7 strategies for managing client expectations (and why it’s important)

by Emily Stevens

Published • 23/05/2024 | Updated • 23/05/2024


7 strategies for managing client expectations (and why it’s important)

by Emily Stevens

Published • 23/05/2024 | Updated • 23/05/2024


As a business owner, you put a lot of thought into how to get clients. Then, once they’re through the door, your attention turns to retention; you want to build positive client relations to foster long-term loyalty. 

Whether you’re interested in how to make money online or you’re handling projects in person, managing client expectations is a crucial part of that process. When you set and manage expectations early on, you:

  • Ensure that the client has a clear and realistic understanding of what’s achievable.

  • Avoid confusion, misunderstandings, disappointment, and frustration further down the line.

  • Gain your clients’ trust and set yourself up for success in meeting their needs and making them happy.

Managing client expectations may not come easy — but it’s an essential factor to consider when you’re planning how to start a business or how to maintain your success so far. 

In this post, you’ll find seven practical strategies for managing client expectations, plus tips for how to implement them.

Why is managing client expectations important?

If you want to meet your clients’ needs, provide a positive experience, and build strong customer relationships, managing expectations is a must. 

For a moment, let’s put aside the question of how to run a business and look at things from the customer’s point of view. Let’s imagine you’re taking your bike in for repair.

You drop the bike off and the mechanic says they’ll call you when it’s ready. They don’t tell you what needs to be done, how long it’ll take, or how much it should cost. Based on past experience, you assume you’ll have the bike back in a few days and expect to pay no more than fifty pounds.

Ten days later, you get the call — and the bill. You’re disappointed at how long it took for your bike to be repaired, and unpleasantly surprised by the price. Even though the mechanic has done a decent job, your expectations weren’t met and you come away feeling dissatisfied. It’s unlikely you’ll go back there in the future.

Now imagine how this scenario could have played out if the mechanic had set clear expectations upfront. 

If they had explained that an expensive part needed replacing, and that it would take a week to have the part delivered, your expectations regarding price and timeline would have been much more closely aligned with reality. Your disappointment could have been avoided, and you’d probably have come away feeling like you got a great service. 

That’s the importance of setting and managing client expectations. It directly impacts customer satisfaction, which is crucial for nurturing customer loyalty and boosting customer retention

This, in turn, has a direct impact on your bottom line. Long-term customer retention is much more cost-effective, and more profitable, than new customer acquisition. It also helps to strengthen your reputation and increase your chances of positive reviews and referrals. 

So, if you want all the benefits of customer retention, you must keep your customers happy — and that requires managing their expectations.

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7 strategies for managing client expectations

1. Understand the client’s vision

Start by understanding what the client wants. Once you know their ideal outcome(s), you can work towards providing a solution that meets their needs while setting expectations for what’s possible. 

If you’re looking at how to manage client expectations in a beauty salon, for example, you might dedicate the first ten minutes of their appointment to discussing what kind of results they want to achieve. 

If you’re pursuing creative ways to make money, such as providing design services, you might prepare some questions for the client to gauge their needs and goals for a particular project, followed by a kick-off meeting.

At this stage, focus on listening and learning as much as you can about what the client wants. The more you know about their expectations, the easier it will be to manage them. This can also make you and your team feel more confident and at ease about what you’re doing, creating a more positive working environment.


  • Ask questions and follow-up questions to gain a deep understanding of the clients’ needs, goals, and expectations.

  • Repeat back to the client, in your own words, what you’ve heard and understood. This ensures that you’re correctly understanding what they want and allows you to nip any misunderstandings in the bud.

  • Consider offering complimentary consultation sessions when taking on new clients. This helps not only with managing client expectations, but also with building a rapport (an important first step towards long-term customer loyalty).

2. Be honest about limitations

In your eagerness to provide good customer service and seize all possible business opportunities that come your way, you may find yourself saying yes to everything — even if you know deep down that it’ll be a stretch. This can be counterproductive.

Managing client expectations and being honest about what’s possible are crucial when you’ve become your own boss. The onus is on you to decide what you and/or your team can and can’t do, and you don’t want to let your clients believe they’ll get a certain result, only to be disappointed when the outcome doesn’t match up to their vision. 

If they come to you asking for something unrealistic (say, a complete hair colour transformation that wouldn’t be technically achievable on their hair, or a full website redesign in a very short timeframe), let them know right away that it won’t be possible — and explain why. 

Then work together to adjust the overall vision and come up with alternatives. Perhaps you can suggest a more gradual transition to their desired hair colour, or explain what would be doable within the suggested timeframe. 

It’s important that you address unrealistic expectations from the get-go. Otherwise, the client will only be disappointed or frustrated later on, which can impact your reputation and hamper your business growth strategies.


