In this episode, which was recorded at this year’s Bullhorn Engage, I talk to Jonathan Eldridge, Executive Vice President of Experience for Brooksource, about building transparency with clients and candidates, creating raving fans, and what staffing can learn from Domino’s.

StaffingHub:  We’re here at Bullhorn Engage with Jonathan Eldridge, Executive Vice President of Experience for Brooksource. Welcome.

Eldridge:  Thank you. Thanks for having me.

StaffingHub:  Thanks for chatting with me today. So, we’ll just dive right in. You’ve been in a leadership role at Brooksource for 17 years now. What does it take, from your perspective, to scale a staffing firm?

Eldridge:  First, it takes people. You have to have the right people. You have to be able to take risks. If you can’t take risks, you’re not going to be able to grow or scale the staffing company the right way, so I think the first thing, the owners found the right people. And then they found people that would do anything to grow the business. So, if it meant moving to a new market and being the first office manager and growing a business from scratch, we had to have people that were fearless to do that. So, luckily, I guess I was fearless enough to try it and it worked very well for me.

You have to have the right people in the process, or you can’t really scale anything.

And, then I think the second thing is, you have to have very good relationships. So, we started in Indianapolis. The relationships carried us to the other markets that we opened, and those other markets’ relationships then carried to the next market, so it’s really, it’s like a growing tree of operations, all based around relationships that we’ve built with our clients.

StaffingHub:  And so, people in the staffing industry often talk about relationship-building and the fact that it’s a people industry, but that can become jargon-y, so we don’t even know what people are talking about when they’re talking about that. I’ve heard you talk a lot about transparency and relationship-building, and it seems like you think really deeply about what it actually means to build relationships. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Eldridge:  Looking at this conference, there are so many companies out there that are offering customer experience platforms. If you think about the automotive industry, they’ve been in the UI/UX space for over a decade, so we’re late to the game in this industry, period.

So, it’s one thing to talk about it and say you’re going to do it. It’s another thing to actually invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a tool that can bring the client closer to what you’re doing. So, if you can show investment…

You’ve got to follow up on what you promise.

It’s not transactional, and unfortunately, in this industry, there’s been a lot of transactions that have been very money-driven.

I’m a firm believer that the way to grow this industry the right way is to have people that truly want to treat people in the employment industry the right way, and ethically.

So, everybody should be treated with respect. You should have transparency with your clients. You should let them in on what you’re doing.

Let them behind the curtain. It’s not Oz anymore.

You have to let them know what’s going on.

A lot of times, I tell everybody in my staff, a client never knows what happens when you hang the phone up. They have no idea. They think you just find a resume out of thin air. There’s a lot of process that goes into that. So, let’s explain the process. Let’s let them behind the curtain to show them what we’re doing, because otherwise, they just think we’re grabbing a resume and sending it to them, and that’s the worst thing you could do in this industry.

Another thing that I will mention that I think everybody should take note of is that no one should be talking about revenues at a client services type convention like this. This is about an experience. If you start talking about revenues in the services industry, no one’s going to want to use you because you’re all about the revenues. You have to be about the memorable experience that you’ve provided that consultant or that client.

StaffingHub:  So, you talked a little bit about letting customers into the process, letting your talent into the process. What are some other ways, without getting too deep into any secret sauce, if there is such a thing, but that you really think about and build a genuine connecting customer experience?

Eldridge:  So, part of what we have instilled since the day I started was that we… everything’s a pay stub. Everyone’s got direct deposit, but we have thousands of pay stubs, and we demand that those pay stubs be delivered every Thursday or Friday, because we pay weekly.

So, it’s one thing to say welcome to your engagement, and you see them at the end of it.

No, we are literally there every single week, shaking their hand, asking them how they’re doing, saying hi to the manager. Being present, I think, is so important, so it’s part of our mandate. It’s part of my mandate to our organization, that we never stop doing that. So, live check, or a cut check already in the mail, it does not matter.

You have to hand deliver it. So, you build integrity that way. So, I actually had a lot of businesses that I broke on the east coast because people saw me thanking my consultants every week, and they called me because they just wanted to know more about it, and they kicked out vendors because they weren’t doing that, and they started using me.

