One of the recurring themes to business leadership, in my meetings with executives and salespeople, is a commitment to core principles: Trust, quality and value. The latter signifies both the rewards of an affordable product or service, as well as values, plural, which are the lifeblood of a company.
Whether an organization expands or contracts, whether it succeeds or fails, whether it enjoys the loyalty of consumers and the support of a community; whether an employee-run business can withstand the quietude of a recession or the hosannas of a booming economy, all of these things depend on timeless principles.
Nowhere is that point more relevant than in an industry like plumbing, heating and cooling, where the “emergency technicians,” so to speak, are on call when we most require their help. For we often need these people in a hurry, because we are in a hurry – to stay warm, or remain comfortable during the dark nights of winter or the sweltering evenings of summer.
My comments about trust, quality and value are the result of experience. Rather, by having met people in the heating and plumbing industry, including the team at H.B. McClure, I have newfound respect for the work these individuals perform and the symbolism their efforts possess.
Think of their achievements as part of the long continuity of history – a centennial celebration, this year – of ownership in its truest manifestation, with over 225 professionals enrolled in an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), where a name means something. From that name, where a century ago Herbert Bassett McClure began his future in the shadow of the Great War, today, in the light of every conceivable advance, his legacy casts its own impressive shadow of leadership.
Full disclosure: I am neither an employee nor an associate of any such company in this field. But I admire the universal ideals – about dedication and tradition – which the best companies in this industry represent.
It is this personal exposure, which allows me – as an executive myself – to applaud businesses like H.B. McClure because of their investment in their respective towns and cities. And, here is where I reveal my love for the Keystone State of Pennsylvania and the Central Valley areas of Harrisburg, Hershey, Carlisle and York, the places where history is more than a classroom exercise.
These communities, starting with the state capital of Harrisburg, are home to generations of families and the headquarters of history itself: The center of great contests, among great legislators and governors, of issues predating the birth of the Union. On a more modest level, that history unfolds – in real-time – based on how a business treats it customers and how that same company accepts (or seeks to earn) its position in the community. That status brings us back to the points described above: Trust, Quality and Value.
The Technician-as-Teacher: Delivering Exceptional Service for Long-Term Success
Of the many takeaway themes from studying the heating and cooling industry, or reviewing the success of H.B. McClure in particular, my advice to executives is simple: Exceptional service must be a priority; there is no way to survive, never mind prosper, when respect and rapid responsiveness are an afterthought. Or: There is no trust by consumers, when there is no quality or value from a business.
Indeed, no company can suddenly manufacture trust – as if a vow of sincere confidence is like a purchasable indulgence – when such a bond only accrues over time, and by virtue of hard work and word-of-mouth marketing. The purpose of observing the practices of plumbers, electricians and service technicians is, therefore, quite simple: To learn the rules of success, the means by which trust can take root and flourish.
In this regard, trust and a sense of community are one and the same. Both are the result of history, in which a business – especially one, where consumers are on a first-name basis with their plumber or home heating oil specialist – involves entering a client’s residence. That event is the ultimate sign of trust, which any business should acknowledge and appreciate, because it is so important.
In such a situation, a plumber or an electrician has a fiduciary duty and a moral responsibility to act with the utmost prudence and the finest degree of integrity. That scenario puts a premium on service, obviously, but it also bestows an employee with multiple assignments. That technician is now an agent, on-site, with an official task – to repair a compressor, fix rusted piping, recalibrate a meter or reset a thermostat – while simultaneously assuming the role of brand ambassador, sales consultant and corporate census worker.
All of these factors reinforce my high opinion of an industry inspired by honor and the venerable customs of history.
Companies like H.B. McClure may exemplify these strengths, but these attributes are available to any business with the discipline to learn and the resolution to lead. Only then, will an organization receive the trust it deserves, thanks to the quality and value it provides.