Want to beat your competitors? Engaging in useless price wars, worrying about copycat products, or battling over branding won't do it. Rather than emptying your pockets on financially wasteful and emotionally draining endeavors, take the heat to your competition by focusing on one simple thing: creating an incredible customer experience. It costs less to keep a customer than to acquire a new one, but the reality has more to do with sense than with dollars: satisfied customers don't shop around. Great customer service isn't rocket science--it's just about being real, respectful, and righteous.

What's convenient for the customer is what matters--whether it's convenient for you or not. Ever called a company and been asked to call back later because the person you're supposed to speak with isn't in or the information you need isn't available? Why should a customer have to work hard to spend his money with you? If you want your customer's business, be prepared to handle it when it comes your way. You should have enough staff so that he gets a live person and good information in a matter of seconds.

Connect. Ask every staff member to provide her name to any customer with whom she comes in contact. It doesn't matter if the staff member is taking a message or taking an order--the customer has the right to know who is taking care of his affairs. Anonymity creates opportunities to avoid responsibility. Make your customer feel secure by spotlighting accountability. A customer feels most at ease when he knows exactly who is handling his business. His comfort is what puts him in the right frame of mind to make a purchase.

Don't fake it. "Can I help the following 'guest'?" Lame! The customer isn't your "guest" so don't call him that. The time-tested term "customer" has been around forever for a reason. A customer is the person who is there to buy. He has money to spend, and he wants to know that you care about whether or not he spends it with you. Calling him a guest implies he is just stopping by--calling him a customer shows that you want him to stay.

Say what you're gonna do...and then do it. Customers don't want you to promise the world, but they do want to know what they can expect from your company. Communicate clearly in everything you do--from what it is your product does to how the customer can get his hands on it. And remember, everything you are going to do should be about the customer, not you. If you are going to ship something to your customer, don't tell them when it will leave your warehouse, tell them when it will arrive at their door.

Don't make it hard for your customers to make a purchase. Companies that only accept certain credit cards, for example, always amaze me. Money is green. Set the stage to make the sale happen, rather than creating roadblocks. If one type of credit card comes with a higher transaction fee and that's a problem for you, don't make it one for your customer. Resolve these kinds of issues in advance. It may cost you a little extra to offer an array of payment possibilities, but it costs far less than sending your customer home empty-handed.

Make sure your product is useable. This one seems like a real no-brainer, but how many times have you bought a toy that did not include a battery? When your customer completes his purchase, he needs to leave with everything necessary to benefit immediately from what he bought.

When there is a problem, fix it. A customer should not have to beg, shout, or jump through hoops to get what he paid for. Things that constitute jumping through hoops are getting permission to return something, being forced to waste time and money sending it back, or being told to speak to a manager about the problem. Use common sense and make the situation right. And remember that making the situation right no longer means just giving the customer what he paid for--it means restoring his sense of satisfaction with your company.

Customers are the heart and soul of your company. They are more precious than your inventory, more important than your marketing strategy, and more coveted than any product you will every bring to market. Treating them well and keeping them happy is the best weapon you have to keep your competitors at bay.