In my opinion, it’s just about being a good person to me. You open the door for people, right? People forget, yes, you can make money. You can have a career doing this, but if you only think about the money part of it, you’re never going to have a career doing this. You’ll build up, unfortunately, a negative reputation, in my opinion.

StaffingHub:  It’s become such a transactional industry in a lot of ways, which is ironic, given that it runs on people. And that’s a really beautiful example of keeping humanity.

It’s really important for me. I have two kids at home, and I have to travel a ton, and they can’t understand what I do, but I can tell them that my job is to help people find work, do it the right way. So, they can conceptualize that. I hope I’m making my kids proud.

I’m showing all these other people that are coming out of school only the right way to do it. You cut a corner, you can’t work here. You have to commit to doing it the right way, and that’s everything in life. Your professional relationship is like your home relationships. You have to work at it. It’s not just given to you. So, I hope people carry that context when they’re trying to build new clients and customers.

StaffingHub:  We’re here at this conference, which is focused a lot around technology. I think technology can either be used to boost relationships, or be used to cut the corners and make people a little bit less human in these interactions. So, how do you help your team use technology in a way that keeps the heart at the center of what you do?

Eldridge:  Well, luckily with these new tools that you have, you can take a consultant engagement from the first phone call to the last paycheck you deliver, and making sure every single time they’re engaged, they’re happy. They’re an endorser. They want to tell five more people about the fact that they got a hand-delivered pay stub every Friday. So, actions draw people. So in my opinion, you don’t need to make a phone call in this industry. A lot of times, what you do is the phone call, and they’ll reach out to you. You will find promoters.

You have to really commit to being transparent.

I’m a very transparent person. I’m not saying everybody’s like that. There are people who are very process-driven with sales. I was never that way. I would tell my life story. I would let them in. I would build trust, and then oh, by the way, I’m committed to building this company, so please, if you have a shot, I’d love to take it because I’m putting everything on the line. Then, I found endorsers.

StaffingHub:  It’s actually very simple to do if you get down to it, and it’s simple enough to explain to your kids, but to get the place where you realize that that’s all you have to do, is just be a real human, it’s tricky.

Eldridge:  I actually gave a speech in front of our sales convention, and I brought up Domino’s Pizza. Great pizza, but the app is amazing. I mean, you can see when your pizza gets put in the oven. For a person buying, that put me behind the curtain. Literally, I gave the speech and everybody was downloading — Domino’s should have paid me — everybody downloaded that app and they started ordering, like this is really cool.

It’s not just staffing or buying. It’s everything that we do. Realizing why we go to Domino’s. I like the app. It makes me feel like I’m part of the process. I know when they’re at my front door. There are a lot of things that if you just use your real-life experiences and apply that to what we’re doing in this industry — we could really shed some light on positive growth, and not just money growth.

StaffingHub:  And in that instance, you’re more okay with your pizza being late. Being like, a half-hour late, an hour late, if you can see it every step of the way.

Eldridge:  Absolutely. 100%. Yep.

StaffingHub:  And that it seems like you’ll prevent a lot of really angry talent if you’re just like…

Eldridge:  When I open my door, I can know that Mike is delivering my pizza, and I can say, “Hey, Mike. How you doing? Happy Friday. Here’s your tip.” It just makes a difference.

There’s no curtain. There’s no wall now. I’m trying to look for partners while I’m here, too. Presidents and leaders of organizations that I can tell really want to do it the right way. I don’t know if we’re the biggest. I certainly know we’re not the smallest, but gosh, anybody that wants to try to make this an industry we’re more proud to be a part of, I want to associate with. So, it’s a really powerful week for me.

StaffingHub:  That’s interesting and thinking about how because the industry is changing a lot, like a lot of industries are, but I think staffing does have a pretty strong contingent that maybe is behind the times a little. So, what do you think the industry needs to do to sort of keep up with the times and keep up a pace of this kind of change?

Eldridge:  That’s a great question. Obviously, you have to have raving fans. That’s very important, but I do think that we have to change. So, take the Domino’s app. So, while I was giving that speech, it kind of came to me on the stage, I said, that’s an amazing app. I can see the pizza being made. Now, what about if a client could see that resource coming their way? And everybody was like, “Ooh.”

