Ideas & Debate

How to effectively set and manage client expectations

It is important to frequently update whoever is expecting something from you. FILE PHOTO | NMG
It is important to frequently update whoever is expecting something from you. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As we head to another election I’d like to share some further reflections from our recent one.

My theme today is expectations management, to which I have returned from time to time in these columns. Indeed throughout my time in Kenya (40 years this month) I have never tired of hammering this issue.

For some of us, setting realistic expectations and then updating them if circumstances change, is second nature. More so in these days of mobile phones there is never the slightest justification for being poor at doing so.

But my overwhelming experience over these decades is that most Kenyans think it’s OK not to bother with managing expectations.

“We’re too busy fixing the problem,” my engineers used to tell me when I was in the IT business.

“Too busy to also fix the customer by communicating about the progress and the outlook?” I would challenge them.

“Too busy to take a couple of minutes to prevent the customer getting into an understandable rage about the silence and the uncertainty… and so escalating the matter to me?”

Yet the behaviour change was usually zero, the learning curve flat. It has remained a mystery to me why so many people find it OK to repeatedly and unnecessarily disappoint those around them.

Sadly though, I have come to accept that my efforts to cure the problem are more than likely to continue falling on deaf ears.

And yet just recently I came across an exception, a group of people who seemed keen to assume their institution would learn from experience and work to improve the service it provides. I am talking about the now much-maligned Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

As I look back on the weeks leading up to the August General Election and to those critical days during and following it, I found them to be ready communicators, available to update us quite regularly on what had been happening and what was to happen next.

Too often, however, their expectations management in the most critical hours and days was not brilliant. They said they would get back to us at a certain time and did not — without updating the outlook.

Sure, we understand that they were under immense pressure. But just that extra little effort would have kept the country calmer when it most needed to be.

As I made this point to one of their senior officials at a private sector meeting with the Commission he told me he had already received such a comment— and he did so in a way that encouraged me to believe he had taken it on board.

I talked to him about a phrase I learned in the context of expectations management from management guru Tom Peters in his 1975 book A Passion for Excellence, in which he urged his readers to “over-communicate”.

That is, to update whoever is expecting something from you so frequently that they almost get to the point of asking you to do less of it.

Our hope now is that come the presidential rerun the communications from the electoral body will be even better.

I should add that even before the Supreme Court judgement, the IEBC chairman indicated that for the 2022 polls, assuming they again fall on a Tuesday, they were thinking of telling us to go back to work on Wednesday and just wait for an announcement of the presidential winner on Friday, or Saturday, or whenever they think they’ll be ready. Now that’s good reflecting and learning from experience.

It is not the purpose of this article to comment on any other aspect of the IEBC’s performance. But in among all their issues I would like to think that we can at least expect good expectation management from their spokespersons.

For most other Kenyans though I predict that they will keep on doing what they’ve always done: stay quiet when they most need not to, and when they could so easily and quickly update those with whom they are dealing.

As a result they will keep on getting what they’ve always got: needlessly unhappy staff, bosses, customers, family members, friends and others.

It is important to frequently update whoever is expecting something from you.