Quest for Friction Less Experiences

Yesterday, I got to experience the WhatsApp payment flows. It surely felt like a neat experience both for adding/mapping bank accounts and for in-chat payments.

And in my excitement I forwarded it to a friend who didn’t have any UPI handle so far. And I was surprised by the reaction.

How does WhatsApp know my bank account ??!! 

Payment friction

And frankly I had looked at it the other way round – they are showing me the specific account that I want to associate here.

And this got me thinking about friction in digital consumer experiences.

I remembered my Amazon experience.

I have recently changed my laptop and phone and each time I logged into my Amazon account from a new device/browser I got a security challenge. I had to enter a security code that was sent on my email.

Friction during logging in

This is inspite of me using my Amazon login id & password. So why the additional step? Why add to the friction of logging in?

  • Its a friction-less way of doing XYZ !
  • We have drastically reduced the friction in each transaction
  • Our platform provides the most friction less experience for ABC

Am sure like me, you keep hearing how every venture and corporate is focused on reducing friction and there by making it a significantly better experience for their consumers/stakeholders etc.

And I get it.

If I almost always use an offers platform to look for offers near me on a mobile app, it should not ask me to choose a city, then location etc – it should just pick my location and show me the offers. I get it.

Similarly, if my online or in-app payment process need an OTP and there is a way to automatically read the OTP rather than needing me to toggle from the merchant app to the messaging app and back. It is definitely so much cooler and easier.


What I don’t get is how suddenly friction has become such a bad thing.

Way back in my school days, we were taught in Physics that while friction caused wear and tear, it also was the main reason wheels work – friction prevents slippage and aids rotation. Snow chains for tyres – aid driver confidence by increased traction (apart from helping break the top ice layer).

My current thinking on friction less experiences is as follows:

  • All consumers are not same. What is a great experience for some may be a concern for others (elevators vs escalators) . Hence it may be best to have varying levels of friction available for consumers.
  • Friction can help build consumer confidence – esp amongst users concerned about security
  • Friction may be useful in the on-boarding or early days of consumer-product relationship. As confidence builds, some more steps can be reduced.
  • Friction is also an industry level phenomenon. As an industry matures and consumer confidence builds, need for a faster, smoother way to do the same old task would become stronger.

What do you think?

Why Financial Services Cos need Designers and fast !

I just came back from depositing a cheque into a relative’s HDFC Bank account. I know, its a crime that I did not use the Online Money Transfer services, especially since I am a self proclaimed Digital guy working in the Financial Services sector.

Anyways, I was filling in the deposit slip with details of the cheque and the beneficiary account details and suddenly there was this huge frustration in filling the same information twice.  HDFC Bank does not use a carbonated Deposit slip like Citibank India does. And it stuck me that once I have experienced the Citibank’s way of filling the information once, I refuse to be forced through the seemingly ill-designed process. I eventually did fill in the bank’s half of the deposit slip but just scribbled the bare essentials in my half of it.

So it got me thinking, why is it that our banks and other Financial Services companies do not “design” with the customer-experience at the center. In today’s world when better designed products and services are beating-the-shit out of their established competitors, why are Banks and Insurance Firms so slow to react.

The rise of well-designed products and services is not something which is purely outside of BFSI sector. Any payments industry person would tell you that Square is a serious threat to VISA and MasterCard in specific business segments. Square’s well designed product and application just removed a few major hurdles in the overall process.

The Branch

The branch is probably the single most important customer touchpoint.  You might argue otherwise that your call-center or the website gets more traffic and handles more transcations. But the reality is that its at your branch that a true face-to-face interaction happens and that too because the customer wanted it. The customer is so keen to do that transaction or resolve that query that she has taken the pains to walk to you.

Have you been to a branch of a Public Sector bank? Chances are that the iron-grill was chained and you had to take care while entering the branch premise. Sounds familiar? What do you think a customer feels while entering such a premise? Is he in a mood to listen to someone telling him to buy an Insurance product or is he likely to just walk out of the branch as soon as his chosen transaction for the day is done?

I recently went to a TCS powered Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) and boy did it feel like a whole different world. The premises were clean, air-conditioned, there was line and crowd control. A token system which ensured timely processing, a display announcing which desk you had to report to and the works. Compared to my first experience this was a complete contrast.

While getting your branch to look like the Jabong ad  might be an easy task, what is needed is a design oriented approach towards all the aspects of the customer touch points. Do we expect the customer to wait on us, if yes, is there a waiting area. Are our clients senior citizens, if yes, what facilities do we have for them (say dedicated desks). Do we serve them just water or tea/coffee too? Is it a self-service kiosk or we have a kitchen hidden somewhere. This very simple question is something that many MNC companies have failed to understand in the Indian context. I have been to a few corporate reception areas, where there is no one to ask you for water, leave aside tea/coffee. If you serve Indian customers, you might have created a big wall right there. Its part of our culture and just because its a corporate set-up we cannot ignore it.


Beyond the branch

Opportunity to design better goes beyond just the branch or the physical world interactions. Here are a few others that are ripe for design-disruption:

  • Credit/Debit-Card chargeslips. I remember that a French company presented to us way back in 2004 about printing chargeslips with detachable coupons. In almost a decade the only variations one has seen is probably an ad on the reverse instead of the usual T&Cs. The key thing that any designer would probably do is ask why a customer is given a chrageslip in the first place. If this is to keep as a proof of transcation, then most of current thermal printers beat the whole purpose. The ink just fades away. Does the customer need it to file for expense claims and reimbursement? How does the customer store it? Does it stay in their wallets or does it go into some envelope or drawer. I don’t know the answers but I sure know that chargelsips in their current avatar just don’t cut it.
  • Websites. I remember reading the findings of a Kern report which states that almost all Life Insurance co’s websites had a poor overall user experience.

“Most online insurance websites provided minimal details about the policy, mostly hidden in a PDF brochure, making it very difficult for the customers to find details. The customers had to spend time to search for information, which was distributed throughout the website, in the absence of any reasonable user flow.”

  • Even Mobile apps. A friend on my Facebook network posted this. Enough said.

American Express App