Workplace Doctor: Meet your client’s expectations halfway

The excitement of taking on a new contract can mean we may not properly appreciate our client’s expectations.

Powered by automated translation

We've taken on a new contract but it's quickly becoming apparent that the client's expectations are far higher than we can ever achieve. This is partly because they are working by international standards whereas we are aware of the limitations on the ground here in Dubai, particularly during the summer months when the market slows down. How do we manage those expectations? Is it a case of meeting halfway? TB, Dubai

Meeting clients’ requirements sometimes feels like reaching for the moon. As much as you try, it can sometimes feel like what you are doing is just not good enough. It is even trickier when the client has unusually high standards and you are aware of the practicality of working here on the ground, especially during a time when things may move slower than usual.

That being said, managing and somehow still meeting a client’s expectations is one of the most important and rewarding aspects of doing business. Having positive relationships with clients leads to a calmer work day, a higher level of productivity and hopefully more business in the future.

I can completely understand how you are feeling. In the past I found myself trying to meet client expectations and left delivering activities that were completely out of the original scope or running around trying to do simply unrealistic things. Looking back, one of my greatest learnings was the benefit of being firm but fair at the outset.

One recommendation for managing expectations is to be honest from the get-go or as early as possible (even if you have already commenced the project). If you have begun the project, it is still your responsibility as a supplier to make your client aware of the realities of the operation and provide them with clear information that they can use to communicate internally concerning any potential bumps in the road.

Be clear that although you will do your best to manage the process, there are things that will be outside your sphere of control. It is important to be clear that you alone cannot manage all these variables and you will all be in a better position if you do so together. Although it may feel uncomfortable, I think that saying this clearly and in no uncertain terms positions the client to believe in you. It also helps them to understand the process behind your work and everything that goes into it.

Once you have generated some common understanding and trust, if your client claims they don’t care how you do it, as long as you deliver results, I suggest you insist on co-creating a detailed and realistic plan of action with appropriate timelines that you both agree on. You can even work backwards to stages that have already occurred. This gives you and the client a point of reference at all times, but also allows you to manage expectations as there will be deliverables from both sides and in some cases you will need to meet in the middle.

Once you have this plan in place, you then need to start creating a healthy dialogue, as you are both vested in the outcome of the project. It does mean sharing successes and communicating progress while also having some healthy debate and even a few difficult conversations. This dialogue allows issues to arise naturally and in a timely manner, rather than being hidden under the carpet.

It is important in any client relationship to create a strong team from both sides, rather than going back and forth with one person. This balances out different characters and viewpoints. I have had one colleague who served as an excellent buffer between myself and a rather challenging client recently, which helped to keep the project moving smoothly along.

One final suggestion is that if it is an international client or one working to international standards, you could bring them down on the ground so they can experience the realities of the UAE. Things here can move fast, in some cases this pace can be unpredictable, but you can help to instil confidence in them by allowing them to actually experience the pace of change here and the endless possibilities.

Doctor’s prescription:

The excitement of taking on a new contract can mean we may not properly appreciate our client’s expectations. Instead meet in the middle: it is never too late to be open and honest with our customers, especially if this is supported by a clear plan of action.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter