Tips for Exceeding Your Clients’ Expectations at Four Levels

There are few things more frustrating than lousy customer service.

I can empathize with Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents, when he runs into an inflexible flight attendant who makes him wait unnecessarily to board a plane. And I can relate to Anthony Anderson (minus the war zone) in Transformers, when a patronizing customer service representative gives him attitude with no empathy as Anthony seeks to call the Pentagon while he dodges bomb explosions and gunfire.

First-class serviceLately, instead of being frustrated or critical when I receive sub-par client service, I’ve been trying to use those situations as reminders to ask myself whether my clients feel I’m meeting and exceeding their expectations.

We are all in the client service business.

Our clients may be external customers who buy our organization’s products or services. Or our clients may be bosses, internal ‘customers,’ direct reports or other associates.

It is a beautiful thing when we provide service that meets and exceeds their expectations. And it can result in increased revenue and retention for my organization, increased engagement and productivity for my associates, and more rewards and advancement opportunities for me – not to mention warm fuzzies for all.

Four levels of expectations

Authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman draw from Gallup’s research in writing First Break all the Rules to describe four levels of customer expectations: accuracy, availability, partnership and advice.

Here are questions to ask and actions to take if you want to meet and exceed your clients’ expectations at these four levels:

Level 1: Accuracy

How satisfied is the client with your reliability, ability to meet deadlines, thoroughness and precision?

Tips for improving at this level are basic but critical: confirm expectations about deadlines, key dates and assumptions – early and often. And proofread communications and deliverables.

Level 2: Availability

How satisfied is the client with your responsiveness and ability to provide the right resources?

It’s important to clarify expectations about communication and availability up front. How and how often will you touch base? What level of responsiveness is expected? Schedule regular, live conversations, if possible, to stay in sync and to help anticipate potential issues.

Keeping clients satisfied at these first two levels is essential to building baseline credibility and trust. Once you meet expectations at these levels, you need to aim with most clients to exceed expectations at higher levels…

Level 3: Partnership

How satisfied is the client with your understanding of their business, their needs and your effort of collaboration?

To meet and exceed expectations at the partnership level, stay current about your client’s business performance and follow them in the news. Get to know them. Share interesting articles and make meaningful introductions that reflect you understand and appreciate their broader business goals and priorities.

Level 4: Advice

How satisfied is the client with the quality of your counsel and willingness to educate them above and beyond your agreement?

To be a valued and trusted advisor, listen actively beyond being an ‘order taker’ for underlying and unspoken expectations and for high-priority business and personal concerns. Create and offer original and well-timed ideas and suggestions. Be viewed as an expert in your field who is committed to their success.

Would your clients say you are meeting and exceeding their expectations at these levels? Why not ask?

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, a huge part of his focus is helping leaders exceed their clients’ expectations. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.