“What we do is very team-oriented, so there’s a lot of collaboration between colleagues here,” says Michael Elliott, the chief operating officer of Customer Effective, a Greenville, S.C.-based customer relationship management consultancy. It is this collaborative work environment that has helped Customer Effective attract and retain great employees since the company was founded a decade ago. It is also part of the reason why, last month, CareerBuilder recognized Customer Effective as a 2013 Big Strides in Small Business finalist.
In the following Q&A, Michael Elliott, COO of Customer Effective, discusses how his small business empowers employees through a culture focused on collaboration, skills training and career development.
CareerBuilder: What makes Customer Effective a great place to work?
Michael Elliott: When we survey our employees about what they like about working here, overwhelmingly, the feedback we’ve gotten is, “We really love the customers we work with, we love the kinds of issues we’re trying to help them address, and we really like the people that we work with.” Working in the customer relationship management space makes for some interesting projects that are really important to our customers’ business. I think that goes a long way with keeping employees engaged. We also have a great team, and I think the people get a great deal of gratification in working with this caliber of people on a day-to-day basis.
Is that something you look for in a potential employee – someone who’s a team player?
Yes. I wouldn’t say we necessarily try to measure how well our employees operate as team players. In my experience, the people who fit our profile tend to like that team-based environment. We’ve been in business 10 years, and I’ve interviewed a ton of people, and one of the common things people say they don’t like about their current job is getting assigned to a project and then being left on their own. They feel they’re alone on an island. We don’t do that here, and I think that’s works well in terms of attracting employees.
What other skills do you look for in employees?
The nature of what we do lies in talking with clients about their business, and helping them improve any variety of things, so we put a big emphasis on client-facing skills. Good listening skills and an aptitude to learn new things are also highly valuable. Work ethic is a big component of what we’re looking for, too.
Speaking of the aptitude to learn new skills, Customer Effective puts a lot of emphasis on personal learning and development. Can you talk a little about that?
Learning and development are vital to what we do. The technology field changes rapidly, so we have to always be learning and advancing our skills. It’s also the reason we don’t have a lot of turnover. We want to fulfill people’s desire to learn and develop new skills and advance their careers so they will want to stay with us over the long haul.
We hear a lot of employers say they can’t find talent with the skills they need – especially for technology-specific positions. Do you find this to be the case at Customer Effective, and if so, how are you overcoming that challenge?
Well, there are two parts to that. One, we just have to look hard and try to find the right people. There’s a lot of competition for good people, and you can’t always find the candidates who have all of the skills that you want them to have. So you’re really left with no choice but to try to find the right people and help develop the skills that are important to the specific job function that we’re asking them to fill.
The other part is retention. I operate under the belief that, every day, recruiters from other companies are calling people on our team, and I just accept that as the way that it is. At Customer Effective, we have to be certain our employees feel this is where they want to be, regardless of how many carrots might be dangled in front of them. Part of that is ensuring that they feel like they’re part of a winning team. We’re one of Microsoft’s top Dynamics CRM partners, and the people who work here like that distinction. They like to feel like they’re part of a successful organization, and that helps us attract and retain people.
What’s your personal approach to leadership?
I’m a big believer of leadership by example. If I’m not working hard, I can’t really expect other people to work hard, either.
What do you personally love about coming into work each day? What do you find keeps you motivated?
Scott Millwood and I founded this company about 10 years ago. We’ve grown from it being Scott, me and a contract developer to over a hundred people today, and over the years, we’ve had a lot of success, and that’s very motivating for me. Beyond that, I also like the caliber of people. We work with a lot of really bright people who are engaging to be around. I also like the kinds of companies we work with and the kinds of problems we help them solve.
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