I have often written of the importance of customer service. Based on the transparency and free flow of information the Internet provides, buyers have been tuned to expect high-quality products at the lowest possible prices. But we don't necessarily expect good customer service. So, I'd argue that this particular business characteristic remains a key differentiator for companies small and large.

In our business, we have tried to ingrain this into our business culture. In doing so, we have found that many deals are truly won in the details. Paying particular attention to the small things will not only impress would-be customers but can actually sell the deal before the offering is even presented. Let me give you just one example of how this has worked in our business.

We are in the software training business. Recently, we completed a multiple-session training engagement at the offices of a federal agency. We knew that additional business could be won if this initial training went well. As we do with all of our training engagements, we made sure that the training staff was well-prepared to teach the agreed upon curriculum. After all, that is what the client purchased.

In addition, however, we do a lot of things when we arrive on location to ensure that the classroom setup fosters an optimal learning environment. In this particular case, our trainer arrived on site and the selected training room was a complete mess and appeared as if it hadn't been cleaned in years. Training manuals (some 10 years old) and other papers were scattered throughout the room, the whiteboards were gray with all of the mark remnants, and all of the computer monitors were smudged with fingerprints and some unknown goo.

When the trainer walked into the room, he knew that the environment could be a distraction for the class attendees even though they were probably accustomed to using this particular room. As such, he went to work cleaning the client's training room. After searching out the janitorial closet and spending about an hour and a half on the project, the room gleamed.

When the students entered the room the next day, they were amazed at the room setup and particularly the cleanliness of their classroom. We had easily exceeded their expectations already just by going a bit beyond our responsibility and simply cleaning the room. The client was impressed with us — and we hadn't even begun the training. And as far as we were concerned, the training was the easy part. For us to get anything but high marks, we would have to deliver below-average training, which we very rarely do.

If you spend a few minutes thinking about the small details surrounding your business, you should be able to come up with several ways in which you might be able to positively differentiate yourself from the competition based on your attention to detail and your solid customer service. If you do these things, you may find yourself out-performing the competition even before your customers begin using what you sell.

Eric Farr is associated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at cfe@byu.edu.