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Meeting Customer Expectations: 6 Simple Steps You Must be Sure to Take

Meeting Customer Expectations: 6 Simple Steps You Must be Sure to Take

Projects frequently fail to meet their customers’ expectations. And there will doubtless be plenty of excuses reasons. But, to my mind, it’s a sin that’s pretty nearly inexcusable. Meeting customer expectations on your next project flows from just six simple steps.

Why Meeting Customer Expectations is an Issue

Meeting Customer Expectations: 6 Simple Steps You Must be Sure to Take

So, why do so many projects and project managers struggle with this? I think – and it’s just a hypothesis – that many project professionals confuse:

  1. The business interest, or that of the sponsoring organization, with
  2. The needs of their other stakeholders, users, and customers

Or, perhaps, they fail to draw a clear enough distinction between the two. And is not completely unreasonable. If their customers are happy, then it creates the conditions for the business to thrive. 

But the business needs are articulated:

  • through different processes
  • by different people
  • with different perspectives (and, dare I say, agendas)

Who are Your Customers?

Your customers, or users, are the people who will:

  • use the deliverables, products, or outputs of your project 
  • maintain or support those products
  • be directly affected by them

As a result, these people will have a very particular point of view. And, it’s a very important one.

The Six Simple Steps for Meeting Customer Expectations

Having trailed this framework, let’s introduce you to it. And, to keep this article as simple as possible, lets also structure the article with these six steps.

Customer Expectations - 6 Simple Steps

The six simple steps for meeting customer expectation are:

  1. Be Customer Centric
  2. Know Your Customers
  3. Understand Customer Expectations
  4. Articulate Customer Expectations
  5. Communicate Customer Expectations
  6. Be Transparent and Listen to Feedback

With all that said… Let’s go!

Be Customer Centric

If you want to meet your customers’ expectations, you need to start with an attitude. And that is a customer-centric attitude that places customer needs, priorities, desires, and expectations at the heart of both your thinking and your processes. Note that I am NOT saying that you must make meeting their expectations a mandatory part of your process. But I am saying it will be near the top – maybe at the top of your priority list.

This is certainly core to Agile thinking. The first of the 12 Agile Principles that accompany the Agile Manifesto is:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

You may or may not be producing software. But satisfying your customer needs to be a priority nonetheless.

Involve You Customers

One way to make this happen is to seek to involve your customers at every step of the project process. And here’s another place where too many project managers go a little astray.

It is easy to see your stakeholders as a distraction from what you and your team are ‘supposed to be doing’. They get in the way of important work.

So, you need to turn this on its head. See working with your customers as what you are supposed to be doing. This is important work.

Know Your Customers

Right from the start of your project, get to know your customers. There are four key activities here.

1. Identify Your Customers

As you’d expect, everything starts with figuring out who your customers or users are. And, to recap, your customers are the people who will:

  • use the deliverables, products, or outputs of your project 
  • maintain or support those products
  • be directly affected by them

2. Research Your Customers

Next, find out what you can about them, and start to build a picture of what their needs, desires, priorities, and expectations are likely to be. And, equally important: why. What are the drivers of their expectations?

3. Meet Your Customers

As early as possible, get to meet your customers. In the real world, if possible. If not, meet them online. You may like my video, Lessons I’ve Learned about Productive Web Calls: Zoom, Teams, Webex, Blue Jeans…

This is how you will build a relationship and actually get to know your customers.

4. Create Customer Personas

It can often be very helpful to draw up customer personas. Representations of typical customers with a shared set of needs and expectations. This is a tip I draw from the world of marketing.

But a clear articulation of what a group of customers is like, what’s important to them, and how they are likely to see the world, will be of great help when you are:

  • planning and drafting messages
  • meeting them
  • describing their needs and expectations to others

For more on this important marketing concept, take a look at my video, What is a Customer Persona? on my Management Courses YouTube channel. 

Understand Customer Expectations

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the hard work of understanding what your customer wants, needs, and expects.

This is about dialogue, where you will concentrate on two things:

  1. Asking questions
  2. Listening to the answers

You may also like my video, Astonish Your Stakeholders… with a Stakeholder Listening Plan | Video

There are a wide variety of tools available to us, to help with prioritizing and balancing the different priorities and expectations of our different stakeholders and customers.

Voice of the Customer (VOC)

The process of deliberately listening to customers to understand their points of view and expectations has a name, and a process. It’s called Voice of the Customer, or VOC.

MOSCOW Analysis

Perhaps the best know tool for prioritizing different customer needs, priorities, and desires is MOSCOW Analysis.

The acronym, MoSCoW stands for needs, priorities, desires, and expectations we:

  • Must meet
  • Should meet, if we possibly can
  • Could meet if we have surplus resources
  • Won’t meet, because they aren’t important enough

KYIV Analysis

Let’s be Done with MOSCOW Analysis

However, following Russia’s unwarranted invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, I know that I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable with this mnemonic, metaphor, model, or whatever we call it. So, I have coined the alternative, KYIV analysis.

