It's an unfortunate fact of business that the more successful we are, the more we stay the same.

Gary Heil is an author, educator and internationally recognized expert on leadership, service quality and change management. He was the opening speaker at this year's convention, and his theme was one simple word: change.

Embrace it, he said, don't run from it or resist it. It's the only way to succeed.

"There was a pediatric dentist who gave each of his employees a thousand dollars, asking them to spend it on ways to improve the business. He didn't give them any guidelines, he didn't put any constraints on them.

"One of his female office employees spent the entire $1,000 on stickers that showed a pig that said 'I love Dr. Bob.' At first, he was upset. Why did she spend $1,000 on stickers of a pig saying 'I love Dr. Bob'? She said she would have bought more if she'd had more money: the dentist figured he'd already gotten a five years' supply.

"Well, it turned out the stickers were wildly popular. Kids would stick them on their books, on their foreheads. Before long, everyone in town knew who Dr. Bob was. His practice tripled and he ordered more stickers."

Heil's point: surround yourself with employees who ask tough questions and won't go away.

He also talked about brand building. "It's one thing to get people to buy your products," he said. "It's another to get them to tattoo your name on their bodies." Some consumer products have gotten so popular people are willing to promote them for free: Harley Davidson is an example. People who don't own motorcycles wear Harley Davidson t-shirts and caps.

Don't make enemies

He also warned about making enemies out of customers. In the past, an angry or unsatisfied customer might tell a few friends about his or her bad experience with your company. Today, he said, there are "consumer terrorists" who can start a web page where people everywhere can heap scorn on your company and its practices. There are plenty of examples, he said. Home Depot, Starbucks and United Airlines are just a few of the high-profile companies that irate consumers have targeted their wrath on the World Wide Web.

Finally, he said, reward your current customers. Don't ignore them in your search for new ones. Make a commitment to service. The return on investment for companies that impress their customers with value added service can be staggering.

And don't be afraid of change. "Creative, dedicated, enthusiastic service professionals who routinely make business decisions and improvise when necessary are the foundation of excellent service. Yet many companies ignore the benefits of engaging the talents of their work force. Too often they ask front-line employees to park their brains at the front door and blindly obey pre-determined policies and procedures."

The co-author of several books on leadership and business relationships, Heil is the founder of The Center For Innovative Leadership, a consortium of consultants, educators and managers dedicated to developing information that helps leaders improving their effectiveness.