Anyone who’s been to Sonic knows what unmet expectations feel like. If you’re a small business owner, you’ve probably come to hate the verb “expect” more than any other. Customers have a whole lot of dreams about what you can deliver, and it’s all too easy to come up short when someone has their eyes to the sky.
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In the tech world, expectations are especially killer. Terms like “the cloud” don’t help. Clouds are huge fluffy things that float and take on a million, ever-changing forms, so you can’t blame people for thinking that anything is possible in this industry. But when you’re operating on a budget, you can’t fulfill every whim, so part of the responsibility—and surely thrill—of owning a business is learning to set and then meet your clients’ expectations.
1. Attract the Right Business
As the voice of your product, you have the power to draw the kind of customers you want, and that starts with your brand. If you spout yourself as a full-service operation that holds the customer’s hand from start to finish, you need to deliver on that immediately to keep your clients around. If you’re more hands-off, you’ll be going after independent clients who are up for DIY. Communicate who you are and stick to it. If people are coming through the door with the wrong idea about you, you’re not being loud enough.
2. Understand Your Clients
Once you gain someone’s business, the expectation game really begins. You’ll get clients who love you (referrals, anyone?) and clients who really… don’t. Treat them as case studies. Let them vent. Learn what went wrong. These people will help you grow more than your biggest fans, even if you end up losing their business. Biting the bullet and asking honestly, “Where did we screw up?” will indulge them and enlighten you. To initiate these conversations, you need a method of taking your clients’ temperature before they’re fuming. Periodic check-ins, whether digital or in-person, give your customers the sense that they’ve been heard, plus provide you with regular insight on how you’re faring.
3. Transform Your Relationship
Feedback in hand, you can tweak away. The next time you identify a “difficult” client, you’ll know where they came from and what you could have done to make them happier. Sometimes it just isn’t meant to be—tough people will slip through the cracks regardless of how accurately you build your brand around your business. But more often than not, angry clients are open to changing their minds if you give them the chance. Start by empathizing and end by advocating. Hear them out, then tell them exactly what you’ll do to change their mind. Don’t tack on higher expectations than they already have; give realistic solutions that you’re confident you can see through. By taking control and forecasting your relationship, you begin molding it into one you both want, and this is where progress flourishes.
4. Rinse and Repeat
When you lose a customer, treat it as an opportunity to attract a better one. Armed with new knowledge about who you do and don’t want to work with, you can revisit your branding, up proactive communication, and apply the band aid when necessary. We all dream of being comfortable enough to turn down customers we know aren’t a good fit, but for most businesses that’s not an option. Instead, you’ll better yourself for next time, and the time after that.