The concept is simple: Match customer expectations with yours. Making it happen is more difficult.

Managing expectations is essential for Fourth Dimension Software (FDS), a company that develops customized software solutions. Up to three years may elapse between a sale and project completion, says Chris McAllister, vice-president of customer service for the $12-million Redwood City, Calif., company. Here's how McAllister manages its customers' expectations:

  • Create a realistic prototype. FDS provides mock-up screens that the client's users play with to understand how the software will function. "When their suggestions are incorporated into the final design, they become proud to accept the finished product, rather than reluctant," says McAllister. The prototype also gives the purchaser something concrete to show executives how the money is being spent.
  • Provide an executive overview in addition to product specifications. "Top management isn't going to read 600 pages of technical specifications," observes McAllister. "They will read a 10- to 40-page overview, with diagrams, of what the system will do."
  • Review letters to customers. "No matter who writes what, have someone else check it," says McAllister. The issue isn't grammar, but tone and clarity. Is it technically accurate? Does it set clear expectations for the nontechnical reader?
The prototypes, executive overviews, and letter reviews are worth the effort. "Since we began in 1981, 100% of our projects have reached their objectives and gone live," he says. "The key is managing expectations."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing