“Exceeding Expectations”: Why You’re Wasting Wins With an Empty Promise

April 16, 2024

We've all seen it on countless competitor websites: "We strive to exceed our clients' expectations!" It's a seemingly innocuous statement, a badge of honor in many industries. But what if there's a better approach? What if exceeding expectations, while well-intentioned, actually undermines your value proposition?

This article challenges the traditional "exceeding expectations" mantra used throughout the professional services industries, proposing a more strategic approach: elevating expectations. Let's delve into why exceeding expectations might be a missed opportunity and how elevating them benefits both you and your clients.

The Coin Toss Conundrum: When Similar Looks Lead to Random Choices

Imagine you're in a new city, hungry after a long travel day. Two restaurants stand side-by-side, menus and prices seemingly identical. How do you choose? It becomes a coin toss. Later, you learn your friend chose the other place and raved about unexpected free dessert or a delightful surprise. Wouldn't you feel a tinge of disappointment?

This scenario reflects the reality of unclear expectations. When your value proposition blends seamlessly with the competition, the choice becomes arbitrary. Clients don't know why to pick you, leading to random selection based on factors outside your control.

From Coin Toss to Clear Choice: The Power of Elevated Expectations

Imagine the same scenario, but this time, one restaurant clearly states its commitment to locally sourced ingredients, handcrafted dishes, and a cozy, intimate dining experience. Suddenly, the choice becomes clear. You know exactly what value that restaurant offers, differentiating it from its competitor.

Here's the key: communicate your unique value proposition upfront. Don't wait to "surprise and delight" your clients. Set clear expectations that align with your planned value delivery. This allows you to:

  • Attract ideal clients: By defining your level of service and value points, you attract clients who appreciate that standard. This ensures a good client fit, leading to more fulfilling partnerships.
  • Command higher fees: When your value proposition is clear and differentiated, you can justify charging a premium for the exceptional service you deliver.
  • Win-win partnerships: Clients make informed decisions, choosing a firm that aligns with their needs. You gain higher-paying projects and deliver exceptional service, by meeting the differentiated, elevated expectations you set.

Setting the Benchmark: Communicating Your Value Proposition

So, how do you effectively elevate expectations? Here are some key strategies:

  • Articulate your unique value proposition (UVP): What sets you apart? Is it expertise, personalized service, innovative solutions, or something else? Based on the 3+ million client surveys we’ve conducted, your clients walk in the door for expertise, but they come back because of the way you partner with them. Too many firms fail to clearly communicate how they intend to partner. Clearly define your UVP and weave it into your marketing materials, proposals, and client interactions.
  • Set a higher "fire bar": Don't settle for the minimum standard. Instead, elevate your expectations for service, quality, and results. This becomes the benchmark by which you'll be measured.
  • Communicate value early and often: Don't wait for the "wow" moment to showcase your value. Integrate your UVP into your initial communications, highlighting how you differ from the competition.

By elevating expectations, you take control of the selection process. You attract clients who value your expertise and are willing to invest in the superior service you deliver. This translates to better clientele, higher fees, and a thriving business built on a foundation of mutual understanding.

Rethinking "Exceeding Expectations": A New Approach to Client Value

In conclusion, exceeding expectations, while well-meaning, can be a passive strategy. By elevating expectations, you proactively communicate your unique value proposition, attracting ideal clients and setting the stage for mutually successful partnerships. So, ditch the "exceeding expectations" trope and embrace a more strategic approach.

Define your UVP, set high standards, and communicate them clearly. You'll build stronger client relationships, command premium fees, and ultimately, redefine the standard for exceptional service in your industry. And, by setting expectations up front, you’ll not “waste a win” – you’ll no longer face the coin toss conundrum, and instead, attract and win clients at a higher rate.

Understanding client perceptions relative to expectations is the foundation to a thriving Client Experience program. To learn more about how to measure expectations (and identify when you’re exceeding or falling short of them), download our eBook on Measuring Client Expectations.


Ryan Suydam

Ryan Suydam co-founded Client Savvy in 2004, to help firms create fierce client loyalty by designing, implementing, and measuring client experiences. He has coached nearly 700 organizations and over 30,000 professionals on the skills required to be “client savvy.”

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