When I planned my own wedding back in 2003, to digital go-tos of smartphones, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram didn’t exist. Google was barely a thing. Friends still gave me a hard time about shopping on Amazon (as if). I found everything that I needed for my wedding within five miles of our apartment. My venue, florist and dress shop were all on my way to work. My expectations of what my wedding would look like were neatly defined by whatever they offered. You know what? I was okay with that.
Fast forward 16 years. Anything anyone would need or want for their own wedding is just a "Hey, Siri" or phone screen and swipe away. Everything that other couples are doing, buying, and hiring is on a bright, curated digital display. The possibilities are endless and only another click away. My expectations for my wedding were lower in large part because the options, in retrospect, were limited. Although limited options are no longer a thing, limited resources still are. It’s this conflict that lies at the core of the challenge we face when managing client expectations.
Limits aren’t just about money. They apply to other aspects of an event like timing and rules. Some venues won’t allow sparklers or real candles. Amplified sound has to be off by 10pm. That rental company with the perfect linens don’t have the plates they saw in a blog last month. In fact those plates aren’t in stock anywhere because some guy in Sweden bought them all (true story, by the way). And then, there's the money, too. The circular floral arch they pinned a hundred versions of costs what the floral arch costs. So do the chiavari chairs. And, the pizza oven. Don't forget the taxes and delivery charges on all of it. There is nothing more joy-destroying than taxes and delivery charges.
Disappointment leads to frustration, which constantly puts you on the defense. How do you put the “dream” back into their dream wedding? Well... you can’t control currency values but you can pre-empt the frustration - theirs and yours - before it starts.
Sympathetic to their cause.
More than likely, your newly engaged clients probably have little to no experience planning an event for 100+ people. They don’t know anything about the logistics involved. They will not automatically apply any experience from their own real-life situations. Keep in mind what your client expectations are built on: a whole lot of pretty pictures with no prices attached. They might know what they want but they don’t know what it takes to get it. That’s what they hired you for. Be sympathetic to their point of view and remember they're simply trying to achieve the event of their dreams.
Encyclopedia at their service.
Promise nothing, but tell them what you know to be true. Give them an estimate from a past client but be clear with any caveats. Warn them about the wind factor at their prospective outdoor venue or the lack of electrical outlets in a particular historic ballroom. Point out what the final amount of any given rental will be when they multiply it by their guest count. And, yes, warn them about those pesky taxes, service charges and delivery costs. Put yourself in their shoes and give them the information they need before they move forward with getting a quote or booking a vendor. Nothing creates more disappointment in the planning process than an onslaught of the unexpected. Defend them with your pro "shield" forged from experience and manage client expectations by heading off as many surprises as possible.
Always have a Plan B.
"No" is everyone's least favorite word since they were knee high. Just as much as you'd rather not hear it yourself, never deliver it to your clients without offering an alternative. If the quote's too high, tell them how they can lower it or how to hack their budget so they can afford it. Real candles not allowed? Show and sell them on LED candles. The In-n-Out trailer is unavailable? Find some great, local replacement options for late night snacks. You might just create a few new fans of that food truck life. The consummate pro you are, you likely have this kind of information within easy reach. Use it and be their hero.
The most important part of managing client expectations is being up front and transparent. Show them what they can expect from you, early and often. Let them know that they can always depend on your guidance and knowledge as you help them create their magical day.
Hero photo courtesy Philip Casey Photography