Great customer service is just one ingredient for Advantis

Customers stop at Starbucks every day — loyal and new ones — but it’s not just for the coffee. It’s the customer experience that stands out in the minds of consumers. Similarly, in the IT staffing world, Advantis aspires to provide an exceptional customer experience.

Advantis Global Services, a San Francisco-based information technology staffing firm focuses on keeping the customer happy and satisfied. Like Starbucks, Advantis’ customer experience goes beyond customer service, says Hayden Pruitt, vice president of sales for Advantis.

An End-To-End Experience

“Obviously, customer service is important to us, but the service is really just one component of the overall customer experience,” Pruitt says. “We have a large number of clients across the nation, and we want to ensure that when they work with Advantis Global they’re not just getting a service, but a full-fledged experience. That experience needs to be end-to-end, from start to finish — everything from recruiting to sales to operations to our HR functions. We believe it is a necessary paradigm shift, which calls for every aspect of Advantis to funnel toward this ideology of customer experience.”

An example of this thinking: A client had planned to convert one of Advantis’ workers into a full-time employee, but the worker left for another opportunity.

“The bottom line: We had to make this right by our customer,” Pruitt says, noting that there is no more valuable business than repeat business. So Advantis found the client another full-time worker and waived all associated fees despite being a firm primarily focused on contingent labor. “Fortunately, we don’t encounter these circumstances too often, but when they do arise it is important we take ownership — that’s part of the experience. That’s part of the partnership.”

Advantis’ approach seems to work. The company ranks. No. 7 on Staffing Industry Analysts’ list of fastest-growing staffing firms with compound annual growth over five years of 69 percent that led to revenue of $24.6 million in 2012.

Advantis was also ranked as the fastest-growing privately held company in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010 by the San Francisco Business Times. And it made the Inc. 500 in 2011, where it ranked No. 14 among all companies and No. 1 among IT services companies.

It Starts on the Inside

A key part of ensuring a great customer experience for Advantis is having the right people in house. Having great processes in place won’t help without the right people to implement them.

Pruitt says Advantis is very selective about whom it hires, and cites three key qualities needed to be successful at the company:

  • Work ethic
  • Positivity
  • Humility, the ability to grow and learn

As a result of this philosophy, the company has an environment that helps employees who are successful.

“I often joke that it’s a sink-or-swim environment, but we give you a pair of ‘floaties,’” Pruitt says. “In other words, once we’ve made the decision to hire somebody, we’re going to make every investment we can to make that individual successful. And when we hire well, most of those individuals return that investment and work very hard to be successful.”

Start Out as a Recruiter

Everybody hired at the company since 2010 starts as a recruiter; no one gets in a sales role without first being a recruiter. This ensures salespeople have a keen understanding of recruiting and fosters a more collaborative environment between the sales force and recruiters.

Advantis also looks for people who come from outside the industry — who don’t have habits from other firms — when it comes to hiring. It’s an environment where years of experience is not as important as drive to succeed.

The new hires then learn Advantis’ set way of operating with a heavy emphasis on customer experience and everybody is speaking the same language. The company also follows up with merit-based promotions with individuals working their way into management. In fact, the company recently promoted one of its salespeople into a sales management role at the company’s new office in Chicago.

“It’s a tough business and not for the faint of heart, but we have many employees that meet and exceed both expectations and the metrics we manage against,” says CEO Bryan Barber.

Advantis fills all types of IT-related roles from project managers to business analysts, from Java developers to architects, and from mobile developers to user experience specialists.

The company focuses on Fortune 100 firms as well as mid-market businesses.

“Primarily, our model is large enterprise, banks, technology, retail, utility companies,” Barber says. It tends not to focus on start-up firms, which don’t typically embrace contingent resource and instead rely on equity to land talent.

The Beginning

Barber began Advantis in 2007 with Jeff Taylor. Each put down $10,000 to start the firm, launched a website and began pursuing business.

Taylor had an engineering background and was a software developer. A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, he was also familiar with the hiring process for technical individuals.

Barber was in enterprise sales development for 20 years and had an understanding of all aspects infrastructure and software lifecycle. He previously started another company called Call Tower that he sold.

Neither Taylor nor Barber took any profits out of the company for the first two years, opting instead to reinvest, and they continue to reinvest heavily on growth, Barber says. “We didn’t look at this as just a little machine we were trying to build that would give us quality of life but rather, much more from the vantage point of let’s really make an impact and take a big run at growing.”

Growth in the Future

Advantis is set to continue with its fast growth with plans to be a $500 million revenue company in the next five years. Plans call for one additional office in a major market in each of the next three years. Every year after will likely see a renewed efforts to open more than one market a year. All growth is to be organic.

“The growth has been around reinvesting, hiring the right folks and aligning ourselves with the right clients,” Barber says.