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Setting Client Expectations

October 31, 2019

Communication, Management, Retention. For those of us in the client services field, we hear a lot about these topics and realize with every question comes a thousand opinions. So, here’s mine 😊


From onboarding to ongoing meetings, every step in a client relationship can be broken into two parts: 1) What is this step doing for me and 2) What is it doing for the client. This can further be broken down into two sub-goals - the current goal and the future goal.

For most clients, the goal for them is profitability (or at least a path to profitability). 

For the agency, the goal generally is to retain and grow the client.

For every step of the relationship to work, communication is the key. It may be more important than the sales and/or deals you are bringing to their company. Setting accurate and reasonable expectations will ensure a long term customer.


Examples of current goals can be onboarding the client, updating the client, and planning with the client. Future goals of a client relationship, depending on the industry, can be upselling the client, getting referrals, or just maintaining them as a client.

Let’s go through one of the examples mentioned. You are meeting with a client to update them on current progress. Among the items to be discussed are if goals are being met and any areas that need improvement.

When campaign are getting good results, it is obviously important and beneficial to talk about those results. Playing them up and focusing on them is great. But how you do that is integral. The client should get the feeling that they are receiving good service and that they will continue to get good service. However, giving the impression that the future will be just as great can set yourself up for future letdowns.

When things are not going as well, you should work to explain the course of action you intend to take to turn things around or to get to certain goals. A clear strategy and focus is integral to a fruitful relationship. Try to outline the strategy without getting too bogged down detailing every action item that will be done. 

This is where the pitfall of setting unreasonable expectations can occur. A healthy mix of clear strategy, yet also some vagueness will help the next steps in the relationship. If exact details are spelled out, at the next meeting the client may focus on if the details were carried out and not necessarily on the big picture. Getting too detailed has no benefits and can only set yourself up for trouble.


Additionally, you may feel pressured to promise great results after you implement a strategy which you have outlined. Doing so will only push the issue down the road and make future interactions potentially harder to deal with. Although you both want a turnaround, in most cases, there is no promise of that happening. 

Setting realistic expectations

Explaining the strategy of what you are going to do without promising results is the key.

Today's digital marketing industry is very data focused, allowing clients to clearly see their advertising dollars at work. This transparency gives us a great opportunity to show and prove our results but it also gives you nothing to hide behind when things are gloomy.

Understanding the short and long term goals of both the client and yourself will allow you to communicate the right details, but it also forces you to follow the practices I am discussing.

Overpromising the future will hurt the long term relationship with the client, though it may help keep the client in the short term. 


Almost radical truthfulness will always help the relationship in the long term. Telling the client that things are bad when they are bad and giving them reasonable projections for turning things around will ensure their is trust in the relationship.

But being truthful does not mean oversharing. It is a natural tendency for many people to ramble when trying to get out of a tight spot. Preparing a brief and truthful explanation regarding the current status of the account will make the process go infinitely smoother.

Follow best practices

A client always wants good results and a great bottom line. But strongly following good practices in setting reasonable expectations can help take the results a bit out of the spotlight. Good service and good results can become (almost) the same thing- depending how you set the tone.

At each step in the relationship, focusing on the current goal and not setting up unreasonable future goals will lead to a continued and healthy customer experience.

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