client’s benefit.
This is also the best time to prepare them for the ups and downs of a remodeling project.
“In the beginning I try to get them excited,” Bill says. “But I also prepare them that the beginning of the process is exciting. Designing is fun. Then during demo there is a lot of dust flying and you see results every day. However, toward the middle of the project it can feel like nothing is happening.”
Bill continues, “That’s why it’s important to establish why projects can take so long up front. Take the time to explain how each part of the process overlaps. Explain how each subcontractor affects the other. This gives you something to refer back to if you later if a client has questions about the timeline.”
- Your estimated timeline.
- How your business works.
- How you can meet their goals.
- Who they will be working with.
- How you communicate with clients.
- Your expertise.
- Past problems you have solved.
- Prepare clients for the ups and downs of remodeling.
3. Evaluate Whether Your Expectations Match
Next, evaluate if both of your expectations for this process match. If their timeline or other expectations don’t match with what you can offer, find out why they need what they’re requesting.
If they want something you are unable, or unwilling, to provide, it’s best to find out before you’ve poured any more time into the project. When you try to meet a client halfway and you still can’t match expectations, then it may be best to walk away from the project.
- Can you meet their timeline?
- Do you define quality the same way?
- Do you define timely communication in the same way?
4. Communicate Throughout the Project
Setting client expectations is a great first step, but you’ll need a communication plan to help you meet them.
“It’s important to be transparent,” Bill says. “At least once a week, if not every other day, let them know what’s going on with their project. Even if it’s a two-minute conversation, set up what’s happening. Be their cheerleader, share the progress that’s being made.”
Like the initial client conversation, have discussion topics in mind. If the day-to-day progress has slowed, find ways to keep your client involved.
“Ask them if they’ve chosen appliances, tile, flooring or paint colors,” Shelly says. “You may not even need that information, but it keeps the client engaged and helps them feel that the project is moving forward.”
Pros who have a team should schedule a weekly touch-base to keep everyone informed of project statuses. This helps ensure that the whole team is working together to reach the client’s goals.
- Ask for any decisions you need from the client.
- Share recent progress.
- Give them confidence in the finished product while the space looks partially complete.
- Share what they can expect next.
- Ask if the client has any questions or concerns.
5. Address Issues Directly
“As much as everyone hates it, sometimes you have to be the bearer of bad news,” Bill says. “As soon as you hear of a problem, you’re better off sharing the news sooner rather than later.”
It’s impossible to predict what issue may arise on a project. Unexpected problems range from unknown structural problems, shipment delays, permitting problems and everything in between.
“Everyone has set backs now and then, so own it,” Shelly adds. “Even if it’s not your mistake, I’ve learned the best way is never to point fingers. Be honest about the situation. If you don’t have an immediate answer, ask if you can have a minute to call them back with a solution. Then, you have to be pretty quick. It’s best to be as fast as you can and find a creative solution that’s best for all parties.”
“Try to give the client several solutions,” Bill says. “Then let them pick which one they like best. That gives the client a chance to own the solution.”
By identifying expectations up front, you know what goals you need to hit to create a happy client. Once you’re on the same page as your client, you have the chance to meet, and hopefully exceed, the expectations they had for the project.
- Communicate any issues immediately.
- Apologize and empathize.
- Provide several solutions.
- Act quickly to implement the chosen solution.
- Explain how the rest of their project will be affected.