Generation Zs — they want to know they’re part of a team. They want to know their numbers. They want specifics. It’s not necessarily about their money. It’s about being part of the plan.

So, when you’re building this out, if we can let managers and clients into the entire process, they could see on their app that their resume’s coming at 4:00 tomorrow, and that resume’s been vetted several times over. Again, it will create an endorser for that manager to tell their manager on Friday night, “Hey, you know who I use? I use Brooksource.” Why? “Well, because I see everything they do.”

There’s no curtain anymore. And I think that is revolutionary.

If you think about the automotive industry, the manufacturing industry. There are robots running warehouses. Now again, we don’t want data to overtake this industry. It can’t. A handshake will always make the deal happen. Always push the deal forward.

The art of the human element can never be taken out, but you can use technology to enhance the human element.

To enhance that buying decision-making. Or the consultants, their experience with us as well. Ultimately, the consultant engagement is even bigger than the client.

Gosh, you’re putting people to work, and if they don’t want to work with you again, they’ll tell 100 people never to call you.

So, you’ve got to write a letter. You’ve got to say thank you. You’ve got to shake hands. You’ve got to let them know if they have an emergency, you’re there to help them. They are part of your family. And if you realize they’re not just there to keep the lights on, they are part of your culture, then you have 5,000 raving fans. That’s my goal. That’s my dream.

It’s going to take probably the rest of my life, but that’s my dream, is to have all of those people understand that when we make mistakes, don’t bash us. We’re ethical. We’re trying to make sure you’re taken care of. Let’s work together on solving the problem.

StaffingHub:  Every staffing firm fumbles. How do you handle those mistakes? Those ruptures in the relationship?

Eldridge:  I just actually had a pretty significant… it’s a situation that I jumped into. That I saw needed to be fixed, and frankly, it was just communication and teaching. I was so tired of some people having ruffled feathers in the field calling and having a negative conversation with somebody at headquarters, but somebody at headquarters doesn’t understand… they just don’t understand what’s going on, so they end up yelling at one another, and no one wins. The client’s not winning. The consultant’s certainly not winning, and you two are fighting.

So, I brought everybody together. No one’s pointing a finger. I don’t want any voices raised. I want resolution. I don’t care who made a problem. I don’t even care why it started. I just want it to not happen again. Clients don’t want a repetition of mistakes. They don’t care about the mistake, it’s repetition. So, let’s stop yelling, and let’s grow up and handle this professionally, and then tell the client we did it, because the client doesn’t know there’s an issue.

Eldridge:  So, you can actually use some of your problems to help grow your brand by letting them in and letting them know, you know what, there was an issue. We caught it, so hopefully, you’re still enjoying this buying purchasing with us.

StaffingHub:  That’s what transparency is. Not just showing what you’re doing awesomely.

Eldridge:  [Transparency] is actually quite different. It’s actually using your faults to help grow your vision. Because again, I can look visionary, but if we don’t fix some of our problems, systemically, you can’t grow your vision.

You have to fix your wounds first. Triage it, and then you can move on.

StaffingHub:  So, maybe this is related, but we’re here at Bullhorn. You’ve been to some panels. How’s the conference going for you?

Eldridge:  Well, it seems like it just kicked off. Just had my first sit down, or break out, and it was good. The dialogue is great. I was at Dreamforce, so that is… it’s like a city on wheels. So, it’s a little bit different, and every one of them’s a little bit different. For me, I need to learn more technology. I can talk people and I can talk process and relationship until I’m blue in the face. I need to dive into how… it’s like everybody drinks the Kool-Aid.

Coming [to Bullhorn], I get to figure out how the Kool-Aid’s made, and that’s very important for me, as an executive, to realize, number one, my strength isn’t technology, it’s people-building. It’s that part of it, and that’s what made me very good, and I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I need to learn more on the back end. So, that’s why I’m here trying to figure out how the Kool-Aid’s made.

StaffingHub:  That’s awesome. We’re starting… StaffingHub is starting a conference StaffingHub Live, and because of the connection we made here, you’ll be speaking at that conference too.

Eldridge:  Yes. Really excited. Really excited.

