Demystifying the payment experience for micro-loan borrowers in Indonesia
Date / Location
Nov. 2014 - Jan. 2015
East & Central Java, Indonesia
Service design research
Zidisha is a nonprofit website that gives people access to interest-free microloans in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Senegal and Zambia.
In Indonesia, Zidisha partnered with a cellular provider to let borrowers make cash transactions through their phones. This was supposed to make it easier for borrowers to cash out loans and make repayments. Instead, complaints started pouring in. Because Zidisha does not have staff in Indonesia, it was hard to understand what was happening. Why were people having difficulty with these mobile transactions, and what advice should Zidisha give them?
To answer these questions, I went to East and Central Java. I conducted interviews with Zidisha's borrowers, spoke with representatives from the cellular provider, personally tested the payment system, and observed borrowers as they made transactions.
This produced insights that enabled me to:
- Give Zidisha a clear understanding of the mobile transaction experience, from account registration to payment processing.
- Improve Zidisha's instructions to borrowers by identifying the specific steps needed to successfully make transactions.
- Identify key contextual factors that limit people's ability to make transactions.
- Identify segments of users who would have the most difficulty making transactions.
- Recommend workarounds and alternative service providers for Zidisha to explore.
What kept people from signing up for the mobile payment service?
- It was hard to figure out where to register. The mobile payment service that Zidisha relied on was still new in Indonesia. Only a small number of the cellular carrier's offices were equipped to register new subscribers. They were all located in larger cities. This was a major barrier for borrowers who lived outside of large cities. Some had to travel more than two hours to find an office that could sign them up for the service.
- Even at locations that were capable of registering new subscribers, many employees were not trained to sign people up.
Why were transactions so hard?
- According to the mobile payment service's brochure, customers could make deposits and withdrawals at two popular convenience store chains. When I tested the service in several stores, however, I learned that very few clerks knew how to process transactions. Many didn't know that the service existed. This took some time to piece together, because several cashiers simply said, "We don't have that here."
- Due to poor internet connections, some convenience stores were unable to consistently process mobile transactions.
- Indonesia's electrical grid is not always reliable. Blackouts ("mati lampu") occasionally happen, which can prevent users from making mobile transactions. One day, when I was trying to demo the service for prospective users, we failed to make a successful transaction after visiting two grocery stores. The first store had a spotty internet connection, and the second store was affected by a power outage.
Zidisha could take the following steps to continue to improve the payment experience:
- Work with Zidisha borrowers to crowdsource information about which locations transactions. Identify where successful transactions have been made, and which locations are not able to do them.
- Find out what services are being used frequently and successfully in Indonesia, and seek out information about how to form relationships with those companies.
Think beyond the product.
As researchers and designers, we need to remember that user experience extends beyond the product itself. A person's experience can be affected by innumerable factors that are beyond our control -- including other products, services and systems. What assumptions are we making about the user's context?
How things work 'on paper' is rarely how they work in practice.
When Zidisha was trying to understand the mobile payment service it had partnered with in Indonesia, it relied on information from the service's website and company representatives. The problem was that their description of the service was only accurate under ideal conditions, and didn't reflect reality on the ground. The cellular company did not directly handle mobile transactions, for example; it relied on clerks at select convenience stores to do that. By chatting with these clerks, I learned that many of them had not been trained how to process these particular transactions. (One cashier confided to me that their manager had left an instruction manual in their closet, but no one had read it.)