Want 2012 to be a better year for your small business than 2011? In today’s guest post, customer service expert John Tschohl shares his five top areas to focus to ensure success for the coming year.

Another year has come and gone, and whether your business saw good times or bad this year, make it a priority to have the best year ever in 2012.  The key to doing this is providing an uncompromised level of service that will keep your customers coming back.  It doesn’t matter if you sell insurance, if you’re a doctor or you’re in the food industry, first and foremost you need to think of yourself in the service business.

Here are five areas to focus on to make sure your company is offering the best customer experience possible:

  1. Price – Competition is fierce these day and people want the best prices.  Make sure your price is competitive because with new shopping apps, customers can find the lowest prices with very little research.
  2. Quality – This is another area where small businesses can really win big because big chains are focused on quantity instead of quality.  When a customer has a problem, small businesses are more knowledgeable, have specialists in many cases, and can truly provide an unparalleled level of quality to the customer.
  3. Service – This is where so many companies go wrong, and it’s where small businesses can really prosper.  Get to know your customers on a first name basis, know their wants and preferences, and take care of the little things that the big chains can’t.  Many small businesses don’t have the lowest prices, but they dominate in service.
  4. Empowerment – All employees need to feel empowered to make a decision on the spot in favor of the customer.  Employees want to be empowered but fear repercussions from management.  Give your employees a limit, perhaps $25 or $50 that they can spend on a customer to fix a problem.  For what a lifelong customer is going to spend, this should be a no brainer.
  5. Speed – This goes hand in hand with empowerment.  Think of speed as the jelly to empowerment’s peanut butter; they form a perfect combination.  Customers want problems solved by yesterday, so act quickly.

If 2011 taught us anything, it’s that service is more important now more than ever.  We’ve seen the debacles of companies like Netflix and Bank of America that angered customers and received devastating and negative publicity, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars and customers.

Quality service is an effective selling tool and also a long-term competitive advantage. What is needed is a whole-company customer service mentality.  A small company must know its customers’ level of expectations for three reasons: do less than customers expect and service is bad; do exactly what customers expect and service is good; do more than customers anticipate and service is perceived as superior.  I urge you to do more than your customers expect if you plan to retain them.

Make sure your small business always puts the focus on the customer!

John Tschohl is an internationally recognized service strategist; president of The Service Quality Institute, the leader in customer service training for the last 40 years; and author of the books Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service and Empowerment: A Way of Life. For more information, visit http://www.johntschohl.com/ and http://www.customer-service.com/.