More than 100 years ago, the Michelin brothers published a guidebook rating restaurants in France. Nowadays, that same rating is used for some of the best restaurants in the world, with one star meaning “a very good restaurant,” two stars equates “excellent cooking” and three stars is “exceptional cuisine.”

Wouldn’t we all like our businesses to be rated “exceptional?”

Well, you certainly can learn to exceed your clients’ expectations with not just a beautifully designed water feature or expertly built patio, but with out-of-this-world customer service.

Gary Ross, a motivational speaker and sales trainer for the masonry and hardscape divisions of Oldcastle APG, also delivered an educational session on customer service at Hardscape North America’s sessions this past fall at GIE+EXPO.

According to Ross: “Providing customer service is the focus of every staff member because every staff member impacts the customer.”

Ross says that among employees there is power in accountability — if we hold one another accountable to provide excellent customer service, then the results teams can achieve together are even greater.

Good customer service should come pre-sale, at the point of sale and after the service is complete, Ross says. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a smile and an employee’s appearance. “Make sure your people are dressed professionally — have on a logo shirt, clean slacks, [and] if you’re going to a client’s house make sure you don’t look like you’re just off a job site,” he says. And a smile “shows you’re friendly, you’ll have a positive experience; it’s welcoming [and] helps retain customers and other employees.”

When interacting with customers, Ross says it’s important to listen, to ask questions and identify their needs. But also go the extra mile — remember their name, their likes and dislikes, provide information about specials and return calls promptly.

A key component in customer service is the follow-up. Whether it’s a handwritten thank-you note sent in the mail (include business cards customers can give to friends), a birthday card, or keeping them informed about things like winterizing their sprinklers, that extra step after the service has been completed can make a lasting impression.

Finally, a big part of exceptional customer service is addressing complaints. Make it a point to respond that day, Ross says.

“A complaint is a gift because they’re giving you an opportunity to fix a problem and make things right,” he says, “because they could just as easily go to someone else.”

Always try to de-escalate anger — speak calmly, listen and get to the source of the issue. Be sure to let them know you know the issue is important to them. Then, establish common ground — you’re on the same team and you want to make sure they’re happy, Ross says. So make the customer a part of the process, keep calm and avoid bad language or name calling.