Every company wants to implement emerging technologies to improve the customer experience and improve relationships with customers, but who among us can honestly say we roll out these new technologies in a way that puts a smile on the customer's face? How does a businessperson innovate in a way that reduces friction for the customer?

To answer that question, I turned to Katie Finnegan, Principal at Store No 8. Finnegan is an experienced entrepreneur, builder, and technologist with a passion for next generation retail. Formerly a Senior Director at Jet.com, Finnegan dived into a new challenge as the Founder & Principal of Store No 8 after Jet's acquisition by Walmart. She was tasked with developing the incubation strategy at Store No 8, which serves as the incubation arm of Walmart eCommerce and Jet.com.

Finnegan is one of the individuals I was fortunate enough to interview for a series on the year ahead, Big Ideas for 2018, in which I asked a number of my favorite award-winning marketing experts, authors, and other thought leaders -- as well as some of Firebrand Group's own digital strategy and branding experts -- to recommend one "Big Idea" that companies can leverage to get ahead in 2018.

I asked Finnegan for her advice in part because of her penchant for driving innovation forward. Store No 8 went from concept to launch in six months, including gaining internal stakeholder buy-in on its approach, strategy, brand identity, and structure. That's an impressive feat in most companies, but even more impressive considering Walmart's size. Finnegan's big idea for 2018 is that emerging technologies will "unlock" the customer journey and impact the customer experience in a major way.

Imagine all of the high friction, low perceived value experiences that you have to deal with every day, from interactions with customer service to shipping confirmations. In the future, says Finnegan, these "high friction, low perceived value customer journeys will be simple and easy." That way, "customers can spend time and energy how they want, and technology will truly enhance that experience."

These customer journeys will not only be simpler, they will also be better tailored to the individual customer, making them more effective. Finnegan notes that the use of emerging technologies "will allow customers' investments to better align with their preferences."

Of course, while there are plenty of opportunities available for companies that do embrace emerging technologies, there are also numerous pitfalls that companies can fall into unless they are careful. In Finnegan's opinion, the number one thing that brands and retailers get wrong or miss altogether when implementing new technologies is to focus too much on the short term and not on the bigger picture. "It is important to focus on the leapfrog, not the incremental," she advises. "When you start with an assumption of success at scale and work backwards, the steps you take to get there are different."

As a result, Finnegan is a big advocate of the concept of working backwards, "especially when thinking about building businesses based on emerging technologies and ideas that are truly radical and transformational." Approaching an issue using this mindset allows businesses to focus on their vision for the future instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of the present.

From an emerging technology perspective, Finnegan draws inspiration from other companies, all of which have one thing in common: they put the customer at the center. For her, technology is important, but it is a means to end - the end being the customer experience. "It's often easy to focus on technology as the center of a company's business model, but it is critical to focus on the customer experience and position technology as the path to get there," she cautions. The question that every company should be asking is, "What does the customer want?" Technology is what will enable companies to exceed the customer's expectations.

As for the most underrated emerging technology or tech trend to pay attention to in 2018? "IoT," Finnegan says definitively, attesting to the transformative power of the Internet of Things. "A connected home, a connected life. This is what will fundamentally change the way we shop and live." Here's wishing you the best of luck in fundamentally improving your own innovation efforts in 2018.

Published on: Dec 27, 2017