Risky Business: Not Setting Mutual Expectations With Clients

In my post on client expectations, I discussed why some agencies might be afraid to create them, and the first steps an agency can take to set these.

With hindsight, I should have first covered the risk of not doing so.

  1. If not, at year’s end, you risk telling the client something to the effect of “We achieved A,B,C,D and E!” and the client responds, “That’s great. But we wanted D, E, F and G!” How could this have happened? The goals were right when you set them, but perhaps you didn’t engage enough with the client over the year to discuss, specifically, how their needs and goals were evolving and how your efforts needed to evolve with them.
  2. Another year-end risk is that you tell the client “We’d grade ourselves A in this area, an A- in these two initiatives, and B+s in these two efforts.” And the client replies, “Actually, we’d give you an A+ in the first area, a B+ in the second, a B in the third, a C+ in the fourth and a C in the fifth.” This could be due to unrealistic client expectations, the fact that they didn’t realize some of the agency’s achievements, or the impact of those achievements on the marketplace. But whose responsibility was it to have communicated these, and managed unrealistic expectations, on a regular basis?
  3. The ongoing strain of unmet expectations. When expectations aren’t met, it creates enormous tension on both the client and agency sides. This is tough enough when the expectations have been articulated. In that case, at least both sides know what needs to be improved, and can make and track progress. Can you imagine the tension when the expectations haven’t been voiced, so the agency team doesn’t know their true marching orders? That makes for an unhappy client and team members who don’t know how to turn that around. And that puts you at risk to lose key members, not to mention, #4:
  4. The risk of being fired. I don’t think I need to add anything here.

The shame is that these situations could have been avoided, or at least vastly improved, had the agency taken on its responsibility of securing mutual expectations, getting them in writing, modifying them as needed, and most important, obtaining regular, candid client feedback on how the agency was performing versus those expectations.

More on that in the next post on this subject.

What do you see as the risk of not setting mutual, written expectations?

Ken Jacobs

I’m the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps public relations and communications agencies and organizations grow and manage business, and enhance staff performance, leadership and communications skills.We do so via consulting, training, and coaching. To learn more, please click on the “Jacobs Communications Consulting” tab on the top.

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