Learning how to manage customer expectations can help you prolong your relationship with your customers and reduce customer turnover. We have already discussed the importance of setting customer expectations in the beginning of the relationship in another article. In this article, we will discuss how you can manage customer expectations through the first year of the relationship. Before we go into this, we will assume that:

  • You took the time to learn about the customer
  • You did not make unrealistic promises
  • You discussed KPIs and signed a document clearly stating the KPIs
  • You have defined success
  • You have agreed on a reporting template and cadence with the customer

By doing all of this in the beginning, you have already laid a strong foundation for the road ahead. Now, you need to do the following:

1. Over-Communicate

There’s no such thing as communicating too much when it comes dealing with clients. The communication can range from a short message like ‘hey, just posted the new article, fingers crossed’ to a detailed report on how the rankings, click-through rate, traffic, or lead capture on a page increased or dropped. Any time you plan a new strategy or implement something from your action plan, dropping an email to keep the customer updated is a good idea. It also opens up lines of communication with the customer and makes it easy for the two parties to engage each other in meaningful conversations.

2. Let them know the appropriate time and channels for communication

These days there are so many ways to contact a person that it can be hard to keep up with different conversations happening through different mediums. I usually communicate with customers over email and zoom, but I have worked with people in the past that insisted I used Skype, got on Slack, install whatsapp, and there are always those who were more comfortable speaking on the phone. As a freelancer you are inclined to do what the customer says, but it is always a good idea to let the customer know about two things:

  • Your availability (i.e. the days and hours during which you will be available to talk)
  • Your preferred channels of communication (email and zoom in my case)

By clearly communicating your availability, you will gain some work/life balance. After all, you don’t want to be working weekends and you don’t want to be receiving calls from customers at odd hours. I will go as far as to say that there is no such thing as an SEO emergency, so if you find yourself on the receiving end of a call by the customer at three in the morning, you need to set some boundaries.

3. Meet deadlines

Nothing can help you earn a customer’s trust like meeting deadlines. When you meet deadlines consistently, you build a reputation for yourself as someone who can be relied upon to get things done. While it seems very basic, there are few people out there that actually have that kind of work ethic. When you meet deadlines in publishing that guest post, optimizing that page, acquiring that backlink, and immediately drop an email celebrating success, you start gaining your customer’s trust. They start seeing you as someone who delivers results, and that alone goes a long way in managing their expectations.

For example, if you miss a few deadlines and then tell them it will take a few months for your SEO strategy to bear fruit, they will think it’s because you are not working fast enough. But if you meet deadlines and move those action items to completion, and then tell them that it will take a few months for them to see results, they will believe you. By meeting deadlines, you build a reputation, and that reputation will help add more weight to what you have to say in meetings with the customer.

4. Be upfront in delivering bad news

I have already stressed the importance of over-communication and celebrating success. However, it is equally important to deliver bad news quickly and make sure the customer hears it from you as opposed to finding it out for themselves.

For example, Google rolls out a new update and you suffer from a big drop in rankings. This means the traffic will go down, the leads coming in will go down, and you will have to put in extra hours to figure out what happened and how to get the pages to rank higher again. This is pretty much every SEO’s nightmare, and there’s always a risk of losing customers when this happens. However, the ideal way to approach this is to be upfront about it.

It is a good idea to drop your customer an email if an algorithm update is expected during the month, and drop them an email again clearly explaining the situation after the algorithm update. By doing this, you will come across as someone on top of the situation.

5. Keep track of their changing priorities

Sometimes, your customer’s business objectives change and their priorities change. Their priorities depend on where they are as a business. Usually it goes like this:

  • New websites focus on traffic
  • Websites that have decent traffic focus on conversion rate
  • Websites that have a good conversion rate focus on revenue

Of course things can be more complicated than that, but in my experience most organizations focus either on traffic, conversion rate, or revenue. In some cases, customers may start referring more and more to KPIs that were not part of the original contract. For example, you may have discussed conversion rate as a key performance indicator at the beginning of the relationship but a few months down the road the customer may start complaining that the revenue they are generating from organic leads or the pipeline they are building from organic leads is not good enough. Watch out for your customer’s changing priorities and see if there’s a need to revisit the contract or change strategies.