The past several years has challenged businesses in every marketplace. New customers are harder to come by, and existing ones are spending less. Many businesses, sometimes in panic or desperation mode, are pulling out all of the stops to gain new business. But with such a focus on gaining new customers, who’s looking after the ones you have?

In this article, our attention will be on B to B (or P to P – Person to Person – as I like to call it) strategy. Retail is a different animal altogether, and there are experts out there with much more experience than I to give tips on strategy there. So let’s talk business…

As we think about business growth, one thing is clearly on our minds – our customers. They make or break our business, no matter what business we are in. Your customers are yours to keep – or lose. If a customer walks away from your business, they have done so because they are somehow dissatisfied with what you have given them – or not given them. Your customers may be enticed by your competitor in some way shape or form – a sexy ad campaign or promises of lower prices – but in the end, they will only leave with good reason. Here’s why…

For customers, changing from one provider to another is often a difficult task. It takes effort, and sometimes added expense. In fact, it can be downright painful! The fact is, for the most part people are resistant to change – they even fear it. It’s far easier and much less stressful for customers to keep the status quo – unless of course, they are unhappy.

What makes customers unhappy can run the gamut from price to service to product, and it varies in each industry. But generally at the top of that list – no matter what the industry – is service. By and large, people are willing to pay a little more for good service – even in a down economy. Service won’t overcome an inferior or failing product, but it might give you the chance to fix it before your customer walks.

Service is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Service comes in many forms. From prompt response to fast resolution – even charm, wit and creativity – service looks different for each individual customer. The key to providing good service is knowing what makes your customer tick – and more importantly, what makes them happy. To teach your sales or account managers to provide service by the book or from a script is quite simply a mistake.

Have you ever called your internet, phone or television provider with an issue only to be handled by someone in a call center overseas reading from a script? Throw something their way that’s off-script and you’re headed for Angryland! And switching one of these providers is most certainly painful. But anger, frustration and poor service cause people do it every day.

Allowing your staff the leeway to handle each customer individually will go much farther in providing the most customer satisfaction, and in turn, the most customer retention. New customer acquisition is expensive – far more expensive than retention. Focus on customer retention, growth and above all, service. Your bottom line will thank you.