Tips for Managing Customer Expectations

Managing expectations is critical to the success of any business. Few companies manage them well, and too many set them too high, which generally results in disappointed customers.

In software development teams, regardless of methodology or approach, a lot of effort is spent on business requirements, minimum viable products, stories, and other ways of defining customer expectations. While these concepts are all great, they mean little to stakeholders and end-users. Expectations stretch far beyond concepts.

Expectations go deeper than requirements; they have an emotional human element. Expectations embody a vision or mental image of a final product. When changes occur in a system, they are automatically compared to predefined expectations. If the changes meet those expectations, then customers and end-users will be happy.

On the other hand, if those expectations aren’t met, regardless of whether requirements were correctly delivered or not, then all parties will be dissatisfied.

The majority of customers have no idea what to expect from new or revised system software. It is up to teams to educate them in a way that they can understand. For example, telling product owners that a specific program will be able to run inside Safari on the Apple iPhone will have some individuals jumping out of their chairs, and others quite confused. The key is to keep things simple and use examples to educate customers.

A mixture of things normally establishes expectations amongst stakeholders. Stories and requirements simply play a role in this determination, but more often than not they play a secondary role. This is because they tend to be too long and complex for most people to understand. A presentation given to business stakeholders may have a bigger impact on expectations than any of these documents.

Listen Carefully to your Customers

To fully grasp a customer’s expectations, it’s imperative to listen carefully to every word that they say. Their statements can help a team understand the vision they have. Is it accurate or is it fictional? The questions stakeholders and customers ask will help developing groups in clarifying visions and ideas, and allow them to provide the correct answers that will set proper expectations.

The more a customer trusts a team, the more they are likely to let them manager his or her expectations. Few people place their faith in complete strangers. It is crucial

for teams to build relationships with stakeholders in order to build credibility. Setting expectations doesn’t happen in one single meeting. It is a continuous exercise, which requires monitoring and re-directions at every turning point of the project. The more time teams spend managing expectations, the higher chances they will have of successful outcomes.

Use Empathy

Recognize customer’s issue and concerns and make sure to relate to their emotions in a way that’s empathetic. Groups can do this by using statements such as, “I hear what you are saying,” and “I understand, what you are saying is important.” This demonstrates to the stakeholders that the developing team understands and cares about their opinion.


It is important for a team to ask questions to stakeholders and customers in order to ensure that they are on the same page. The questions they ask should determine what the needs of the end-user are, and what is expected of the final product. The process of discovery should be continuous, and implemented at every stage of the life-cycle.

Promise Little Deliver Big

Setting realistic expectations with your customers is essential. A group must ensure that they can consistently achieve and exceed what they have promised. It is always better to set reasonable visions and goals, and then exceed them, than to over-promise and under-deliver.

Make sure Everyone is on the Same Page

Due to the complexity surrounding software development projects, customers and developers are not always on the same page. Teams need to ensure that a customer comprehends where a given project is at any given moment, what the next steps are, and what they can expect from the final product. By doing so, a team can catch potential errors before they arise.