As a business, you are responsible for setting the customers expectations. We commonly see two basic theories or ideas on how setting customer expectations should be done.
1. "Under promise, over deliver" - Businesses set expectations and provide a little "wiggle room" to accomplish the expectation of the customer. Primarily this in the timing that a service or product will be delivered. For example; you are remodeling a client's bathroom and you know from past experience it will take 3 days. You tell the customer to expect 4 days. The extra day allows some room in the event you encounter problems and if you finish early, then the customer is happy in most cases (see #2).
2. "Establish expectations with caveats" - Establishing expectations with "qualifiers" such as; "Unless we run into problems", "Normal services take three days if no problems are encountered." Establishing caveats is similar to the first theory, or similar to a disclaimer. This theory is important when working in areas that have tight schedules. There may be other work that must be scheduled. In the event you finish early, the client might be upset that they were not able to use the extra day to complete additional work.
The theory or concept you choose will ultimately depend on the specific type of service or product you are providing your client. It is not uncommon to run into problems with either. Weather in other parts of the world may delay delivery of materials, employee's get sick and this can disrupt your work schedules, or you encounter delays because the client causes a change.
Suggestions when are unable to meet the client's expectations:
1. Inform them as soon as possible - Notifying the customer is critical first step, even if you are exploring alternatives to keep you on schedule. This is really important when the client's schedule is closely tied to the completion of your work. Keeping them informed allows them to make decisions to accomplish their goals.
2. Identify alternatives if there are any available - Maybe there is an alternate material that can be used in place of one where delivery is delayed, or you can re-schedule the work for another time. In really critical circumstances, you may explore subcontracting with another business to provide the service or products. Work arounds are another alternative. Consider the bathroom remodel example: Instead of installing the original water faucet, you install a less than desirable faucet until the original arrives. When it does, a time will be scheduled to swap them out.
3. Be empathetic - Understand that your customer is depending on the schedule or service you provide. Any changes may require changes on their part. Some may be uncomfortable, or costly for them. It's easy to get upset and snap back at an unhappy customer, "I'm can't predict the weather that caused the shipping delay!". Better to reply with; "I know this change is difficult for you and we will get the work completed as soon as possible."
No matter which theory or idea best fits your needs, it is important that you always set expectations with the customer at the beginning.
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