Minnesota's top workplaces are investing in the latest technology to stay ahead of the game.
They spend small fortunes on training employees to master new skills and on smartphone applications that track the locations of their customers. For example, real estate firm Re/Max Results launched a new way for agents to monitor clients' Facebook updates, while Maple Grove Hospital has found a solution to keep nurses from spending nearly an hour of every shift to look for patient supplies. As a result, companies say their employees and customers are happier and more loyal.
It's a cutthroat real estate market out there, but Re/Max Results believes it is helping its agents stay ahead by investing $1 million in the latest technology.
The Twin Cities-based real estate franchise launched a new system called ResultsConnect in May that lets brokers keep better track of interested homeowners online. For example, an agent can monitor all of their clients' Facebook updates and tweets through the system and quickly print out postcards wishing them happy birthday or well wishes on the anniversary of their home. In the past, it was a much more involved process.
"Our agents need those high-tech tools to leverage their success in the marketplace," said Marshall Saunders, broker and owner.
Re/Max Results also launched a new smartphone app earlier this year, which uses GPS tracking to notify customers on nearby homes for sale.
Customers can use the camera on their smartphones to point in the direction of the home, giving them necessary stats and additional photos. More than 6,000 people have downloaded the app.
"It makes the experience enjoyable, rather than just sitting at your desktop," Saunders said. "This hits [customers] right where they want the most information."
The Nerdery, an ambitious team of 341 nerds, is always brushing up on new skills to build the best websites for its clients. Employees at the Bloomington-based firm can take work time to learn new online tools such as Zend Framework or animation enabler Flash that they can apply to future projects. The Nerdery also has staff members available to assist developers and mentor them.
"We do believe that the more skills that the programmers can have, the better off they're going to be and we're going to be," said spokesman Mark Malmberg.
The Nerdery also offers a program that trains developers to lead projects, which the firm says will help it become a stronger organization.
Duluth-based women's apparel retailer Maurices Inc. is making it easy for shoppers to browse its stores with a new app it launched last spring.
As soon as customers enter the store, the app alerts them to new items that were added to shelves and current sales.
"We really want to help the consumer make more informed purchasing decisions and give them the most current information," said President George Goldfarb.
The company, which caters to young women in small towns, has also ramped up its social media presence by organizing an online contest. Maurices challenged real customers to step up as company models, with customers voting online for the winner. Twelve girls were selected as models and the company donated $10,000 to a local charity of their choice in their hometowns.
"It's really important to us to give back to our communities," Goldfarb said. "We set out to find real girls in all sizes who really represent what Maurices is all about: fashion, fun and giving back."
MAPLE GROVE HOSPITAL
At Maple Grove Hospital, officials made a conscious effort to resolve a chronic problem facing the nation's health centers. Studies have shown nurses spend 48 minutes each shift looking for supplies.
In 2009, the hospital installed locked closets for each patient with three days of supplies to assist nurses. When the materials are running low, nurses can use a device to call other departments to restock the closet. Maple Grove Hospital's system allows nurses to put all that time back into patient care.
"It gives [patients] more time to get to know their nurse and makes them have a better relationship," said spokeswoman Jennifer Krippner.
"Relationships are kind of the key to having that ideal patient experience."
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712