Dec. 9 2011 05:07 PM

As the year winds down, we already have our sights set on 2012.

Many wish they had a crystal ball in order to forecast, but I prefer the rigors and results of researching and analyzing market dynamics and trends. I try to leave very little to gut feelings and guessing, and find more value in market submersion. So, what do the markets and research reveal for 2012?

As a result of the last three years of economic uncertainty, customers will place high value on low risk, transparency and those who understand the VOC (voice of customer), and can prove value. If you thought customers were demanding in 2011, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Those who will win next year will have the mission-critical skill sets, tools and processes in place for interpreting and leveraging the voice of the customer. VOC means better understanding your customers’ needs, beyond what they say, and doing it before your competition. You almost have to know as much as they do about their business. Connectivity and communication with customers will never be more important than it will be next year.

Customers will demand proof.

Gone are the “days of gray,” as customers want to see everything in black and white. Prove to them that you’re financially stable, best-inclass, and value-centric. Being transparent and open also reduces risk in the minds of customers.

You’ll need to clearly communicate your unique value proposition to your stakeholders in a way that value is easily understood and tangible. While less than 18 percent of warranties are redeemed, make yours the best in the market, as this will create an identifiable difference while communicating low risk.

And yes, social media will play a bigger role in 2012 than it did in 2011. This is great way for you (and your customers) to communicate all of the above to your stakeholders. Depending on the stability of the European and Asian markets, I believe that in 2012 we’ll see a seven to nine percent increase over 2011 figures, with best-in-class companies surpassing 15 percent. I wish you and your families a peaceful and profitable year.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Judith Guido is chairwoman of Guido & Associates, a business management company. She can be reached at 818-800- 0135 or