Don’t Overpromise and Underdeliver: How to Manage Client Expectations

March 22, 2023
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“This isn’t the quality of work I was expecting.” “We’d hoped you would be closer to done by this point.” “Honestly, this work isn’t up to par with what’s in your portfolio.” These are words you never want to hear from your clients. One of the biggest causes of client dissatisfaction is when you overpromise and underdeliver.

Managing client expectations is an essential part of any successful business relationship. When you overpromise and underdeliver, it leads to disappointment, frustration, and a breakdown in trust. So how do you avoid the sticky situation of unhappy clients? You set realistic expectations before you start the project and then you need to communicate proactively until you are finished. Here are some tips to help you manage your client's expectations effectively.

Don't Overpromise: Be Honest and Transparent

It's tempting to tell clients what they want to hear, but honesty is always the best policy. Yes, always. Be transparent about what you can and cannot deliver, and don't make promises you can't keep. If there are potential roadblocks or delays, communicate early on so your clients can adjust their expectations accordingly. Early communication also gives you the chance to change project scope or deadlines.

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Instead of Underdelivering, Set Realistic Expectations

One of the most common reasons for overpromising and underdelivering is setting unrealistic expectations. Before starting any project, make sure you clearly understand what the client needs and what you can realistically deliver. If you're not sure, it's better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around.

Always Communicate Proactively

Communication is the number one way to manage client expectations. Keep your clients informed of the project's progress, timeline, and any changes or challenges that arise. Regular check-ins and updates prevent surprises and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Provide Regular Updates

Regular updates are essential to ensure your clients are aware of what's happening on the project. Even if there's no major news to report, providing updates can help reassure your clients that your work is moving forward as planned.

Manage Scope Creep

Scope creep. Two of the most dreaded words in any service provider's dictionary. Scope creep is when a project's requirements expand beyond the original scope, resulting in delays and additional costs. It's crucial to have a clear scope of work and a change management process in place. If the client requests changes or additional work, document them and agree on any additional costs or timeline changes upfront. And there should almost always be additional costs and a change in the deadline.

Learn to Say No

Sometimes, clients request work that is outside of your expertise or scope of services. It's important to learn to say no when necessary to avoid overpromising and underdelivering. It's tempting to take on the extra work, because who doesn't like the extra money that comes with it? But if you can't provide the requested services at the same quality level you provide for your other services, consider referring them to another professional who can better meet their needs.

Follow Through on Commitments

When you make a promise to your clients, it's important to follow through. If something comes up and you can't meet a deadline, communicate with your client as soon as possible and work to find a solution that meets everyone's needs. By following through on commitments, you build trust and credibility with your clients.

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Provide Exceptional Customer Service

Exceptional customer service goes a long way in managing client expectations. Always respond to your client's questions and concerns. When possible, go above and beyond to ensure their satisfaction (as long as it doesn't mean scope creep). Providing exceptional customer service builds a loyal client base and increases the chances of repeat business and referrals. And referrals are the key to growing your business.

Continuously Improve

Is continuously improving your processes and services part of your business plan? It should be. The better you can meet your client's needs, the faster your business will grow. Ask for feedback and use it to make necessary changes and improvements in your processes. Continuously improving your services allows you to stay ahead of the competition and provide exceptional value to your clients.

Be Attentive to Cultural Differences

Culture matters. And every culture has value and deserves respect. In an increasingly global business environment, it's essential to be aware of cultural differences when managing client expectations. Different cultures have different communication styles, business practices, and expectations. Take the time to learn about your client's culture and be mindful of any cultural differences that may affect your business relationship.

Dealing With a Crisis

In a crisis, managing your client's expectations becomes even more critical. A friend of mine was recently in an accident. Her family was able to let her major clients know about the situation, and they shifted deadlines to allow her time for recovery. Unfortunately, one of her smaller clients had an in-progress project with her that got lost in the shuffle. They dropped the project before she could get in touch with them because they thought she'd ghosted them. When you face a crisis, be transparent about the situation, communicate proactively and frequently, and be prepared to adjust timelines or deliverables as necessary.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Technology can be a valuable tool in managing client expectations. Use project management software to keep track of project progress, deadlines, and deliverables (I use a combination of Bonsai for client-facing project details and Trello for tracking deliverables). Consider using video conferencing tools to facilitate communication and collaboration with remote clients. By leveraging technology, you can streamline your processes and improve communication with your clients.

Are You Ready to Overdeliver?

Managing your client's expectations is a critical component of any client relationship. Your goal should be to set realistic expectations, rather than overpromising and underdelivering. When you deliver what you say you will, you build strong, long-lasting relationships with your clients and ensure their satisfaction. And that's what you want to do! Wowing your clients leads to superfan clients who become your biggest source of referrals, which is your fastest path to a successful business.


  • Treasa Edmond

    With 30 years in the workforce, 15 of those running her own freelance writer and content strategy business, Treasa has worked with all kinds of clients. It took her years to break out of an employee mindset so she could become the boss of her business. Now she's sharing her proven client management strategy and communication process so you can become the boss of your business today!