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Manage what your customers expect

June 22, 2014

I watched as the manager leaned in to speak with his employee who was answering the telephone. As the employee began to respond to the caller, the manager spoke softly, “Manage expectations.”

As the phone call progressed, it was evident the manager was coaching the employee how to be successful in providing all the information the caller would need prior to their arrival — managing expectations.

Managing expectations helps to maintain smooth transactions. As a former furniture store owner, we held true to the statement, “Under-promise and over-deliver.”


If we ordered a custom chair, we knew there was a good chance it would be delivered to us in four weeks, but we always said six weeks. The customers were always delighted when it arrived early.

Author Yaro Starak states that dealing with a client’s preconceptions is a way to manage their expectations, “What people expect is based on what has come before.”

The communication field refers to this as a frame of reference. In order to manage the outcome of a transaction, deliver the information and encourage responses. From these responses, you can discreetly play into what they know so both of you are working from the same set of expectations.

Recently such an incident happened to me. I had decided to purchase a certain item I had seen in the store. I called the store ahead of time and asked if I could come pick it up. The person who answered the phone said, “Sure.” When I got there, I learned the item had to be ordered!

If, during the first interaction, the salesman had said, “we always order items of this nature. It usually takes three weeks,” then we would have shared the same preconception.

Unfortunately, that same level of “not” managing expectations continued. The result is simply this; I won’t trade with this particular business in the future.

As with anything, being overly managing can have a negative result as well. Starak offers this, “All you need to do is know enough and explain enough to keep customers happy … meet whatever goal you have know what is ‘enough’ for your own needs. In other words, manage your own expectations before you begin managing those of others.”

Sounds like good advice for me as well.

The Angelo State University Small Business Development Center is here to help you work through techniques to manage expectations. Call on us.