Peter Drucker once wrote, “Identify the future that has already happened.” For my money, that future has transformed not just our industry, but all industries and all markets.

Nowadays it is harder and harder for companies to preserve traditional competitive advantages. In the 1950s, the carpet industry was the fastest growing industry behind color television and commercial airlines. Today, flat screen TVs are produced and sold all over the world. Almost every product imaginable has a multitude of alternative competitive models. Even the iPhone, which changed the way we use phones, now has countless competition.

Competing on the features and benefits of a product is more and more a race to the bottom, inevitably leading to commoditization. So more companies must realize they are not in the business of this widget or that, but rather in the business of people and giving them the right tools to change the customer experience. Providing value-added services is now the great differentiator.

In fact, as Mike Moore of Moore Leadership and Peak Performance, says, “Service is not enough anymore; being a solutions provider is not enough anymore. Everyone is a ‘solutions provider’ now. Today you need to go beyond solving problems and move toward seeking out and cultivating opportunities to make things better for your customer[s] in ways they haven’t imagined yet.”

Easy right? Not so much.

In our industry where competition with the mills has increased, we believe Franklin Flooring plays a very valuable role. We are in the best position to be the “service provider, problem solver and opportunity cultivator.” We are closer to the end user than our suppliers’ businesses can ever be. Not just in geographic proximity, but in terms of the role we play in the supply chain and day-to-day challenges our customers encounter. Flooring is not a finished product until it is properly installed.

Information technology can help differentiate at the outset and create a whole new way customers interact with the service professional. Although technology has become extremely important, it is the people that give technology the “impact, meaning, and purpose.” In the coming weeks, months and years, companies like the members of the Fuse Commercial Flooring Alliance, of which we at Franklin are a member, will be transforming the way customers purchase flooring.

We are already witnessing a surge of innovative and creative ways technology is being used to improve the customer’s experience of buying flooring. However, it is important the focus not be placed on the technology itself, but rather on the customer. If technology is not of, for and about people, it is simply a wasted resource.

While technological innovations have made great leaps in the flooring industry, for the most part, it takes the same time, energy, and effort to prep and install a floor in 2016 as it did in 1970.

But innovation has helped tremendously. For example, by equipping installers with smartphones we have dramatically improved the way a project is delivered. For example, we use Plan Grid to provide facility managers the capability to log service requests in their facility. Our field installers log in on their smartphone and update the status of the item. The facility manager then receives a real-time report with images marked directly onto a digital floor plan.

This kind of technology vastly improves our lines of communication, keeping facility managers connected to our team and the project, and ultimately makes the experience unique.

More than just flooring, we are in the business of helping our customers achieve the vision they have for their interior spaces. Our goal is to help deliver a finished interior space that tells a customer’s brand story.

Today, design and technology go hand-in-hand. We are adopting tools that help customers and designers visualize and grasp how flooring choices will play a role within the context of the overall project. Information technology is rapidly changing how we support the design process.Technology is playing a much bigger role—whether we are meeting via Skype to present finish boards, working with digital renderings, providing color-coded finish plans to present options and scenarios, or consulting with technical experts available through the Fuse Alliance network forums.

What’s more, our industry will eventually have to learn how to adopt business information management (BIM) in both the design and cost planning phases. There is a huge area of potential technological innovation to explore throughout these areas.

Connecting Nationwide

Many of our clients have expanded their operations from having a local reach to regional, national and even a global presence. We work with clients responsible for overseeing a large portfolio of properties over a vast expanse of geography. A reliable single source of accountability and responsibility for their projects is more important than ever. As part of the Fuse network, we are able to extend our reach across the entire country and, because of technology, work collaboratively with our member counterparts.

Technology available through the group is fueled by strong relationships throughout the network including members, key supplier partners and customers. Whether it is design, cost planning, timely jobsite surveys, procurement, logistics, inventory management, project delivery or quality control, our business is capable of working with a vast network of likeminded professionals in a way that gives our clients more muscle to get the job done while maintaining a single source of accountability and reporting.

Technology is being rolled out which allows our clients to control a virtual dashboard of their projects, giving them access to real-time reports, status photos from the field and the ability to manage their facilities’ flooring throughout the products’ entire lifecycle. Technology like this provides transparency, giving the client more control and peace of mind, especially when responsible for such a wide array of properties.

Our company consists of many millennials who are learning our business. We place a premium on recruiting the best talent, with proper on-boarding, training, coaching and motivating. We use LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter for recruiting. We have set up a company YouTube page (internal only), which includes training modules on how to use all the software we use in our business, as well as videos providing an overview of how to install the products we offer.

However, we are still a small, family-owned and -operated business, and these tools help us to maximize our resources. So that every associate offers world-class service, we conduct monthly training programs via Skype with Leadership and Peak Performance’s Moore. In general, technology can also motivate our associates. Learning how to use new apps and other software makes business more exciting for everyone.

It is important to understand how and when to use technology. Technology is an asset, but there is value in doing some things the good old-fashioned way.

Today, doing the simple, time-tested activities can easily set you apart from the competition. At times I am reminded—and remind my team—to simply slowdown and take the necessary steps to do it right the first time. Technology has facilitated the “quick and the easy” route so effectively we are often more prone to making errors and skirting right over them at the speed of a keystroke.

There are still times when the best way to do a quantity take-off is to produce a blueprint, break out a No. 2 pencil and carefully go through and do it by hand.

When issuing proposals to a client, how often do we write an email, attach a document and hit send? Most of the time.

However, sometimes it might be better to hit the road and see your customer face-to-face. Is there a more efficient way to do it? Sure, but efficient is not always effective.