Creating a truly seamless and engaging customer experience is no small task. Building omni-channel capability is highly complex, requiring elements such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to enable a single view of the customer, campaign management and loyalty management tools. Additionally, embedding a customer-first mentality within an organisation requires integration from all parts of the business.

Although not impossible, as demonstrated by a few ‘Digital Leaders‘ such as Burberry, these programmes require a strong leadership vision, a substantial amount of investment, and often a bit of luck to succeed. This is particularly true for global organisations aiming to create solutions that target diverse customer groups.

So whilst these large scale programmes are underway – which can often take several years to implement – what can be done in the meantime? The concept of frugal innovation can provide you with a unique perspective.


Frugal innovation

Frugal innovation (or frugal engineering) is a form of creative problem-solving commonly associated with developing economies. It can be defined as ‘the ability to create more economic and social value using fewer resources. Not creating the perfect solution, but creating more value at lower cost’ (Navi Radjou)’. Some examples of frugal innovation are:

  • A project unit for schools made out of a torch, lunchbox and phone (Vinay Venkatraman)
  • A low cost eCommerce solution based on SMS that was developed for the Nigerian Market (Mobiashara)
  • Low cost computers such as Rasberry Pi and Arduino (IoT) that enable creative prototyping and maker-movements
  • The Indian Mangalyaan spacecraft that was created with 10x less budget than NASA

Source: Wired 2012

The keyword here is constraint

What can be done quickly, simply and cheaply, without requiring new technologies to implement? What are the things that can be done now, despite all the constraints you might have?

Some examples of this approach include:

  • Starbucks asking for your name to write on your coffee cup to add a more personal touch
  • Pizza Hut using their existing packaging (the pizza box) to turn customers’ smartphones into movie projectors that they can watch films through whilst enjoy their product
  • Pret A Manger entrusting store staff with a budget to give a free coffee to their favourite customers
  • Apple’s customer workshops, using their existing store presence to provide iPad drawing classes to give inspiration to customers
  • Disney creating an opening ceremony at their stores each day where the first child in-line places a key in the lock to magically unlock the store
  • Balvenie Whisky creating a special edition ‘Limited Expression’, which they posted to targeted customers and invited them to an exclusive online tasting session with their Chief Distiller
  • The fun, easily identifiable copywriting style of Naked Wines

These examples provide some novel answers to improving customer experience, but the aim is to challenge traditional thinking by getting back-to-basics and using existing resources in new ways.

A key enabler for frugal innovation within organisations can be found within a Test & Learn methodology. Focus on your customer needs and wants, start fast and fail early, and test ideas that take iterative steps towards improving your customer experience.

The lessons learned from these tests can also be actively fed into overall transformation programmes that are ongoing within your business. This will help you to stay focused on what really matters – the customer – and begin to deliver benefits sooner rather than later.

To find out more about frugal innovation, take a look at this Ted Talk by Navi Radjou.