Expectation Management Should Be Part of Conversation with Customers

Have you ever been in the process of completing or had just completed what to you was an amazing architectural concrete project only to be told by your client:

“It’s not what I was expecting.”

“Meh! It looks kind of ‘blah.’ I thought the color would ‘pop’ more.”

“I don’t like it.”

If so, you’re not alone. But why are these types of responses commonplace, especially with work that nearly all your peers would deem to be quality work?

Two words: expectation management or, to be more precise, lack of. What does this mean? Expectation management is the ability to effectively communicate to the client the means and methods of how you’re going to deliver on your promise of a beautifully completed project. This includes describing in detail (and in a language easily understood) every step of the project from beginning to end, and what can be expected during each step.

two stamped concrete applications side by side
During application stamping project (left) Finished stamped concrete project (right). Photo courtesy of Carlton Concrete

When details are important

Years ago while working for a large construction chemical and cement products manufacturer, we had an inside joke about being careful about how we approached the lab with questions. For example, if we asked, “What time is it?” the chemist would spend the next 20 minutes explaining in fine detail — and in terms we didn’t understand — how to build a watch which could precisely tell us the time. We would leave feeling dazed and confused. We simply wanted to know how a product would behave or perform under certain conditions and not how the product worked at a molecular level.

In the world of decorative concrete, sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes we don’t give enough information or detail as to how we’re going to deliver on what we agreed to provide. The key is, unlike the story about the chemist and the watch, giving customers the proper amount of information in a language they can understand.

Your clients have ultimately decided to enlist your services for various reasons: word of mouth, advertising, the local home show or otherwise. You’ve met with them and shown them your portfolio of completed projects which showcases your ability to deliver quality finished products. So far so good.

But don’t forget to tell them how you’re going to get from a concept sketch or pictures from a project portfolio to the completed project. After all, most decorative projects aren’t completed in a single day, so you need to explain the process of how you’re going to get from start to finish.

Hardscape scenario

Let’s use the scenario of a hardscape stamp project in a residential application. The client, with the contractor’s input, has chosen a seamless texture pattern with accentuated saw cuts. For coloring, you two have agreed to use a buff integral color followed by a rich release powder and sealed with a medium-gloss sealer to give proper color pop and enhancement without a candy-coated look.

You’ve explained what will be involved in the project, including proper fill material and soil compaction, placing and imprinting the concrete, the amount of time anticipated to complete the project and, of course, what it will look like once it’s been sealed. From our point of view this all sounds very reasonable, right? The schedule has been drafted and the steps from beginning to end are clearly outlined.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Contractor confidence boost

Remember, your clients only know what the project is supposed to look like when it’s finished (as in the portfolio pictures). When the clients leave for work on the day of the pour, they wave goodbye and are excited to see the results of your work when they return.

Now, imagine the clients’ surprise and disappointment upon returning home to see their freshly stamped concrete looking dull, dusty and blasé — without any aesthetic appeal. They ask themselves: Was the work performed poorly? Were the wrong colors used? Did the contractor do something to cause this unsightly and wholly unacceptable mess?

While this is obviously an exaggeration, it’s not unheard of and often leads clients to question all aspects of the work performed, from the craftsmanship and quality down to the most inconsequential detail. Once a customer’s expectations have been compromised, it’s nearly impossible for them to be properly restored. It will be like pushing a boulder uphill for the rest of the project, with the client forever calling into question even the most basic building practices.

This is a good example of where managing a customer’s expectations is vitally important. Along with talking upfront about the steps involved with completing the project, you should also include detailed explanations of what to expect along the way.

Include something like, “Now, remember, once we imprint the concrete it will look dull and dusty. It won’t appear as it should until we return in a couple of days and clean the surface by removing the release powder and washing down the concrete. Only then will you have an idea of what it’s going to look like once it’s been sealed.”

By letting the clients know this trivial yet vital information upfront and in writing, you’ll help set their minds at ease. Now when they return home to find their freshly imprinted concrete dull and dusty, they’ll expect it and know it’s normal, just as it was explained to them. They’ll look at the contractor with confidence knowing that he or she is performing as they hoped and expected from the beginning.

Effectively managing expectations can lead to more work, less callbacks and, therefore, higher profits. All good things if you ask me.

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