StaffingHub:  We’re pretty geeked out. Can you give us a little sneak peek at what you’ll be talking about at the conference?

Eldridge:  Well, honestly, it’s a lot of what we’ve already talked about. It’s just… I’m not letting anybody in on no secret of treating others like you want to be treated. Honestly, it’s very simple.

StaffingHub:  News break.

Eldridge:  News break. Oh my gosh, breaking news, you can actually open doors for people and they might say thank you. And they might remember you. So, honestly, I do think that, and I think I’m a firm believer. That raving fan. So you have to have an organization.

You look at people that work at Google or Starbucks. They love working there. It is a brand. They’re proud to wake up and put that shirt on and go to work. We don’t have that in the staffing industry. We need pride in putting the shirt on. So, in order for companies to grow, or partnerships to form, you have to have raving fans that love what they sell.

So, one of the things that I’ve realized in my 20 years of doing this is that managers and clients can know. They can sense and they can smell when you don’t believe in what you’re selling.

If you believe in what you’re selling, you’re actually telling a story, giving them that experience for them to want to use you, and then they turn into an endorser. I guess maybe I’m letting people in on something common sense, I don’t know, but it’s just the basic principles. This is a people… it’s not transactional.

StaffingHub:  I think so often, the common sense thing, or the very foundation of everything, is overlooked, because people get excited about the next shiny object, or the promise of certain kinds of automation, or any myriad of things. You lose sight of what is most important, and that is the things that might be easy to say, but they’re not easy to implement, and they’re not easy for a lot of firms to keep in the center.

Eldridge:  No, they’re not. So, here’s a piece of it that I’ve added to everything that I do, and I’ve been preaching this for a number of years in our organization, and it’s so simple. But yes, there are all kinds of automated tools for figuring out if people are happy with what they do. There’s also the simple technique of asking, “Are you happy?” That way if you go on a client meeting or you have somebody that’s worked. And we do it. We get the surveys everywhere else.

When you’re in front of the person, you have to ask the question. In front of your consultant, “Are you happy? You’ve worked with other agencies. Do you feel like we’ve actually let you in a little bit more? We’d like to know.” We just forget to ask, and unfortunately, we ask in every other part of our life. We just forget to do it with our job. And, it’s a lost art that all you have to do is ask a question, and they’ll look at you and go, “Wow. Well, you know what? I really like what you said about workforce transformation, but I’m not really clear about this one part of your process.” Well, let’s go to lunch in two weeks and talk about it.

So again, it’s just a relationship. It’s not a choreographed dance. Sorry. I use a lot of analogies.

StaffingHub:  I like it. And what’s on the horizon for you guys?

Eldridge:  There’s a lot on the horizon. We’re looking at other verticals. Obviously, I’m from Detroit, so I’d love to get automotive going. We’ve got some very good relationships in this industry, so I think that will come next. We’re really just… perhaps looking international.

I was maybe the fifth person to start in the organization and it was a dream to get to $1,000,000. And now we’re trying to build a billion-dollar culture, and I do believe that with the right people behind the wheels, we will get there. But it won’t be on numbers. It’ll be on memories.

And I think that that’s what I kind of want everybody to know, but maybe I don’t want everybody to know that. It’s the secret sauce.

StaffingHub:  Maybe that is the secret sauce.

Eldridge:  Another thing that’s on the horizon, it’s very simplistic. We have a lot of consultants that work for us. 7,000. Yet, we want to advance what we’re doing without asking the very people working for us what they would want to see. So, letting the consultant base into our decision-making again builds raving fans. This is, again, it’s very simple stuff. Even with clients, what do you want to see from us? How can we change? Let’s not be in the 1990s, let’s be in the 2020s. So, there’s a lot that I’ll probably be speaking on that a lot. Again, it’s just common sense. There’s a ton of data and there’s a ton of tools, but if you can’t shake a hand, or if you can’t make that handshake memorable, you’re never going to make it.

StaffingHub:  Thank you so much. That was awesome. I look forward to seeing more in September.

Eldridge: I can’t wait. Thank you.


Looking for more previews of our StaffingHub Live speakers? Check out Mary Lucas’s Staffing Show episode.