It isn't easy to grow a company in a down economy. But it isn't impossible, either.

Data from Vistage's Q4 2018 CEO Confidence Index report indicates that many CEOs are optimistic about their firm's growth prospects this year, even as the economy continues to trend downward. Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of the 1,257 CEOs surveyed anticipate that their firm's sales revenues will increase during the next 12 months, while another 23 percent expect them to remain the same. Only 6 percent expect them to decrease.

What makes so many CEOs confident about their growth prospects? Our data suggests that it boils down to having a strong strategy. Many CEOs say they're focusing their strategy around three priorities this year:

  1. Expansion: Firms are entering new geographies and markets, acquiring competitors or adjacent businesses, and introducing new products or services. 
  2. Talent: Firms are hiring and training salespeople to increase market reach and penetration.
  3. Marketing: Firms are projecting messages about customer value through digital and human channels with the goal of creating demand in new and existing markets.

Customers at the core

There's one variable that unites these three priorities: customers. What experienced CEOs understand is that whether you aspire to enter new markets, win new business or sell more to existing accounts, you need to be relentlessly focused on customers.

The CEOs that we surveyed cited customer service as their no. 1 priority this year, and that makes sense. Customer service accounts for all customer-facing resources and directly reflects your brand and business. It can serve as a powerful revenue generator, particularly when you:

Align your sales teams with your customer-service teams. Together, these teams create what becomes the customer experience.

Recognize the implications of customer experiences. Customer culture is the aggregate of customer experiences with your company, whether those experiences are created through digital or human interactions.

Provide consistent and clear messaging across all platforms. This will help you build trust and strong connections with your customers.

Give your customers something (good) to talk about. Customers are your best source of referrals. They will talk to others about their experiences with your customer culture, so make sure those experiences are overwhelmingly positive.

Leverage artificial intelligence to provide world-class service. Consider whether AI can help automate simple tasks and give your teams more time to deal with complex customer-service issues. Some experts say that, in the near future, companies are going to start combining human interactions with AI technology to provide exceptional customer service.

The big takeaway? The "Age of the Customer" isn't over -- and neither are your opportunities for growth.