Managing client expectations is no magic trick

Expectations are a funny thing. Sometimes high. Sometimes low. Managing client expectations is as much an art form as it is a process. If you’re good, they might even think you’re magical — and that could spell trouble.

Managing expectations is something I learnt early on, before I even started Octane. My philosophy is to underestimate and over deliver. Give the client more than they expected. In short, make them happier than they thought they would be.

Why quick is not synonymous with simple

However, doing so quickly with apparent effortless ease can give the impression that what you just did was simple. Remember all those kids from the eighties, solving muddled up Rubik’s cube in seconds? Quick, yes. Simple, no.

Fact is, you might have been quick, but quick doesn’t equal simple. So you don’t want make something look so easy that your clients begin to think everything is easy.

Working all hours to meet a deadline is commendable, but it’s imperative you make it clear this extra effort is not to be a pattern to be repeated henceforth, and that this extra effort commands and extra fee, too. Of course, if it’s your own fault you’re working late, that’s tough. Live with it.

Often, the cause of these extra hours is the result of bad planning, which Leslie Poston summed up perfectly in a recent message on Twitter:

Today’s theme seems to be: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

To which I replied:

“And if you jump through that fiery hoop of unrealistic expectations, you’re then forever beholden to their whip cracking.”

White rabbits, black hats and business sleight of hand

This being Easter, it does seem somewhat appropriate to talk about rabbits. OK, so these are white rabbits in tall black hats and not the Easter bunny, but the thought was there!

I am not a magician, no matter what some of my clients think. What I do as a trade isn’t some dark art or the work of the devil. But I will confess, programming isn’t something anyone can just pick up over night. Similarly, the eye of a designer is more intuitive than it is a learned skill. Put all those things together and you have a web developer and a web designer, not a magician.

By going that extra mile time after time after time, you’re giving the impression that not only is this easy, but you’re prepared to keep doing so. You are forging a rod for your own back. A yolk of totally unrealistic expectations that essentially absolves the client of any culpability in their imprecise planning. Remember what I said about the power of saying no? Well here’s were it really counts.

“And as if by magic…”

I recently had to do a vanishing act of my own and cut a company loose who were making me look bad. They work all hours because they just can’t plan things properly and constantly cave into their clients disorganization. So when I said: “no, there’s just not enough time” or: “no, we need to plan this properly first” I became the villain of this crazy stage show illusion.

The thing is, clients are people and when we succeed where others have failed, or help them in a time of crisis, they place a huge amount of trust in our abilities. High expectations, for sure. And the best trick of all isn’t magic, but managing their expectations.

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