Last week was all about firsts. It was the first presentation of HVACR Week, a live seminar and trade-show event combining three meetings: the Engineering Green Buildings (EGB) Conference and Expo, produced and managed by HPAC Engineering, and the Commercial HVACR Symposium and HVAC Comfortech, produced and managed by sister publication Contracting Business. It was the first time EGB was held in Nashville, Tenn. And it was the first time we had a keynote speaker with absolutely no affiliation with our industry. Some even would say his expertise, which is in the music industry, has absolutely nothing to do with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

Of course, those people weren't in HVACR Week's opening general session to hear Robin Crow, owner of Dark Horse Recording, deliver his message on the absolute power of service. Crow, who brought along five electric and acoustic guitars (including an amazing acoustic double-neck rig that had the most amazing sound), delivered an incredible talk on how he succeeds in an industry that is in decline. His success is based on the concept of exceeding customers' expectations.

His message isn't new, but it is important. In this era of economic malady and severe budget constraints, it's not that customers won't spend dollars; they just need to feel good about it.

They need to feel good about you, your company, and the work that you do. Crow regaled the audience of more than 800 engineers and contractors with stories of how his technical expertise isn't the key anymore — it's finding ways to make people happy. He does it by understanding their hot and cold buttons and then creating a working experience beyond what they expect or have experienced before.

Exceeding your customers' expectations means creating amazingly happy customers, forming important partnerships, developing an empowered workforce, increasing employee retention, and building a company beyond your wildest dreams. Dark Horse Recording began with Crow's last $2,000 and a vision. Today, it is one of the most successful recording studios in the business, and it's fueled by what he calls the power of service.

The key is this: Meeting expectations is a given. You have to do it just to stay even with your competition. The secret is finding ways to delight customers, to go beyond their expectations and make them feel good about their decision to do business with you. Customer service, Crow said, is Job One. And that is a principle we all should live by.

So here's the question: What do you do to go beyond your customers' expectations?

Send comments and suggestions to mike.weil@penton.com.