Quest for Friction Less Experiences

Yesterday, I got to experience the WhatsApp payment flows. It surely felt like a neat friction-less 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 authenticating myself using my Amazon credentials –  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
  • It may be useful in the on-boarding or early days of consumer-product relationship. As confidence builds, some more steps can be reduced. Like this recent experience where my Credit Card limit enhancement was pitched and delivered at the optimal moment.
  • 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?

Good rules should be designed for higher adoption

How do we drive adoption for rules in a community, or even at a country level ?

Should a good rule be designed to make it easily enforceable too?

I think it should be.

If we want to build a society where most follow the rules, enforceability should be an important criteria.

To decide whether a new rule should be introduced or not. Whether an existing rule needs to be modified or scrapped.


It is my belief, that when we have rules that can be easily broken without any consequences, it sends a signal to the community. And this signal usually leads to a gradual loss of respect for the law of the land and for the fellow citizens. Read the explanation of the Broken Windows Theory

Effective rules implementation

Let me explain with an example of two rules, which most of us in India are familiar with

  • Front seat passengers should wear seat belts while traveling in a car
  • All vehicles should have a valid pollution-under-control (PUC) certificate

While both these were introduced in the last 20 years or so in NCR, the first one has seen significant levels of adoption whereas we all know that very few cars and bikes have a valid PUC certificate.


If you ask me, the reason is very simple.

For seat-belts, the fact that you are complying (or not) is visible each and every time you are driving. Any traffic-cop who sees you not wearing the seat belt can pull you over and issue a challan. So you run a very high risk of being punished if you are out on the road w/o wearing your seat belts.

Contrast this with the pollution certificate rule.

A traffic cop on the road has no clue if your vehicle currently has a valid PUC certificate or not. Hence the cop would rarely pull you aside asking for the certificate. It is usually asked for when you have already been stopped for some reason and they feel that they might put more pressure on you if you are w/o the PUC. Hence as car owners, we are usually not very afraid to drive w/o this certificate. The risk is just too low. And hence very few cars actually have a valid PUC certificate.

So while almost everyone knows that the laws need them to drive a non-polluting vehicle, very few actually end up doing so.

And I think its very simply just the issue of how easily the rule can be enforced.

In my opinion we should have few rules, but all should be enforced strictly.

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

Enterprise solutions – designing around the customer

A recent experience with a telecom co. brought back memories from my Credit Card days.

A customer issue is raised and gets escalated to the corporate team. The corporate team looks at the data (across systems) and decides to waive certain charges or settle the “issue”. Customer gets a promise from the manager at the corporate team and believes that all is well. But rarely so – the outsourced collections team calls up the customer – as they are NOT on a real time connected status. Customer records are sent to these teams on a batch basis, without a clearly defined process for update/recall.So what really happens is that this collections team will follow up again and repeat the same story to the customer that they have been doing in the past. The customer in turn would believe that the company has lost it and would raise hell, along with shifting his relationship to another brand.

What is usually the problem is not the intention or the motivations of the service providers, but the technology/process which is implemented. It is rarely done with the customer at the centre- such instances are considered one-off and not coded for. A big mistake for the current Telecom biggies, with lakhs of customers, thousands would fall in these “one-off” processes every month. wake up and ensure the customer commitment is delivered across all teams (inhouse or outsourced) and for all scenarios.

German Engineering but definitely Chinese manufacturing

Todays Times of India (TOI) was a pleasant surprise for most readers. The lucky few were the ones to experience a nice innovation in advertising – something that brought together the print and audio media like never before.

A full page Volkswagen ad had a small speaker with a recorded message about the German Engineering excellence etc. The message starts playing once you reach that page only as its activated by a photo-electric impulse.Am sure most people have been playing around with the device since morning and they will remember this for a long time to come.

I for one, was glad to see this simple yet powerful idea give brands much more mileage through a very traditional channel. Am also sure that if this campaign was delivered at a viable price, the electronic device had to be manufactured somewhere in China/Taiwan.

I quickly dismantled the thing to see whats inside & heres the bill of materials

– two batteries

– one photo sensor that completes the circuit

– round speaker

– Mother board for the gadget

To make the thing sturdy the batteries had a back jacket, which ensured that they would not move out place when the gadget is moved around.

Long live innovation & the global collaboration that can make it happen !