With the advent of the total number of brands in the world today, products and services can become generic and commodities more quickly than ever before. As a result, your company shouldn’t rely on new product offerings as your key innovation tool or to create a sustainable success. Instead, being able to differentiate your product from all others is the best hedge against becoming a commodity and to protect your hard-earned marketing and positioning investment. Today, what often defines a brand against all others is the level of customer service that supports the daily use of a company’s products and/or services.

It’s common to discover that customer service plays five times the importance in selecting one company over another, even more than a particular product’s attributes or its price. Why is this? Because customers want to make a product choice and from then on be able to rely on the company they purchased it from to stand behind its ongoing performance and remedy any fixes necessary.

Yet many companies work on the lead generation portion of their “Sales and Marketing Program” ignoring their level of customer service. Particularly in today’s challenging markets where customer service departments are being thinned to preserve the bottom-line. The net result of this can be disastrous. And yet, many companies will spend excessive amounts on bringing new customers through their front door using SEO and other Internet Marketing Tools while losing the same or greater number through their back door.

To not fall into this front door back door trap here are a few things you could institute at your company:

1. Organize your customer’s experiences into a cohesive program that everyone on your team could easily provide services for at any part of the program, from the initial E-Mailing to a Sales Call to Technical Customer Service. This is very rare among companies because it requires intensive cross-training and when it’s proposed to executive management they typically will respond “But that would cost a lot of money!” However, if a company were to retain 90% of its customer base year to year while adding 10% to 15% more each year the rapidity of this growth would be very worth the investment. Consider Apple’s retail stores that are so expensive to lease, build and staff. And yet, Apple’s total retail distribution has current annual revenues of $6 Billion so their investment in customer service is paying off well.

2. Train your staff to handle both the expected and unexpected requests for service with the same “Can Do Attitude and Knowledge” that evangelizes your company like nothing else. This could be technical assistance, top-notch diagnostics, instruction, information, or parts selection advice that all create satisfying experiences for customers each time they call on your expertise.

3. Figure out what your customers really like about you and deliver more of that than anything else. It’s a crucial step toward owning your competitive future. Without it you are at the mercy of your product’s features and pricing as they stack up against your many competitors. And as we have said, the world is filled with layers of brands that come in all shapes and sizes.

A most important aspect of understanding your customers is knowing that customers in different situations want different things from you. The key is to fit your product and service offerings to suit your customer’s preferences, versus trying to get them to fit inside your offerings.