Putting a Focus on Customers Allows Company to Prosper

An excellent customer service plan is behind everything South Carolina’s Love Plumbing Air & Electrical focuses on.

Tammy Ferris began her career with Love Plumbing Air & Electrical in 1987, six years after Gene and Kathy Love founded the company. Over the past 30 years, Ferris has worked her way up from her starting dispatcher role all the way to owning the company.

The company, based in Columbia, South Carolina, has become a major plumbing-contracting firm in the residential market, doing $4.5 million in sales annually and growing to 28 employees.

A licensed journeyman plumber herself, Ferris has made it a point to understand all aspects of the business — from delivering quality service to having all the elements in place to deliver those services, promoting the growth of the company, and bringing together a strong team that sees the big picture, which is needed to provide the best service possible to retain customer loyalty and create goodwill.

Being innovative and state-of-the-art are important to Ferris, and this includes introducing new products and services to the market, such as 24/7 emergency services and fixed, upfront pricing.

Q. How does being a local company and a proud one make a difference in winning customers and public trust?

FERRIS: We have always focused on our customer first. When we first started in 1981, we were truly one of the only plumbing companies that would actually come to your house in the middle of the night. We believed that we should be there when you needed us. Then, we looked at our trucks and decided that we needed to have fully stocked vans so we had what we needed and didn’t have to leave your job for parts. Back then, most companies just drove pickup trucks.

We continue that thinking today — what can we do to make ourselves a trusted partner to our customers? We leverage technology as much as we can so that we can respond quickly and safely to their needs. We are always looking at how to make a difference in every customer’s day. We want our customers to love what we do for them.

That is one of the reasons we are in all three trades now: so that our clients have one company to rely on for the three main home services — plumbing, electrical, heating and air.

Q. The Columbia residential plumbing sector is a tight one — what do you do to stand out, retain existing customers, and attract new clients?

FERRIS: Our image is a bit different than a lot of other companies. We don’t focus on licensing, though we hold all of the required licenses and insurance, and we don’t focus on tools in our imagery. We focus on making the home comfortable and secure. We really stand out after we get the customer to call us. We show up, we are friendly, we do a thorough evaluation of the home, we listen, and then we give the customer options so that they can decide what is best for their lifestyle and budget. We work hard to make sure the customer is satisfied afterward and that our work is of high quality.

Q. How is the focus on your sectors working out, what kind of growth are you experiencing, and what do you anticipate for future growth?

FERRIS: Our biggest area of growth currently is in our HVAC division. In the first half of this year, we have seen about an 8 percent increase in growth and we are just into our season. I am expecting upward of 12 percent this year and 12-15 percent in 2018 in that department, which is our current focus.

In plumbing, our growth has come slower over recent years because we are already very well established as a plumbing company in our community. To capitalize on that strong customer base, we have added additional service offerings like sewer and drain clearing and replacement.

Q. How would you describe your management style, and how does it help with your company’s success?

FERRIS: I believe in transparent management. My staff is updated quarterly on the financial temperature of the company. My door is open to any employee. We spend a good majority of our time here, so I want it to be a place of open doors — a place where we respect, care about and help each other, and a place where we encourage growth and development. Our core values are that we love people, love to win, love to do the right thing, love consistency and detail, and love to grow.

We hire around the core values. We also have a faith-friendly environment at the company. My faith is important to me, and I want to create an environment where what you believe in matters and it is okay to bring that to work with you. We have a grateful board and a prayer board. We start each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer. These are things that matter to me.

Q. What kind of investments do you put into the business, and how does that pay off?

FERRIS: Our biggest investment overall is in people. We invest heavily in great benefits and training for our employees. They are the front line, and we need to be sure they have the skills and the tools they need to succeed when they face the customer, whether that is an inside call center rep or a service technician. We also invest a great deal in marketing. The game has changed so much over the past 10 years. It’s not like it used to be when you just put a bigger ad in the Yellow Pages and the phone rang. We are always exploring the latest marketing strategies. We employ a marketing director who I work closely with to create effective long-range and short-term strategies and tactics to reach our existing and potential customers.

Q. How do you maintain a solid and effective workforce?

FERRIS: We have a full-time employee who looks for and attains talent for us. It’s not easy — the skill gap is real, so we have to be a workplace where people want to be. Having core values to focus on when hiring is important. We have learned to hire slowly. Attitude is important, not just skill, so we invest in training — lots of it.

We offer good benefits, we pay our people well, and we treat them well. It’s work, so the day can’t be all about play — we have things to accomplish — but we can do it with love and respect for each other. We have fun when we can — we laugh and joke — but we put the needs of the customer first. We serve people. That’s what we do here.

Q. What type of investments do you make in employee satisfaction, employee training and skills updates?

FERRIS: We are members of the Nexstar Network and, through that association, are fortunate to get top-notch training. Everyone gets training in technical and soft skills. I believe in continually learning, continually growing, and I never view training as an expense, even when I train people who leave — which does happen!

Q. What type of investments do you make in terms of vehicles, tools and other essentials?

FERRIS: We work with Enterprise leasing to keep our fleet as current as is financially prudent. Our trucks are well-stocked, and we make sure employees have the proper tools to do their jobs. We supply them with the latest technology around and software as well — iPads, ServiceTitan, etc. — so that they are efficient in the field and the customer gets the best experience.

Q. What lessons have you learned, and how have you applied them? How important is it for you to be innovative and, at the same time, retain the values and principles that contributed to your success?

FERRIS: Lessons learned — that’s an entire book! But I would say that the biggest lesson is the huge importance of having the right people in the right seats of the bus. We haven’t always done that, and when the mix is wrong, business is harder than it should be. Investing in and trusting the right people is key.

Principles and ethics are extremely important to me. Ethical profits are how I want to run my business. I would never ask any of my people to get close to an unethical line. It’s just not worth it. We love to do the right thing — always — even if it costs us on the bottom line.

Q. Do you occasionally participate in on service calls?

FERRIS: Not currently, though I have in the past. I am a licensed plumber and started out as a helper on a truck before I was hired in the office 30 years ago.


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