How managing expectations will improve your print buying relationships

I was excited!  I had pressed the order button at the online store.  My new mountain jacket would be on its way to me shortly!

But there was a problem.  Shortly after I had placed the order I received an e-mail.  The store wanted to warn me that they were snowed in.  They would be unable to despatch my jacket in the next few days.  I could take a refund or wait.

Argument in a print relationship

If you don't manage expectations, your print relationship can end in an argument

Was I fed up because things had gone wrong?

Actually, I was very impressed by the service they had given me.  I had received accurate information about circumstances beyond my control.  I was kept in touch by regular updates about the weather conditions.  I had the chance to make alternative arrangements if necessary.  The retailer had managed my expectation

Expectation management is a key skill in the print industry

Print is not a finite production processes.  Things vary.  Things go wrong.  No matter how good the supplier, a client will be let down at some stage.

It is important, at times like this, that the next person in the supply chain is given an accurate and honest account of what is happening.

Printers need to let their clients know if problems might occur.  Print buyers need to let their suppliers know if problems might occur.  They also need to let their internal clients know if problems might occur.  In this way the supply chain can prepare itself to deal with unforeseen problems.

Sometimes a client is expecting a service or product that it not possible to produce to their standards.  Sometimes you know that extra costs may be on the way.

A warning in good time can make all the difference

You will be able to manage decision makers better by using expectation management, and have more of a say in influencing the choices that they make.  Failure to use expectation management may result in you feeling powerless at the direction in which things go.

Expectation management also improves relationships as you will gradually gain more trust with print colleagues.  However, a failure to use expectation management can often result in you achieving less in your job role.

So what are the best ways to communicate expectations?

Management of expectations generally means that there is news which is not ideal that needs to be broken!  I find that the best way to do this is to pick up the phone.  It may be something that you are dreading doing, but generally people will welcome your personal approach.  It also allows you to set the tone of the conversation according to how the person is reacting.

Sending an e-mail can appear as if you are trying to avoid a conversation.  In addition, many people manage to misinterpret the tone of an e-mail when bad news is involved!  However, e-mail is vital as a follow up to a conversation.  You need to make sure that what you have said is on record.

Won’t expectation management create more objections and problems?

In my experience, the sooner issues are brought into the open, the easier it is to create solutions and to make sure that everyone is working together.  In addition problems become greater if they are not addressed promptly.

A couple of years ago I ran a large print tender for a client.  The winning bidder showed much more of a “can-do” attitude than the client’s current supplier.  They were also much more flexible about managing paper.  Finally, adopting them as a supplier would create significant savings.  However, it was not all plain sailing.

It was clear that a lot of work would be needed to implement the client’s processes at the new supplier.  In addition, it appeared that the level of customer service was not going to be as high as at the incumbent supplier.

I needed to manage the client’s expectations

The budget holders had to be made aware of the extra costs and difficulties that moving the work would involve.  They had to have appropriate resource and budget ready for this.  And that wasn’t the end of the matter.

I then had to manage the expectations of the production teams

I decided to sit down with them and have an honest discussion about what was happening.  I told them of the issues that the current supplier had caused.  I told them of the savings to the business that the new supplier would bring.  And then I told them that it would make their jobs more difficult.

The production team were great.  They understood why things had to change.  And they worked hard and didn’t complain when there were difficulties.  And everyone worked hard to manage the new supplier’s expectations so that they understood the high levels that were being demanded from them.

The whole operation worked because the communication of good AND bad was put in place.  The transfer took place smoothly and the client was pleased with the results.

Here are three things that you can do to improve your expectation management

  1. Highlight what might go wrong on a project
  2. Highlight who might need to know about these issues
  3. Talk to them about it

And when things are going wrong, think about how you can create great relationships from bad news.  Just like the online store did with me when I ordered my jacket.
P.S. Expectation management is just one part of managing suppliers and managing customers Click here to find out more about Print & Procurement’s training in supplier management.  And click here to find out more about Print & Procurement’s training in supplier management.


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