Words of Wilson will teach you each month to better understand, develop and manage your most valuable resource – your people.

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My service philosophy is grounded in building customer loyalty for the long term. In my “Customers for Life” training, I suggest that if you want real loyalty, you need to create real connections. One of the best ways to do that is by treating your customers like VIPs.

VIP-level attention can occur within a formal or informal loyalty program, including tiered incentives and other perks. More importantly, VIP-level attention is about going the extra mile. When customers feel cared for, they know they can trust you to solve their problems.

Implementing a VIP program is easier than it sounds. It’s not a line item or a function or even a budgeted marketing initiative; it’s a leader-driven attitude that encourages and rewards your entire company to be ambassadors for quality service. This means that from your receptionist’s voice on the incoming call to the level of detail in the field, everyone on your team is delivering value. Training your whole team to think and act like a concierge will make all of your customers feel special.

A few months ago, I had a powerful experience that opened my eyes to being on the receiving end of world-class personal service. We attended an annual corporate event as a customer of the host and were honored to be included. I expected to be treated to a nice event, benefit from friendly networking and have a good time. Instead, I experienced the power of what it feels like when all customers are treated like VIPs.

The event team picked us up at the airport, escorted us to activities and introduced us to people we didn’t know. The host knew or had researched our preferences, anticipated our needs, over-delivered on expectations and provided an exceptional experience and learning opportunity. I came away thinking about the power of personal service and my gratitude for the unexpected.

As your customers grow savvier about value and your competitors are taking customer service to the next level, how can we learn from this? How can you make your own customers feel special and make your service model stand out?

Start by thinking about how your customers engage. Is your sales and service process designed to ensure that each customer feels welcome? Is your company culture built around the idea that every customer is unique? Is your business making your customers’ lives easier? Are your service values actionable?

If you’re considering improving service as part of your strategic planning for next year, here are 10 approaches I use in my business that can improve your brand, and increase customer loyalty and retention:

  1. Invest time and resources into team training and professional development to reinforce a credible service-first culture grounded in “wowing” your customers.
  2. Focus on long-term value created by short-term accomplishments.
  3. Make sure your team can deliver on promises that are made.
  4. Plan for continual monitoring and tweaking. Evaluate how everyone’s deliverables contribute to value creation and customer retention.
  5. Take nothing for granted, make your customer’s loyalty matter. Create benefits and incentives that reward retention, such as celebrating milestones of service.
  6. Start small and test results. Casting too wide a net without a plan to measure progress can end up with your program over-promising and under-delivering.
  7. Frame your communication in the context of human relationships, not just as transactions.
  8. Offer staff training programs like DiSC to better understand that different personalities require different approaches and communication styles.
  9. Survey your customers for helpful insight on service expectations and delivery, and use their feedback to improve your organization’s value.
  10. Make a mental shift toward understanding the difference between your service and your customers’ perception of your service. Learn everything you can about your customers’ businesses.

As an aside, I fly millions of miles a year on Southwest Airlines. Every time I fly, I’m amazed at how easy the Southwest team makes each flight feel, even when it’s not. They’ve managed to remain friendly at all times, have a system in place for when things go wrong and make the process passenger-centered from beginning to end.

No business is perfect and no customer is, either. But if you offer a specific brand promise that allows for every one of your customers to feel important, to feel listened to, and give your team the latitude to deliver, it can be just what your business needs to keep a customer for life. You don’t need a big budget to set a big example.

Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.