I trust everybody had a fun and safe holiday season.

I know some folks north of the border certainly enjoyed theirs thanks to some outstanding customer service. Canadian airline WestJet had a virtual Santa ask passengers at airports in Toronto and Hamilton what they wanted for Christmas. Once those planes took off, WestJet employees went on a shopping spree and delivered the specific presents to those same passengers when they arrived at baggage claim in Calgary.

“(We) started brainstorming what ‘giving’ looked like at its best,” the airline said on its blog. “We wanted to do something big, exciting and fresh. We did what WestJetters do best and helped (Santa Claus) spread some Christmas magic to our guests.”

The airline also said it would donate flights to needy families if the gift-giving video reached 200,000 YouTube views. As of press time, it’s at more than 1 million. Type in WestJet into the YouTube search engine and check out customer service at its best.

Customer service is a topic that remains critically important in our industry. And based on what various folks are saying, 2014 could be a year where you’ll have even more opportunities to put those customer-service skills to work.

Uponor North America Senior Director of Marketing/Offerings Dale Stroud was in our office before the holidays and delivered his annual construction industry forecast/analysis to the BNP Media Plumbing Group staff.

“We do see that housing starts are moving up fairly solidly. They still are well-below historical norms, but certainly are headed in the right direction,” he said. “2013 will be up 20% over last year and there probably will be a similar increase in 2014.”

Stroud’s positive outlook mirrors that of the National Association of Home Builders. NAHB Senior Vice President of Exhibitions, Marketing and Sales Mark Pursell told me one of the reasons exhibitor sales and expected attendance at the upcoming International Builders’ Show are up is due to the improved housing market (another key factor is the show’s new co-location with KBIS).

“A normal housing market in any given year is at 1.5 million starts, both single-home and multifamily,” Pursell said. “At its peak in 2005-2006 it was at 2.2 million units. In 2009 it went down to just more than 400,000. We expect those numbers to be around 900,000 in 2014, which is a long way from a normal market, but we’re pretty happy compared to where things have been.”

Pursell said additional trends to keep an eye on that could affect your business in the coming year are the increasing amount of people moving back to more urban locations, greater demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly homes and an increased interest in the universal design and aging-in-place concepts.

Stroud and Pursell are far from the only ones predicting an improving climate. IHS Global Insight economists Patrick Newport and Stephanie Karol note in their most recent report that multifamily construction permits posted a 20.1% increase this past September and another 15.3% jump a month later. Their report states multifamily permits have skyrocketed most notably in the South where Texas accounted for much of the spike in September — a revelation not surprising given the state’s rate of job growth compared to the rest of the country.

“Right now, multifamily is leading the parade to get out of the lower levels that have been there previously,” Stroud said in a video interview with me available at http://www.supplyht.com/video.

On the industrial side, construction management consulting firm FMI came out with its 2014 U.S. Markets Construction Overview that hits on a series of key trends likely to affect various U.S. sectors and regions.

The FMI report says the shifting from shale-gas to shale-oil production has led to projections that the U.S. will produce more oil than it imports by late 2014 (good news for the industrial PVF sector). Also, as a result of the expansion of the Panama Canal, U.S. coastal infrastructure opportunities will create significant corridors of construction activity starting as early as 2014.

All in all it looks like 2014 is poised to take us further down the road to recovery. Make sure you are ready to seize these opportunities by providing your customers with WestJet-like service. That’s a can’t-miss New Year’s resolution.