Improving user experience in identity proofing

May 10, 2021 Mark Opland

Now, if there’s anything we can all agree on, I think it’s that 2020 was not a normal year by any means. The world changed, and as the physical world stood still, the digital world accelerated. Our work, personal, and family lives all came crashing together—from figuring out virtual homeschooling to how to navigate the grocery store.

There’s a running joke that it was COVID rather than your CEO or CTO that led your company’s digital transformation this year, and we’ve certainly seen this reflected in the marketplace.

On average, digital offerings have leapfrogged seven years of progress in a matter of months. This seismic shift towards digital channels will continue after COVID as businesses reap the benefits. 

94% of financial services companies said they were confident that fintech would help to grow their company’s revenue over the next two years—and this makes sense, right? 

New technologies enable new functions/features, improve ease-of-use, lower costs (acquisition), increase operational efficiency, broadening consumer base and reach.

Along with this shift for businesses, we’ve seen fundamental changes to consumer behavior, specifically the growing shift to online channels. Under lockdown and unable to access brick and mortar, as usual, we’ve warmed to the idea of using e-commerce for everything, from grocery shopping to financial transactions. Consumers are three times likelier now than before the crisis to say that their future customer interactions will be digital in nature.

What we’ll see, even post-vaccine is an increasingly omnichannel society in which the physical and digital worlds will come together in a way that makes it much easier and convenient for people to buy and access the services they need. 

So what does this mean for identity proofing?

Simply put, every customer interaction with your products and services should be carefully considered and purposeful. 

This starts with deeply understanding people’s attitudes and behaviors regarding digital identity and accessing services online. We must take time to understand our customers, their needs, motivations and the challenges they face when using our products and services.

We know this because our team at Onfido invests significant effort into talking directly to our users and observing them using our products. As a result, we’ve been able to tailor and improve our user experience to meet a diverse set of needs, environments and use cases.

In doing so, we’ve made a surprising observation: A truly frictionless experience is not necessarily the optimal outcome when it comes to identity. 

When removing friction compromises other usability constraints such as user security and safety, it can actually be harmful to both users and businesses, especially when designing highly critical systems. 

Adding strategically architected friction can guide users in an intended direction, better prepare them for success, and ensure that your business gets the strongest signals on which to make security decisions. In our own work at Onfido, we’ve directly observed the benefits of adding purposeful and thoughtfully designed moments of friction to our users.

There’s a great example of this called the Locksmith Paradox:

locksmith picking a lock

When a locksmith is new, they are slow. But as they get more skilled, they can look at the lock and open it in 5 seconds flat. But doing that will impact the customer in three ways:

  1. There's an Emotional impact: The customer will be embarrassed it was so easy, and they wasted the locksmith’s time.
  2. It changes the customer's perception of value: They will immediately get annoyed that they have to pay so much for five seconds of work.
  3. It impacts their sense of security/trust: They will never feel safe with that (or any other) lock ever again. 

The combination of these three things means that customer satisfaction actually goes down the better at your job you are.

Experienced locksmiths quickly learn to take their time—They might poke at the lock with various tools from their toolkit or blow into the lock with compressed air (which accomplishes nothing), then "click!" it comes open, and the client is SUPER GRATEFUL.

By adding purposeful and deliberate friction to the experience, locksmiths have improved outcomes for themselves and their clients. Our digital experiences are precisely the same.

So, when evaluating and optimizing for friction on your own platforms, I’ll leave you with three pieces of advice:

  • First, we must respond to the seismic shift in customer expectations. How you handle identity is not only important at onboarding but throughout the entire customer journey. The onboarding phase is critical because if you get that part right, you have a lot more confidence in your customers on your platform. This shift to digital that we’ve been talking about is a massive opportunity to meet our customers where they are and to add tangible value to their lives.
  • Secondly, exceeding customer expectations starts with deeply understanding your customer's needs. Take the time to observe them using your products in real environments, and you’ll start to see patterns emerging around the friction they experience and what you can to do respond.
  • Finally, look for that balance when designing experiences in ID proofing, consent and authentication. As our Locksmith taught us, it is helpful to distinguish between negative friction—the kind that makes your customers frustrated and annoyed—and positive friction, the type that offers tangible benefits to people. Being mindful of this will help you manage their perception of your value and improve their security and emotional response to your brand.

Want to learn where identity verification fits into your user experience, and how you can optimize it to give you, and your customers, the best results? Read our report.

About the Author

Mark Opland

Mark is VP of Design at Onfido. An all-round user experience, product design and information architecture expert, Mark has spent over twenty years building digital experiences that connect people to the world around them. At Onfido, Mark is responsible for guiding Onfido’s product design, UX research and brand design teams. Prior to joining Onfido, Mark held positions at Facebook, Xero and Wells Fargo - as well as in the agency world, working as Chief Creative Officer at Comrade.

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