Client Complaints Are Almost Always a Result of Setting the Wrong Expectations

Outside of sheer incompetence and lack of skills, almost every complaint between clients and those in the administrative support business can be traced back to one problem: allowing clients to think of you and work with you as a substitute employee.

If you are running a business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

If you market yourself as a replacement for employees, clients naturally expect that you are going to work with them and be available to them and do the same things for them as an employee would.

That’s an expectation you will absolutely be unable to sustain, and you’ll kill yourself in the process of trying to live up to that kind of promise.

Because that’s what an expectation is: the perceived or actual promise of something. And I say perceived because, if you don’t take charge of what expectations are set, clients will make up their own assumptions, assumptions that might not be correct or that simply won’t work for you.

The problem is not that you need to be more, do more, be more available, create a bigger business model or turn into something else entirely.

It’s that clients aren’t understanding what you are, what your role is and the true nature of the relationship. And most of the time, that’s the fault of our own industry and how many people in it are marketing themselves.

You have to understand that you are not a contract employee. You are not a replacement for employees. You aren’t an employee of any kind whatsoever.

As a professional business service, you are an alternative to employees. And when something is an alternative, there are necessarily going to be differences and trade-offs in how and when you work with clients.

Your value isn’t in doing everything, being everything, meeting every need or solving every problem. You can absolutely provide top-notch ongoing administrative support without being available on a daily basis or trying to fulfill every single role in the same way that an employee would.

It’s what I call strategic support – even just a little helps clients make great strides forward in their businesses, keeps them running and humming along smoothly, and creates vastly more time and space at their disposal than they had before your help, even beyond the retainers they pay you.

And since you are a business provider, not an employee or contract worker, you may need to make clear to clients that there are certain things you simply can’t do for them and that they may not expect, such as on-demand/same-day work or any work that requires daily maintenance and check-in. With several clients to service, you will absolutely need to build-in breathing room and space in which to schedule and organize your workload.

This can sometimes also mean recognizing when a client really needs an employee rather than an independent service provider and informing them of such.

Once you start grasping this, you can begin to change the expectations, change your language and how you market and pre-educate prospective clients.

YOU’VE got to clearly and consciously create the definitions, set the expectations and discuss these things upfront. That’s when we’ll start seeing more harmony and alignment of understandings and expectations between clients and those in the administrative support business.

2 Responses

  1. Marie Ferguson says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I have just had a horrible experience with three virtual assistants in the Philippines. I tried to be as reasonable as possible with my VAs in my expectations and they short on so many levels. I wasted so much time and energy training and managing them for an urgent task and they patronised me and I felt like they lied to me and ganged up against me. I feel so bad I want to name them to prevent other clients from experiencing the same trauma.

  2. It sounds to me that you’re still not understanding the difference between an employee and a business. Whatever they call themselves (VA, Administrative Consultant or whatever), it’s not your place to train or manage them. They are independent contractors (i.e., business owners), not your employees. So you aren’t coming to the table with the proper mindset or attitude. That’s a big part of the problem. But they are culpable as well as business owners by allowing you to persist in that wrong thinking and languaging.

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