It was 2016 and Snapchat was at the height of its power. After slowly climbing its way up the social media ladder, the app had successfully dominated the mass market. Everyone -- from my kids to the White House -- was addicted to the little yellow ghost.

But then something happened that signaled the beginning of the end: industry juggernauts Instagram and Facebook introduced "Stories", a feature that rivaled Snapchat's offering. Since then, the once-revered app has dropped to the bottom of the social media food chain.

Snapchat started out as a leader in innovation; it created a fresh, new way to communicate in an oversaturated social media market. But in the face of colossal competition, they failed to adapt their technology effectively: Snapchat's recent attempt to win back its dwindling user base backfired, big time.

Innovation for innovation's sake isn't smart business. To stay relevant in a tech-driven world, companies need to anticipate and adapt to their customers' needs first.

Tech Matters -- Even in Non-Tech Industries

Even in something as old school as junk removal, we pride ourselves on being forward-thinking. We've done some innovative things over the years, from revamping the franchise model, to crowdsourcing creative ideas from our network of owners, and creating our own online booking software.

Historically, we've innovated in smart ways by staying laser-focused on our customers and franchise partners. When we do turn to tech, we're prescriptive in how we use it. But as technology progresses more rapidly every day, the pressure is on companies to always be innovating. But if your so-called innovation isn't yielding tangible results, is it really innovative?

Tech has started to become more prevalent in our industry, with Amazon and new competitors breaking into our space. When it comes to technology, we admit we had started to lag behind -- it was time to think differently about innovation.

Tech Is Not The Strategy -- It's the Medium for Smashing Your Goals

In 2012, we took the first steps on a long road to becoming a fully customer-centric company. This meant we needed to spend more time and energy on technology. But to us, technology is not a strategy -- it is a tool. As we move forward, it will be the primary avenue to achieve our business objectives.

One of our strategic goals is to improve how we interact with customers; we want to provide a multi-channel service so our customers can reach us in a way (and at a time) that's convenient for them. All our efforts in innovation aim to make their lives easier. If we didn't cater to their communication preferences -- which have become predominantly tech-based -- we'd be at a huge disadvantage. Imagine if your favorite clothing company asked you to phone in your orders, instead of offering an online system. Chances are you'd never buy from them again!

To up our customer service game, we re-evaluated our relationship with technology. We already knew that our customers value time over money (that's why they hire us instead of getting rid of junk themselves), but we wondered how we could make this even easier for them. People increasingly are relying on text and mobile to interact with brands. It was time for us to get on board.

That's when we came across a San Francisco-based startup called Delete. Compared to 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, they're newcomers in the junk removal world -- but they were using technology in a way we'd never considered. Instead of offering free onsite estimates like we've been doing for decades, they had a new way to connect with customers: all you have to do is text in a photo of your junk and presto -- instant quote.

Delete's technology allows them to connect with customers through a channel they already use every day. It also provides customers with price certainty before a technician shows up at the door, which makes it easier (and faster) for our truck teams to serve them. Instead of trying to compete, we decided to acqui-hire the company to help us become even more customer centric and to facilitate our competitive advantage in the long term.

Out-of-Office Innovation: The New Way to Gain an Edge

There are pivotal moments in any business where you have two choices: adapt and push ahead, or ignore the signs of stagnancy and fall behind. To be a leader in your industry, you need to go beyond your comfort zone, look past what you thought was possible, and learn from experts in the field. Finding Delete was one of those defining moments.

Bringing in outside experts has allowed us to work our innovation muscles through a tech-based lens. We're gaining the expertise and knowledge of forward-thinking entrepreneurs who will help drive our business forward. It also sets us on a strong trajectory to provide an even more exceptional customer experience.

Joining forces with Delete also gave us the opportunity to partner with an ambitious entrepreneur with true passion for his work. Delete continues to operate outside our organization, with its own distinct culture and team of innovators. We've learned that sometimes, out-of-office innovation is necessary to take your business to the next level.

So far, exploring the tech side of junk removal has opened up a whole new dimension of our business. But we never could have predicted its greatest contribution: inspiring a culture of innovative thinking that will propel us into the future.

Published on: Feb 28, 2018