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Managing Expectations

The more explicit you set expectations (on both sides of a transaction) at the beginning as well as consequences (to both sides) if they are not met, the less you need to manage disappointment and anger later on.

By expectations I mean specific, tangible, measurable ones such as:

  • the vendor/consultant will provide a, b and c products/services by a certain time with the promise that those products and services will produce d, e and f result.
  • the customer/client will pay for those services by a certain time AND furthermore will read manuals, accept training to use the products properly or will cooperate and/or provide necessary internal resources to implement what consultants advise to achieve the expected result from their services

By consequences when expectations are not meant I mean:

  • if their products/services are not provided on time, are not what they are said to be or do not produce the results that were promised at the outset, the vendor/consultant will pay what consequence?
  • if they do not pay the agreed amount by the agreed upon time, nor do what is required to enable the product/service to produce the promised result, the customer/client will pay what consequence?

If most people would agree that: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or in this case, bad feelings later on), then why do vendors/consultants and their customers/clients do such a lousy job of setting expectations from the outset?

People have trouble spoiling and soiling the honeymoon of an initial agreement by bringing up the unpleasant – but nearly universal – scenario that either side will find themselves disappointed about something later on.

For instance many doctors — and to a lesser extent lawyers — face this because part what they offer in their professional services is not just professional care, but genuine caring (for the hurt, frightened or angry that patients/clients present with).  But this often leads to confusion in clients’ minds where the feeling is “If you really cared about me (and how I feel), you would not only cut me a break regarding paying, etc. but you’d accept my ‘story of woe’ as a true mitigating circumstance in my not being able to meet my responsibilities.” 

This doesn’t work in reverse.  The “caring” (or providing care) service provider in most cases feels inhibited from saying to their client: “If you really appreciated the service I have provided, you would not only pay as you agreed to do on time, but you would also provide the information (documents) and resources I need from you to make the service work (and then tell all your friends how great I am so they would use me).”

This awkwardness is instead dealt with poorly through consent forms, agreements, binding arbitration agreements, and other materials that no patient or client I know has ever read or fully understood. It’s as if the conflict avoidant service provider is saying: “Of course I care about you, now before we get started let’s just get a few papers out of the way.”

Maybe the time has come to be more direct in:

  1. setting explicit expectations (and consequences) at the beginning
  2. asking if customers/clients/patients understand them
  3. answering questions if they don’t
  4. asking if customers/clients/patients accept them
  5. answering questions if they don’t
  6. providing them with an alternative if they don’t agree and to do so more politely than saying, “Okay, then there’s the door.”

Reader Comments (3)

More than once, while an admin is standing near a sign that says 'payment required with services', I've not been able to pay (no cash, wallet in car, or interestingly, I don't know how much to pay for my deductible), they just say 'it's okay, we'll just bill you'.

February 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterDavid Jung

Dr G. - This is exactly what I do every day as a customer service rep for a non profit Medicaid plan here in Arizona. The key to successfully handling difficult calls is to just listen first then convey your understanding of the problem or issue encountered by the member/provider, then set the expectations of what can/cannot be done along with why and how. That's it, and it works almost every time. Most of the people I talk leave me feeling understood and felt, even when they may be "wrong". Great work, thanks for sharing!

February 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterAaron Koral

If one approaches setting clear expectations, with consequences, while not forgetting to voice or write it in a very human manner, explaining the "why's" of the matter and focusing on the benefits to the other party/parties, the likelihood of this approach being accepted emotionally, I imagine, is much greater.

February 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterMichael Toebe
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