  • Share insight into how you work. This lets the client know exactly what to expect and gives them a better understanding of what’s possible. 

  • Don’t just tell the client ‘no’ — explain why it can’t be done.

  • Offer alternatives and seek to find a middle ground. This shows that you truly care about meeting their needs and want them to get good results.

3. Set goals and expectations collaboratively

With a good understanding of what the client wants, work together to establish clear objectives. 

The goal here is to foster complete alignment before any work begins. Talk about what parts of the client’s vision are possible, which expectations (if any) are unrealistic and why (as we discussed in the previous section), and set out clear next steps. 

Aim to do this as collaboratively as possible. You want the client to feel like they’re involved in the process — whether it’s determining the best course of action for cutting and styling their hair, weighing up the cost-effectiveness of repairing their old bike versus buying a new one, or prioritising which tasks you’ll tackle first in a large-scale creative project. 

When it comes to setting expectations, work towards a solution that’s both realistic for you and your team, and satisfying for the client. 


  • Set clear expectations around timing, scope, cost, and expected results; leave no aspect of the project or service undiscussed.

  • Make sure you have full understanding and alignment before proceeding (this can help with operations management for a long-term project, or something smaller-scale but very personal like a hair or beauty treatment). If necessary, document what you’ve agreed so both you and the client have it there in writing. 

  • Involve the client throughout. Even if you can’t meet their original expectations, they’ll feel much happier if they’ve had a say in how the project/appointment takes shape.

4. Be upfront about pricing

You don’t want to spring any cost-related surprises on your clients — or get into a dispute about how much is owed and when. Managing client expectations requires transparency around your pricing strategies.

If you have a fixed price list, make sure it’s clearly visible on your website and in your salon or store. Depending on the type of enterprise you have, it may also be factored in when you’re planning how to advertise your business.

Whenever you take a new booking — be it online, by phone, or in person — communicate the price to the customer once again so they know exactly what to expect.

If the price is to be determined, provide an early estimate based on what you know about the project or service so far, and be transparent about the factors that will impact the final price. In a hair salon, for example, you might have different price tiers for short, mid-length, and long hair. 

Finally, set clear expectations regarding when and how the client can pay. Cash-only businesses should communicate ahead of time that they don’t take cashless payments so the customer can come prepared. 

If you’re invoicing clients, let them know when to expect the invoice, how long they have to pay it, and inform them of any applicable taxes or fees.


  • If you take online bookings, include the price in the confirmation email together with a note about how they can pay, including any online payment methods you accept.

  • If you’re running promotions or special offers, clearly specify all terms and conditions to avoid confusion. 

  • Where necessary, provide written quotes or contracts that outline the exact scope of the work, pricing details, and payment terms.

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5. Communicate early and often

You’ll notice that all of our strategies so far rely on effective communication — and that’s because communication really is the golden rule for managing client expectations.

After your initial efforts to understand the client’s vision and set clear expectations, make sure to communicate regularly throughout the project, appointment, or interaction (depending on the nature of your business). 

Provide frequent updates and keep the client informed. If you’re working on a creative project, you might provide email updates or schedule a weekly check-in to discuss how the project is going.

Throughout the course of a beauty treatment, you might inform the client with each new step. For example, “I’m just going to apply this now, it might feel a little bit cold. I’ll leave that on for five minutes then come back to check how it’s going.” 

If you’ve got someone’s bike in for repair (remember our example from earlier?), you might call to let them know that you’ve ordered the necessary parts and should be able to have their bike fixed within the next week.

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re running, or hoping to launch. You might be planning how to start a business from home, or working out of a buzzing office or shop. In any case, open communication provides clarity, fosters mutual understanding, and ultimately ensures that your clients’ expectations are being met.


  • If appropriate for the type of service you provide, consider getting in touch with the client ahead of their appointment (or before you start a project) to let them know exactly what to expect. This can be a simple email reminding them of their booking, stating that you’re looking forward to welcoming them, and setting out next steps.

  • Try to anticipate the kinds of questions or concerns your clients might have and address them proactively (being sure that you train your employees in the answers as well) . If you’re applying a hair colour, for example, you might reassure the client that, although it looks very bright upon initial application, it will tone down after washing. 

  • Consider that client expectations might change over time, so seek to clarify and align on a regular basis (especially if you’re working on a longer-term project). 

6. Err on the side of under-promising and over-delivering

If you over-promise what’s possible or set the bar unrealistically high, you’re doing everybody a disservice. Not only are you setting your client up for disappointment; you’re also setting yourself up to fail, potentially impacting your operating cash flow.

