Is there a worse feeling than being let down, or disappointing others? Three little words can make all the difference when it comes to setting other people’s expectations… and meeting them.

By Beck Bamberger (Founder, BAM Communications)

Shakespeare was onto something when he said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

According to American Express’ latest Global Customer Service barometer, a paltry 7 percent of American consumers said that their experiences with companies overall “exceeded expectations.”

The counselors to America’s Small Business, SCORE, also notes that 91 percent of customers whose expectations are at least not met, will NEVER purchase a good or service from your company again. That’s heartache to the bottom-line, for certain.

If you’re reading this, chances are you have employees, customers, investors or all three who have expectations of you and supposedly set by you.

Earlier this year, my team and I created a way to keep everyone’s range of expectations:

The “3 Ws” of Expectation Management: What, When and Why

I want to know what is expected, when it is expected and why I’m expecting anything to begin with.

Simple, yes, but if one “W” is forgotten in our day-to-day dealings with expectations, it can lead to the black hole of disappointment, a power so strong you’re sure to never see the light of satisfaction again. (STEM second: the gravitational pull of a black hole is so powerful, even the speed of light cannot escape, hence the utter blackness surrounding such a hole.)

Here’s how this “W” trifecta of expectation management plays out with three of the most common groups you manage:

With Employees

One Saturday evening at 9 p.m. a month ago, I got a text from one of our new hires: “Hey Beck – can we meet on Monday?”

I’m wondering what an employee is a) doing on a Saturday night texting me and b) what pseudo-catastrophic thing happened in my company that warrants this.

Furthermore, I am going to be in office on Monday, which is as established in my business repertoire as Starbucks serving lattes. This employee hasn’t told me what she intends to meet me about or why. I sure know when, but the two other “W”s of the expectation management formula are amiss.

The reverse of this nebulous question would be a manager asking, “Hey Sam – can you come to my office Wednesday?”

This leaves the same expectation abyss for poor Sam. Sam would probably be more at ease and prepared if her manager said upfront, “Hey Sam, can you come to my office on Wednesday to talk about the upcoming conference materials? The deadline is the following Monday, and I want to make sure your team is on-point with the branding.”

Now Sam’s expectations are set, as she knows what they are meeting about, when they are meeting and why.

With Customers

One of my companies is a PR firm, and we ask a lot of our clients, as they do of us. One of our junior account managers sent an email to a client, stating, “I have a great interview opportunity for you! Are you available at 4 p.m. PST tomorrow?”

The Account Executive swiftly jumped in, responding to the client and team, “Alex – the interview is with a producer from Good Morning America. She’s on a tight deadline for the tech trends of the summer segment they are airing this Friday, and she wanted to ask if you’d be interested in being a spokesperson.”

Now the client understands in a quick manner what, when and why this is email important.

With Investors

Benjamin Franklin, America’s first millionaire, was likely the nation’s first VC, as he coined the phrase, “Time is money.” If there were ever a group to master the “3 Ws” expectation approach with, it would be with investors.

Two days ago, the founder of a startup company I sit on the board of sent an email to our board members and a few investors: “Attached is the report per our Friday meeting.”

One board member replied within minutes with, “Alexis, would you refresh us about what report this is? We discussed several at the meeting. Also, why are we receiving it?”

Alexis has the tough job of an entrepreneur raising money, an art on par with convincing jellyfish to leap through a hula hoop. But she missed being clear and pointed.

She soon sent a reply, “I apologize for not setting the my expectations, guys. The report details our conversion rates for Q2. I would like any insights from the data by Thursday at 5 p.m., so that I can brainstorm with the team on Friday morning about your recommendations. Please feel free to call or email me at your convenience before this deadline.”

Now the jellyfish can better see what’s expected. Three little words can make all the difference.

What tools do you use to manage expectations?