How to set the right expectations for a successful digital product?

When a new partnership is being built between an agency and a client, there are expectations involved as in any other type of relationship. Both sides want to be treated fairly, they want to look good, be admired and they want to avoid any surprises down the road.


With this in mind, setting clear and transparent expectations both within your organisation and with the agency becomes imperative.

As a service based company that offers digital solutions ranging from websites and mobile apps to interactive and digital products, we have often learned the hard way why expectations are either the road to bliss or damnation. In the world of economics, there is the Rational expectations theory which claims people make choices based on their rational outlook, available information and past experiences. The consequences of not meeting these expectations are not only short-term, but the bitter taste that stays can lead to long-term consequences, such as bad reputation and mistrust from other potential partners.

So how do we deal with expectations?

The Initial Stages

As we start discussing a potential project, we feel full honesty and transparency is key. Clients are often under pressure to launch their new digital solution “yesterday” and at the lowest prices. This is where we have to think both about the client’s well being but also about the benefit of our own organisation.

Some things we consider when setting expectations with a future partner:

  • provide a clear idea of costs and payment terms (be business wise but offer options)
  • work together on crafting contracts and NDA (let them know their secrets are in the “vault”)
  • explain the processes, technologies and methodologies you use (never hide behind strange abbreviations and industry jargon – speak human)
  • share the timeline, make it visual and clear, and explain why it must be respected by both sides (show milestones and which deliverables they can expect at each stage)
  • proudly introduce the team (in our case, the primary point of contact is the Strategic Partnerships team but don’t hide the passionate Art Director or a creative developer – let them hear the different voices in your organisation)

Nevertheless, expectations must go both ways. As a service based company, we create a plan about how the solution will benefit the client. Even more, how it will improve their organisation or the lives of their customers. The agency must know who is the voice of the company and who is responsible for the decision-making process, so that when we agree on a certain action, there are no ‘surprise’ changes later on.

This probably sounds incredibly obvious, but you would be astonished how many “unvoiced” worries or wishes by both sides can become very expensive and unnecessary issues later on.

During the Production Stage

Assuming the client has signed off on the costs and the project kicks off, the question of expectations evolves to an even higher degree. It is only natural that clients expect regular updates, this is easy when you are presenting design, because everyone can “feel” this kind of deliverable. However, when the coding phase starts, many teams make the mistake of going silent, some might say, “the client does not understand coding, there is nothing to show”.

Based on the approved design, the client is obviously expecting that the agency team is working on the development side, but there is no excuse for the agency to disappear here. A simple pop in call to reassure the client things are going well and to discuss their other activities will go a long way.

After We Have Launched

Once a product has been launched, regardless if it is a website, a mobile app or a complex tool, expectations do not end. We have the responsibility of onboarding the client’s team on how to use the product but it also needs to act like a partner down the road.

Occasional check-ins on how the solution is helping them and proactive ideas on how to improve the solution will be beneficial for both sides.

Don’t Forget the Secret Sauce

In the end, it all comes down to creating a genuine connection. How do you do that? Well, all humans appreciate a fair, honest and professional approach, if you set this as a standard in your organisation, you will not only be perceived as someone who delivers (fulfils expectations) but also as someone who they absolutely want to work with.