You'll hear it from me a whole lot more in coming months: Customer service. The first, most important way to keep your company out in front is making sure your customer or client feels as if their needs are your needs.
There is nothing really more to say, but I will anyway.
1. If you aren't thinking about how to make your customer or client's life easier, why are you in business? Call them and find out how you can help them. If they ever call you with a problem, drop everything and deal with it. I mean it. If you aren't sure why this is important, it's time to revisit your business plan and really ask yourself a serious question: why are you in business?
2. A business that does not aim for the highest in customer satisfaction will not survive as a business for very long. Think about it. Good food at the local restaurant doesn't matter; it matters if the food is served with a smile and they refill your drink without asking. (Hint: Your product or service actually improves in quality when people think they are your priority. Try it.)
3. How many people in your company answer customer service calls? Why not let everyone get a chance to handle a few at least once or twice? It changes the perspective when it's you actually having to help a frustrated customer either use your product or become successful because of your company's help. When you slow down long enough to hear what your client and customer is saying, your business will flourish.
4. Do you keep track of complaints and customer service issues? When Apple started shipping their new Macbooks back in 2006, customers immediately responded with sharp criticism of the knife-like edge of the laptop. Typing while resting a wrist against that edge made using the computer agony. Apple responded quickly. Subsequent releases and models of the Macbook boasted softer edges and Apple proved they could listen. Customers will notice if you're not paying attention.
5. Lastly, if customers need help, even if it's because of their own actions, the less work you make them do to get that problem solved will not be overlooked. The next time they are in the market for your product or service, they'll think of you. A human answering the phone, a quick response to a technical issue, a rapid follow-up when something goes really wrong, these are the little things that will make you into a company that lasts through economic downturn.
As a very wise businessman told me once: it's the little things that will kill you. Never mind your product is the best in the market, if you don't have polite customer service people that can actually fix annoying little problems in a rapid manner, well, your business is toast.