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KC-based SMG drives market research innovation with open-minded culture

Dennis Ehrich, CIO at SMG

Kansas City-based Service Management Group (SMG) uniquely combines technology and insights to help clients listen better, act faster and outperform competitors. But 26 years ago when the market research company was just starting out, they didn’t operate in such a high-tech space.

“We started doing phone based collections. People would call a 1-800 number and through an automated response system, answer questions,” said Dennis Ehrich, CIO at SMG. “We really started out with one focus: to help our clients listen to and act upon feedback from their customers.“

These days, SMG collects insights for over 450 brands through a wide range of cutting-edge technologies and an empowered analytics platform.

“We have about 350 employees, just over a third are in technology,” said Ehrich. “We build almost all of our own technology, from how we collect data, the intercepts, the actual survey instruments, to the technology that allows us to ingest that collected data into very powerful and proprietary reporting platforms and portals.”

SMG collects the data then helps their clients analyze what they’ve collected. Through that analysis process, SMG helps create sustainable changes to how their clients serve their employees and customers in order to drive loyalty, improve the customers’ intentions to return and refer, and then ultimately, spend more money over the lifetime of the consumer relationship.

“We’ve focused all the things we do around a philosophical equation of happy customers and happy employees lead to happy commercial outcomes,” said Ehrich. “Business success can be correlated to having engaged and excited employees as well as engaged and excited customers.”

SMG doesn’t just use marketing software already available on the market. They also create their own technologies in-house and have received 4 U.S. patents on their proprietary technologies.

“This is pretty sophisticated technology and analytics. We use very progressive front-end technologies for mobile and browser, and back-end technologies using the Hadoop tech stack which is a mixture of enterprise technologies, as well as open-source to provide our set of services.”

SMG works hard and moves fast to keep up with the fast pace of tech innovation. They have seven discrete agile sprint teams that work on various investments and products on the platform. In order to keep up, the company looks for technologists with a wide range of skills.

“It’s really fun, really fast paced, diverse work in very current and progressive technologies,” said Ehrich. “We don’t specialize on frontend, mid-tier or backend. We hire full-range, full-stack engineers.”

Ehrich said that ideal technology hires have exposure to a combination of technologies such as Java, Angular, the Hadoop stack including Hive or Llap, and open source technologies like Steamsets, Google, Microsoft .Net and Visual Studio.

“Our philosophy at SMG is we don’t try to pick a singular unified technology for all platform capabilities,” said Ehrich. “We actually pick the right technology for the narrowly defined use case, and we work to integrate that unique technology in with the broader tech stack.”

SMG’s company culture also supports and encourages continual skill development for their technologists after being hired.

“I’m a firm believer that we need to continually learn and we look for people that are continually willing to learn,” said Ehrich. “We invest in our people, we invest in their training and development and we invest in painting a very clear picture as far as our strategic intent. Then we hire really smart people to think about how we best leverage technology to tactically solve those intentions.”

Investing in their employees isn’t just something that SMG does as a way of supporting their own progression and culture. Employees spend a lot of time going to conferences and learning and understanding what else is in the marketplace. It’s also something they encourage their clients to do.

“We believe that high-performing brands have highly-engaged employees and that’s what we preach to our paying customers. It’s really important for us to select people who are highly engaged and passionate,” said Ehrich. “We spend a lot of time getting feedback from employees and helping clients get feedback from their employees.”

SMG also listens to feedback from their current customers.

“We value customer feedback but we also realize that they have a bias and a certain amount of subjectivity to their perspective,” said Ehrich. “Sometimes our customers don’t know what they don’t know.”

Ehrich said that the company as a whole is very open minded, communicative and actively seeks that feedback. They use those qualities internally to drive sustainable change for their customers.

“We’re always willing to try something new and different that hasn’t been done before,” said Ehrich. “We’re serially entrepreneurial in our behavior. It’s never slow, there’s never a dull moment. It’s really, really fun.”

SMG seeks out new hires who fit that entrepreneurial bill and add to their highly diversified team. They’ll soon be adding a new sprint team and are looking for experienced team leads and architects across the board.

“I would say we want open-minded people who think on their feet quickly, who are willing to adapt because things change,” said Ehrich. “We do have long term intentions but in the short-term, we’re very agile in our intent and aspirations as a company and what we’re trying to achieve. We’re fearless. We go into new things and try.”

Ehrich said that fearlessness doesn’t end with the workday. Truly great hires and people focus on their skills as a part of life.

“We are looking for people who love technology and who are not only focused on technology while they’re inside the SMG office, but while they’re thinking and breathing and playing and growing their skills outside the office too.”

Visit SMG’s career page to learn more about their teams and open positions.

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This content is sponsored by Service Management Group.

SMG is a global leader in customer experience measurement, helping more than 450 brands around the globe to listen better, act faster, and outperform competitors.

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