KYIV Analysis

The Kano Model for Prioritizing Customer Expectations

The more of your expectations we meet, the happier you will be. That’s the essence of the Kano Model. It helps you prioritize features or scope according to how much they are likely to satisfy and delight customers. It allows you to weigh this against implementation costs.

Articulate Customer Expectations

Once you have understood your customers’ expectations, you need to refine and articulate them. You will need to find a way to balance the four constraints of:

  • Schedule
    Your customers’ expectations of when you will deliver the products they want and need
  • Cost
    The budget you have available to deliver those products
  • Scope
    The breadth of capability or functionality your customers expect you to deliver
  • Quality
    Their expectations of quality, against standards like:
    • Customer-generated standards (personal expectations)
    • Market expectations
    • External standards – including those set by industry bodies, regulators, and legislators 

We have a lot of resources that can help you with each of these

Schedule

Cost

Scope

Quality

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an approach to finding product solutions that is characterized by being customer-centered – focused on the needs and behaviors of users. 

It is ideal for dealing with poorly characterized or partially understood problems. Hence its frequent use alongside Agile methodologies. 

User Stories

User stories are an approach from Agile project management that is excellent for documenting customer expectations. A user story describes simply something a user wants. It is a simple description of a product requirement, in terms of what the product must be able to do…. And for whom. 

So, user stories together represent the features that a customer or user expects from the project.

Communicate Customer Expectations

That old adage that ‘Project Management is 80 percent communication’

If you doubt (and you shouldn’t) the applicability of that statement to the earlier stages, this step can be about nothing else!

Who to Communicate with

And we need to communicate our customer expectations to:

  • Our customers themselves
    So that they know we have been listening and so they can confirm that we have understood. And, of course, if we cannot meet all of their priorities, it is our way of starting to reset their expectations.
  • The governance tiers of our project
    Since they are there to steer and oversee your project, they need to understand your customers’ expectations. Of course, their first priority is to guard the interests of the organization. But, as I discussed earlier, there is considerable overlap in interests. I like the PRINCE2 model that recommends a ‘Senior User’ role on the Project Board of Steering Committee, to represent the interests of your customers
  • Your Team
    They will be delivering your project’s products and deliverables. So, they have a powerful need to understand the expectations against which they are delivering.
  • Testers – professional testers and user testers
    Firstly, you need to ensure that tests are designed to assess performance against customer expectations. And, second, you will want to assess whether the intangible elements of things like user experience are likely to match up to customer expectations.

Pre-empt Objections and Resistance

One of the most valuable things you can do is prepare to meet resistance. Two things are likely:

  1. Customer expectations will shift throughout the life of the project
  2. You may not be able (for many reasons) to meet all of the shifting expectations of all of your customers

You need a dynamic communication plan to address these shifts and maintain the support of your stakeholders. This means working hard to address the gaps between expectation and reality, and to prepare your customers for what is coming.

Some resources:

Be Transparent and Listen to Feedback

However, in resetting expectations, some things need to be non-negotiable.

Be open, honest, and transparent about what you can and cannot do. Never over-promise against what you are confident you can deliver. In fact, I am a great proponent of the adage:

‘Under-promise: Over-deliver’

Transparent Customer Updates

To maintain reasonable expectations, you need to keep your customers and other stakeholders up-to-date with:

  • Accurate progress status
  • Emerging constraints and their impacts on what is and is not possible
  • Test results and their impacts on schedule and budget

Seeking Feedback

An equally important aspect of the communication process is to actively seek feedback from your customers on what they are hearing about the project and any pilot, prototype, or testing experiences. 

This feedback is not only vital to optimizing your product and delivery performance. It is also a crucial way that you can align expectations. The difference between feeling heard and feeling like your experiences are not listened to is HUGE. And it has an impact on expectations. Ironically, when I don’t feel you are listening, I escalate my expectations because I now demand the fairness that I feel like I am missing out on.

Acting on Feedback

The other expectation that you have to meet is that, if I take the time to give you feedback, I expect you not just to listen, but to act on it. Always report back to a customer or user what you have done, are doing, and plan to do in response to their feedback. 

As always, honesty is critical. It is okay to say that you have evaluated a piece of feedback and concluded that it is:

  • Impractical
  • Not cost-effective
  • Undesirable for other users

Or won’t feature in your plans for any other reason. Treat them like adults and give the bad news. But, never a naked ‘no’. Always give a reason why.

What is Your Experience of Meeting (or failing to meet) Customer Expectations?

If you have experiences to share or questions to ask, I’d love to read them in the comments below. And, as always, I will respond to every contribution.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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