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More room to grow

Few professions have more open-ended qualifications for employment than accounts receivable management firms.

Among those firms, none have had more success than Perinton-based Continental Service Group Inc., which employs nearly 500 in Monroe County and another 100 in suburban Buffalo. Its workforce may reach 1,100 in six years, its chief executive said.

ConServe’s debt counselors have backgrounds in sales, call centers, waiting tables and teaching, among other areas, President and CEO Mark Davitt said.

“You have to be a good listener,” he said. “But our human resource people have tried to see whether there’s a common background between some of our successful people and their prior experience, and there’s no correlation.

“There’s no consistent attribute. It is the person. The common element is that emotional quotient. It’s the ability to listen to what another person is saying.”

ConServe was ranked as the top-performing collection agency on the U.S. Department of Education’s contract list from 2004 to 2010.

It was awarded a five-year contract by the Department of Education in 2009 in the unrestricted business category and is among the top performers, Davitt said. It expects to receive an even larger contract soon.

“It’s the success of our people,” he said of ConServe’s growth in recent years. “I’m very fortunate to attract an awful lot of very good people. We work on a lot of very competitive contracts. If you do better, they reward you with a bigger slice of the pie.”

Founded by Davitt in 1985, ConServe provides collection services for the commercial, government and higher education sectors. M&T Bank Corp. has worked with ConServe since its beginnings.

“It has been impressive to see ConServe become one of the premier companies in its field,” said Daniel Burns, M&T’s regional president in Rochester. “And Mark Davitt has done a tremendous job managing the growth while still maintaining an entrepreneurial company culture and environment.”

The job application process involves four steps, starting at www.Conserve-arm.com.

“We ask everyone to go through our website to answer a couple of questions, and they submit their resume online,” Davitt said, adding ConServe looks for people with backgrounds in human interaction.

“But it is pretty broad,” he said. “It’s dealing with people.”

Candidates fitting that description are sent a link to a simulation assessment, where they log in and begin an assessment that takes about an hour.

“This gives them a good expectation of the position,” Davitt said. “It does involve talking to people, making a number of telephone calls, listening to people, resolving issues.”

After listening to a sample situation, applicants are asked to react to it.

“It’s showing you what you can expect when you come to ConServe,” Davitt said. “It’s showing us if you’re heading in the right direction and are making the right choices.”

If the company likes those results, it schedules a 15-minute phone interview. If all goes well, the candidate is invited to an in-person interview that begins with a PeopleClues personality assessment.

Candidates fill out an application and meet with human resource representatives and debt counselor managers for as long as 2 1/2 hours.

“They’re talking with our professional talent acquisition people, and they’re also talking with the people in the work environment so they can ask what it’s really like,” Davitt said. “If those go well, we check references. If the references go well, we make an offer.”

Next comes a background check and check for conflicts of interest. If everything looks good, the company has a new employee. The application process takes roughly two weeks.

“It is a robust process,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we have such a low turnover rate.”

Turnover ranges from one-third to one-fifth the industry rate, he added.

“When someone goes through our interview process, they will either get excited about it or they will self-select out of it,” Davitt said. “They will say I don’t want to go through this level of scrutiny, or they will feel really good about it.”

Turnover during the first 30 days has dropped significantly because of the application process.

“It’s a fraction of what it used to be,” he said.

Continental Service Group Inc.
Collections services company
2014 ranking: 3
Founded: 1985
Top executive: Mark Davitt, president
Location: Perinton
Employees: 590

10/31/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Top 100 supplement. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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