In regards to achieving business excellence it is not about which “one” trait or characteristic works for an entire industry, instead it is about what works for a company and the people who run it. In working with various construction companies, I have seen many different models (such as TQM, QMS, ISO 9000, SixSigma, Malcolm Bridge, Deming) that are all successful when it most appropriately fits that company. Having said that, if the people running the company are not a good fit to a particular methodology it does not work for them.
A company’s culture is successful when it is personalized to them, though a structured format is best for implementing changes as it gives them accountability, focus and reassurance.
Specific traits or characteristics of excellence that are apparent to the client would be things like they encourage you verifying their legal requirements, encourage you to visit job sites and speak with past clients. Some things that may be less obvious to a client include regular meetings; continual training for all employees, an open environment where employees are encouraged to take ownership of their work and their input does make a difference.