Instead, err on the side of under-promising and over-delivering. That doesn’t mean setting the bar low; it just means keeping expectations firmly in the realm of realistic — and then anything above and beyond that is an unexpected bonus.

Imagine you take a pair of trousers to be altered. The tailor is incredibly busy but, eager to please, promises they’ll have your trousers ready within 24 hours. However, when you go to pick them up the next day, the tailor hasn’t got round to it yet and asks you to return in two days’ time. They’ve over-promised and under-delivered, and you’re frustrated.

Now imagine if the tailor had set more realistic expectations and promised to have your trousers ready within five days. Then, three days later, they’re ahead of schedule and your trousers are ready for collection — two days earlier than planned. In that scenario, they’ve over-delivered. 

Whether you’re forging a new career working for yourself or just exploring side hustle ideas in your spare hours, it’s always better to set expectations that you can realistically meet (and perhaps even exceed) than to over-promise and fall short.


  • Give conservative estimates when discussing timelines, leaving yourself plenty of buffer.

  • Consider potential challenges and setbacks when promising something to a client. If you’ll need to rely on third-party suppliers, for example, factoring in the possibility of delays should be a part of your small business risk management plans.

  • Having set realistic expectations, look for opportunities to go above and beyond. You might deliver ahead of schedule, for example, or throw in an additional product or treatment for free. This is a great way to over-deliver — not to mention a highly effective strategy if you’re thinking about how to improve the customer experience.

7. Have a contingency plan (and discuss it with the client) 

You’ve taken the time to understand your client’s vision, and you’ve worked together to set realistic goals and expectations. Now you need a contingency plan in case things go off-piste. 

What happens if your original plan doesn’t go to plan? What potential setbacks and challenges might you anticipate, and what can the client expect in the event of issues or changes?

Let’s once again take the example of a hair salon. The client might be hoping for a drastic colour transformation, and you think you can make it work — but there’s a tiny chance that it might not achieve the desired hue. 

To manage expectations and keep the customer happy, you’d want to discuss this potential setback right at the start, during the initial consultation, and talk about what you could do to correct it. 

Setbacks happen, and it’s important to manage client expectations around potential obstacles. By communicating your contingency plan upfront, you can keep expectations in check and reassure the client that they’re in good hands.


  • Run through all possible challenges and set clear expectations for how you’ll deal with them if they do arise.

  • Build trust through transparency. Things can go wrong, and you don’t necessarily need to hide that from your clients. If you’re honest and open about hurdles and setbacks, your clients will trust that you’ve got everything under control. 

  • Have a plan in place for how to deal with difficult clients. Even if you’ve done your best to manage expectations, some clients may try to push the boundaries. Think about how you’ll reinforce those boundaries, address issues and concerns, and resolve conflict — all with the goal of maintaining a positive relationship with the customer.

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Key takeaways and next steps

Just like performance management techniques can enhance workplace culture, so too will managing expectations lead to positive client relations.

Without strong alignment from the get-go, you risk confusing, misleading, and disappointing your clients — potentially souring relationships and delaying any plans you might have for scaling your business.

With a good understanding of your client’s vision, open and honest communication, and collaborative goal-setting, you can keep expectations realistic and effectively meet your clients’ needs. 

Next steps

In this post, we’ve shared seven practical strategies to help you manage client expectations. Some you can start implementing right away, while others you can tap into as and when the need arises (such as devising a contingency plan and being honest about limitations). 

If you’re keen to put our strategies into practice, we recommend the following next steps:

1. Start with proactive measures

Select two or three strategies you can implement right now to proactively manage client expectations, such as:

  • Understanding the client’s vision: You might draft a list of five standard ‘discovery’ questions to ask new clients regarding their goals, timeline, and expected outcomes. Or, if you run an appointment-based business, you might start inviting new clients to attend a short consultation slot ahead of their appointment.

  • Improving transparency around pricing: Review your website and any other client-facing materials to make sure that customers have full visibility around pricing. If your current pricing is confusing or ambiguous, consider rethinking how to price your service.

2. Ask existing clients for feedback

If it feels appropriate, speak to past and current clients about their experience. This could form a part of your email marketing for small business growth. For example, you could send customers on your mailing list a short, simple survey with questions such as:

  • How happy were you with the end result?

  • How closely did the end result match your original vision?

  • What could we have done differently or better to prepare you for the appointment?

How you frame these questions will depend on the nature of your business and the context of the service provided, so adapt accordingly. 

3. Learn from negative client experiences

In addition to hearing your clients’ perspectives, think about your own experience, too. Have there been times when you ended up stretching yourself really thin to meet the client’s expectations? Times when you and the client got your wires crossed due to a breakdown in communication?

Try to pinpoint exactly what went wrong in managing those clients’ expectations, and use that to make changes in the future.

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