The industry's premier consulting company recently polled more than 100 of its clients to discover that, among them, the average cost of an issued appointment is $299. That's $23 more than it cost in 2010. And yes, some companies pay twice that for an issued lead.

Today it takes more money — and more work — to make a lead. Canvassing and show/event marketing require greater management discipline to succeed. It's not like sitting down to place an order with an ad rep. Even Internet marketing, to work, takes time, skill, patience, and endless attention.

So imagine if half your business came from past customers, either in the form of repeat or referral. There are companies out there generating business in exactly this way. To do it takes time and work, too.

For instance, a door and window company in Illinois sends a crew out after installation to touch up caulk and coatings and to make sure that no nail-heads are visible. Showroom walk-ins are invited back to the warehouse to watch crews stain a window. That company follows up with persistent phone, mail, and email contact. Last year repeat and referral generated 49% of its leads; this year it's close to 60%.

But those practices and procedures won't work if employees don't believe in them. On the first business day of last year, Charles Gindele, owner of Dial One Window Replacement Specialists, in Orange County, Calif., surprised his staff by calling an early morning meeting where a bus whisked them off to the Ritz, in Laguna. There, over a champagne breakfast, Gindele explained his revamped customer service program.

Dial One has built a reputation on service, but last year the company's sales increased 26%. Much of that, Gindele feels, is attributable to the new program. He credits repeat and referral customers — typically half his sales — for getting Dial One through the recession in a California economy plagued by a big drop in home values.

A good way to start on this path is by making a list of 10 customer service measures you could implement during the next 12 months. Around each, list what it would take to make them happen, and also write down what you think might prevent you from implementing those measures. Finally, write down how your company would change as a result.

One change you might not anticipate is that you're now faced with the challenge of having to hire more salespeople.