Managing Client Expectations – Don’t Oversell!

This is my most embarrassing post so far (I’ll probably write other posts that are more embarrassing… because I’ve done a bunch of really embarrassing stuff).  This one is embarrassing because it shows a moment when I didn’t do my job well.

Over the years I’ve had a few unhappy clients.  Each time that they’ve let me know they’re unhappy, it takes my breath away when I read what they’ve written.  Jon Acuff writes about “critics math”, which means that if you get 1,000 compliments and 1 complaint…. guess what you spend all of your time on?

Well, about ten years ago I had a very upset Mother of the Bride  (for those of you who don’t know about my business, I own and operate a Wedding DJ Entertainment business).  I had only been full time for a year or two and I was still in my mid-twenties.  I was focused on making sure I had enough money to live on and was still pretty wet behind the ears when it came to sales.  When I sat down with a family, I would oversell the service I provide to make them like me and convince them I was the best option.  The problem with overselling someone on your service is that you only set yourself up to under deliver.

So here was the situation:  This family had planned a wedding at a local venue that comfortably holds 200 guests.  They had about 210.  Both the wedding coordinator at the facility and I had stressed to this family the importance of assigning seats at the tables for the guests.  The client ignored our recommendations and opted for “open seating”, meaning guests would filter in and find their own seats.

In our initial sales meeting, I told these clients about all of the “DJ” related things I do, but I also said “I’ll be there to act as a host to the party… when guests are coming in, I’ll help them find their seats if they can’t find it”.  What I meant was “OH…?  YOU’RE AT TABLE 10?   TABLE TEN IS IN BETWEEN TABLES 9 AND 11…. Let me help you find that”.  Basically what I was selling is that I wouldn’t just stand behind my equipment and play Angry Birds (which didn’t exist at the time… I think I still had that snake game on my blackberry), but I would be out and interacting with guests helping them feel comfortable.

But that’s not what these clients heard.  They heard that I was the “Maître DJ”.  They heard that I would be standing there with a towel over my arm and seating their grandparents.

To make matters worse, the clients not only ignored our advice, but they invited more people than they had chairs.  So, as the room filled up, there were still plenty of people coming in the door with no where to sit.  We tried to sit Mr. and Mrs. Jones at table 8 where there were two open seats, but Mr. and Mrs. Jones didn’t want to sit at table 8 because they didn’t know anyone there.  They wanted to sit at table number 10 (that already had 9 people sitting at a table set for 8 people).  The hotel staff worked as fast as they could to set up more tables (which looked very unprofessional and rude as they’re bringing more tables, chairs, and place settings into the room that was already set earlier in the day).

Guests choosing their own seats?  Bad.  Not enough seats for everyone?  Worse.  The parents forgetting to “reserve” tables up front for the parents, grandparents and other family? Inexcusable.  But they didn’t listen to our suggestions…. they just heard me say “I would seat everyone”.

So, it was a disaster.  During the debacle the parents were yelling at anyone that was near them (guess what… staff started avoiding them).    And a few weeks later I got this letter. managing client expectations You may or may not be able to read all of it, but I’ll pick out some of the lines that really stung:

  • “I was very disappointed”
  • “I thought you’d follow through with what you claimed”
  • “I needed to let you know why I will not be able to recommend you to anyone”


Well that escalated quickly.  You won’t recommend me to ANYONE?  Not even people you really don’t like?  That’s harsh.

I can joke about it now, but its like breaking up with a girl you thought you were going to marry.  You don’t see it coming and it takes your breath away when it happens.  Ten years later I still have that note.  I see it more often than I’d like.  I’ve only gotten a few notes like that over the years… and I’ve kept them all.  I’ve lost 20x as many positive cards and letters.  Why?  Because I have tons of those.  Those people love me.  I want to be loved… I want people to get “way more than they pay for” when they hire me.  So, when I under deliver, it stings.

Did I really under deliver?  No.  Think about this:  This mother of the bride was ticked off with THE DJ because the SEATING was a mess.  I keep telling myself to say that out loud 50 times.  I have NOTHING TO DO with the SEATING.  She didn’t say the party sucked.  She didn’t say no one danced (and they did).  She said the seating was a mess.Thank You Card

All of that leads to this:  In the last 10 years, how many times do you think I tell people that I help their guests find their seats?  NONE!  Now, when guests come in and can’t find table 10, or are looking for the bathrooms, or want to know where the gift table is… guess who is there to help them?   Now, I get letters that say “I can’t believe you were helping guests as they came in the door!  We weren’t expecting that at all!”  Postcards like this one:

So, when you’re selling:

1.  Make sure you’re not giving away all of your secrets

2.  Occasionally have someone listen to your sales pitch and make sure nothing can be taken the wrong way (i.e, “I’ll help seat your guests”)

3.  Make sure you and your client have clear expectations of the service you provide.


Then… go out of your way to impress your clients!


4 Responses to Managing Client Expectations – Don’t Oversell!

  1. Lore says:

    Ben, I appreciated your candor and transparency with this post. I understand the discouragement that follows you like a shadow. But you learned some very important lessons, and I will remember these, too. I trust God is guiding as you are growing your new business. Reading your webpage has been inspiring for me, to be sure.
    From Table 29,

  2. Joshua says:

    I like the advice you gave Ben about not overselling. Much easier to go “above and beyond” when the bar isn’t set so high while at the same time not too low to where you don’t sound like a promising service.

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