Client service emergency: When a client expected you to read their mind

Your client expects you to read their mind? Here’s how to avoid that becoming a client service emergency.

I recently did a consulting call with a client who had a client service emergency at her agency.

She’d recently completed a website project for a new client, who’d paid in full for the site. The site launched on time and on budget.

When she sent the client her usual “how’d we do?” followup email, she was surprised to hear the client said he wouldn’t recommend her agency to others. Furthermore, he said he expected a 50% refund before he’d recommend her to anyone else.

I looked at the site myself—the deliverable looked great, especially considering the client’s limited budget.

So what went wrong… and how can you prevent a similar client service emergency at your agency?

Too Many Emails from the Agency

I asked my client for more about what made her client unhappy. She said he didn’t like how many emails her team sent him during the project.

I asked about email frequency. They were exchanging several emails a week. To me, that wasn’t unreasonable for the size of the project, especially since the client was rewriting all of the website’s content from scratch.

Further, the client has asked the he and his VP be cc’d on every email!

The Client Expected a Mindreader

So why didn’t they like getting the emails? The client said he “didn’t expect so much collaboration.”

Aha! The issue wasn’t the volume of emails—the issue was the client expected the agency to read his mind.

Under the Warmth & Competence model, her agency succeeded at Competence but failed at Warmth. Her team got the work done, but they made the client feel overburdened.

The client had unreasonable expectations—but the agency didn’t know this until after the project was done.

How to Keep This from Becoming an Emergency

I advised my client to add some questions to her agency’s sales and client onboarding process.

In particular, she needs to understand what clients expect about how often they’ll interact with the agency. She can determine this by asking the client about what they liked and didn’t like about working with their previous agency.

She can also review the weekly time commitment the client can expect during projects like this. At least, if clients expect you to do all the work without their input along the way, you’ll know it before you get started and can reset their expectations up front.

Red Flag: “I Could Have Done This Myself” Clients

This particular client—who was not a web developer—had told her repeatedly about his web development experience during the sales process. He was trying to diminish the agency’s expertise.

I find people who make a big deal about knowing how to do the work either 1) don’t really know how to do it themselves, or 2) are control freaks who waste time doing low-value work they should instead outsource. The agency client here should be closing new deals for his business, not spending hours on building a website himself.

Try to assess clients motivation in hiring you to do things, under the S-I-T Agency Services framework. When clients are secure in themselves, they focus on the business result they need, not that you’re doing replaceable work.

Avoiding Client Service Problems at Your Agency

So much of this comes down to expectations management—the more work you do, the better you’ll get at asking the right questions up front.

It’s another reason to have experienced people doing client service at your agency. They’ve made mistakes before, and they won’t make the same mistakes again.

You can use processes and systems to embed that information into your agency’s DNA, by letting everyone learn from anyone’s past experience. How? Build a knowledge base of past red flags, give everyone the right questions to use in qualifying prospects and onboarding clients, and make debriefs a regular part of your internal processes.

Need help dealing with a client service emergency at your agency right now? If you aren’t already a client, you can request a consulting call via Clarity.fm. During the week, I confirm most Clarity call requests in less than an hour, and there’s no minimum length for the call. You’ll get the confidential advice you need, and you can make the headache go away.


Image credit: Playing cards photo by Mary Gaston, via Creative Commons