Staying small is a big priority for Canadian small business owners (SBOs), who value the factors that differentiate them from large companies in a country with a burgeoning appetite for shopping small, according to research from American Express. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

But the study found that remaining in the small business category doesn't preclude growth for SBOs, who are now placing a higher emphasis on outstanding customer service and believe their company's success will come as a result.

In fact, the quarterly 'American Express Small Business Monitor' revealed that an overwhelming 94% of business owners believe their ability to satisfy their customers is what is most important, not how large they are. With this, SBOs believe that loyalty leads to longevity and are confident in their customer-first approach.

Business owners are taking a slow and steady approach to fostering growth. A vast majority (94%) of SBOs believe the growth of their company is based on maintaining loyal customers, and are continuing to prioritize personalised customer service, as it is often a differentiator for small businesses and a top factor for growing their business.

"It's clear that small business owners make it a priority to put their customers first, and it's working," said Athena Varmazis, vice president of small business services for American Express Canada. "They seem to understand that it's important to invest in growth, but not at the expense of their customers. As such, business owners are using this knowledge to help direct their everyday business decisions."

Going above and beyond for customers and providing outstanding service not only helps SBOs retain loyal customers, but attract new prospects. Nearly half of Canadian small businesses (44%) expect organic growth among current clients/customers, and that same number (44%) expects growth to come by expanding their current client base.

This customer-first model seems to be doing the trick. SBOs reported a healthy average of growth (14%) over the past three years and expect to see this number increase to 19% over the next three years. Most (57%) identify growth as a top business priority and almost three-quarters (71%) feel equipped to grow their business.

Part of the success of this customer service-driven approach to growth rests in the majority of SBOs' continued passion for owning their business (81%) and having a company that allows them to do what they love every day (84%). SBOs also have a strong sense of community, with almost three-quarters (73%) believing it's important that their business remains connected to their local community.