Today we hear from Ashley Edgar—Director, Product Development—to learn about SMG’s comprehensive approach to product innovation, how client input influences our product roadmap, and what recent tech enhancements she’s most excited about.
You started your career at SMG on the client support/success side of things – how have learnings from your previous roles impacted or made you think differently about product development?
I spent my first seven years at SMG in our Client Insights department in various roles—first as a Project Coordinator helping clients implement and maintain their CX programs and later as an Account Manager working side-by-side with clients to uncover insights within their customer feedback.
Having that firsthand knowledge and years of understanding around how clients use our products to solve real challenges and understanding the successes and barriers they encountered when trying to drive action across their organization is something I draw upon every day.
I love how the clients I worked with 15 years ago on the Client Insights side are still SMG clients today. It’s been great to see how our partnerships have continued to evolve together and it’s exciting that I get to continue to help them advance their programs and tackle challenges from the product side of our business now.
SMG is uniquely positioned as a software with a service (SwaS) vendor. How does that holistic approach influence the company’s technology strategy?
SMG’s approach helps provide a greater understanding of our clients’ businesses and challenges, and their successes and learnings around achieving CX program goals. This helps us focus and prioritize our product roadmap to ensure we’re delivering enhancements that provide the most value.
We are continuously adding automation and self-serve capabilities in our platform which result in efficiencies in program implementation and the ability to uncover more and more insights within the platform. This allows our professional services teams to focus their time helping clients build upon those insights and drive actions within their organizations that ultimately improve customer experiences and increase program ROI.
The strong client relationships we build through our SwaS approach also means our clients are willing to provide honest and insightful feedback around new product releases, which helps us more quickly iterate on those enhancements.
How does user experience come into product design and how is SMG poised to excel in addressing product usability?
We have a very strong UX team that plays an integral role in our product development processes. With any enhancement initiative, they provide persona research and pain point assessments up front which influence key decisions. They also design prototypes that are reviewed and iterated upon throughout multiple client and internal stakeholder feedback sessions to ensure everything we are building has been validated with end users before our technology teams start development.
I think SMG is poised to excel in this area because our UX team is super passionate about the work they do and love talking directly with our clients to understand how we can improve their day-to-day experiences and make our products more intuitive and useful.
What technology solution of SMG’s are you most excited about?
I’m very excited about the investments we’ve made in text analytics and the upcoming enhancements we have planned in this space. It’s an area where we’ve focused on AI and machine learning techniques to help add big efficiencies for our clients. Unstructured text is such a wealth of information, but it can be time consuming to glean actionable insights from the overwhelming amount of information provided in this feedback.
One of my favorite enhancements this past year was the release of our Product Impact report. It’s designed to show which products or topics in unstructured data are having the biggest impact on key experience drivers such as Quality, Speed or Overall Satisfaction—providing guidance on where to focus and how to prioritize improvement efforts.
We have a restaurant client that recently used the report to understand how their breakfast items were performing and what specific issues were driving dissatisfaction. They then used this information to improve those specific pain points that were driving quality and accuracy issues and re-launched their breakfast menu.
In terms of upcoming text analytics enhancements, we are developing new proprietary state of the art text analytics processing methods that incorporate the latest machine learning methodologies. These new methods will provide clients with even greater accuracy and improvements across sentiment, categories, product and AI-driven themes detection.
You do a lot of work with brands still in the demo/presentation stage – what part of that is most rewarding to you?
There is nothing better than hearing directly from a brand how something our teams have spent time planning and developing is really helping drive efficiencies or make a big difference in their organization. On the product and technology side you spend so much time thinking conceptually about these enhancements, then breaking them down into smaller parts working through development and finally bringing all the pieces together for launch.
We receive a lot of client feedback along the way, but having those concrete examples around how they are using the finished product, really brings to life the impact of all that hard work. I love sharing that feedback with our internal teams—it’s so rewarding to know the work you are doing day to day is making a real difference. And it makes our teams smarter and more knowledgeable around how our clients use our products and where they find value, leading to even better enhancements in the future.
But I’d have to say what is most rewarding to me about these interactions is that I am always learning something new. Whether that be insight into our client’s businesses or a specific challenge they are facing, I get to use that information to think creatively about how our current solutions can help solve new challenges and it helps spur new ideas for roadmap enhancements and innovation. It also helps validate that we are focused on the right roadmap initiatives.
What’s your advice for females looking to break into a historically male-dominated field like technology?
Don’t let traditional stereotypes deter you! Look for organizations that value the strengths you bring to a role as an individual, regardless of your personal identity. Diversity makes teams stronger and better equipped to tackle challenges. Smart employers recognize that and I’m constantly encouraged by the increased amount of diversity I see in technology teams across both SMG and other companies.
Interested in becoming part of our team? We’d love to have you! Check out our open opportunities.