One of the biggest challenges facing Utah business in the 1990s will be providing quality customer service, said W. Mack Lawrence, recently retired Utah vice president and chief executive officer of US WEST Communications.

At the heart of customer service are employees who are more educated, independent and knowledgeable than ever before, Lawrence said. An advantage of Utah businesses is that these smart, loyal and dedicated employees are willing to help their employers succeed.Lawrence, who spoke Monday during the annual membership meeting of the Utah Manufacturers Association in the Marriott Hotel, said, "The only advantage most of us will have in business is by focusing more attention and training toward providing quality customer service and providing what the customer wants."

A poll conducted last spring said that Americans believe reliability, durability, easy maintenance, ease of use, a known and trusted brand and low price are key characteristics of products they want. Lawrence said today's consumer has changed and is willing to spend more to get more.

Focusing on employees, Lawrence said that after reading comments from professors and business experts, there are several things business must do to capture and retain customers in the 1990s:

- Business must rethink how it serves customers, see new ways to do things and bridge gaps between employees and customers.

- Business needs employees who add value and are proud of the company.

- Business needs employees who are excited about their work and supportive of their leaders. At the same time, a company needs leaders who earn that support.

- Business needs employees who have pride and are loyal to quality, productivity and customer service.

- Business should look to global markets and target retention and expansion.

- Employers should think of every product they buy or sell as a service and look for what it does and not what it is.

Lawrence said that at the end of every day, it won't matter how hard someone worked or how long they worked, but how much was accomplished. He urged businesses and employees to go the extra mile because customers expect it.

In 1990, Utah manufacturing had a 3.6 percent growth rate or 3,500 new positions, Lawrence said, and in 1991 the growth rate will be 2.5 percent. "That number is not dazzling, but the growth rate is significant when you look at the slow growth rate throughout the nation," he said.

Lawrence cited recent positive articles about Utah and the fact that Salt Lake City is America's choice to host the 1998 Winter Olympic Games as indications that more people are beginning to notice the state. "We all have a right to be proud of our strengths in education, transportation, business environment and quality of life in Utah," he said.