Setting The Right Expectations

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Back in my software development days , I used to cringe when I overheard one of our team members describing to a customer how great the new system would be.  The customer would get excited, and their expectations elevated.  I was concerned because we had made our job more difficult.  Were we setting the right expectations?

It is a difficult question to answer.  On the one hand, we should be aiming to deliver the best possible solution.  On the other hand, our job is to delight the customer and to do that, we don’t need to deliver the best possible solution.  Only the one that meets their needs and works as promised.

What I Learned from a Climbing Trip

This may seem a trivial point but let me illustrate how setting the right expectations can have a significant impact.  I recently attended a climbing weekend at Smith Rock State Park, near Bend, Oregon.  Smith Rock is one of the premier climbing locations in the USA and this was my first visit.  I was excited about the climbing, even though I am a relative newbie and beginner.  They assigned me to the beginner group and our instructor got us started with a ‘warm up’ climb.  First up and I eagerly started to climb.  I got halfway and found myself stuck with nowhere to go.  There were no obvious routes that I was capable of climbing to the top.  After much effort, I surrendered and was lowered back to the ground.

Some of the other climbers in our beginners group managed to get to the top and newly emboldened I tried again.  Once again I got stuck and try as a might (and I tried really hard), I couldn’t get more than halfway.  This time I felt like a real failure, maybe I suck at climbing and should go do something else instead?

Later in the day we had a climbing clinic teaching how to improve our climbing form.  Clearly I was doing a LOT wrong and my climbing improved.  I also tried different routes and again failed to get to the top but I was assured it didn’t matter.  Outdoor climbing is difficult and my goal should be to simply get better.  And I could see I was making progress.  Success!

The Importance of Setting the Right Expectations

Reflecting back on my experience, I realized my climbing expectations were completely unrealistic.  I developed them from thinking the beginner group would do easy routes, especially at first in the warm up.  If they told me, you likely won’t get to the top, so focus on improving on each climb, my initial experience would have been very different. Set the Right Expectations for your Customers

The same is probably true of my software customers.  We would have been better served to tell them the first version of the system will work but will need some updates to meet your expectations.  They may have been disappointed at first but much more satisfied in the end.

What expectations are you setting for your customers?  Are they appropriate?


Comments (2)

Great message Andy. This is so important in all customer relationships whether it be with a software customer or a doctor explaining what may lie ahead. Measuring “progress” correctly is the right focus.

Thank you Randy, you are right, this has very broad application, especially for doctors where patient expectations can have a big impact on their recovery and well being.

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