Blockchain seems to be the biggest thing since the invention of sliced bread. Expectations are high, and many believe Blockchain has the potential to disrupt entire industries, starting with the financial sector. Tier 1 banks and insurers are investing heavily in the development of Blockchain-based services, not only internally but also with external ‘help’ (i.e.: by leveraging the power of FinTechs — it seems that the battle for the Unicorns has only just begun).

Cool, right? But how many of you have actually used or seen a workingBlockchain solution? What is the exact added value for us in daily life? How can it contribute to existing product-service experiences, or even better: radically improve them?

With that exact question in mind we started a Blockchain hackathon last week (coincidentally, at the same day Facebook released their Messenger Bot api). Would we be able to create, design and develop a truly value adding service, built on Blockchain? How can we capitalise its power to take away a pain that exists in an everyday service we use?

During an intense 3-day design and coding process, we were to find out…

Product warranty can be an agonising phenomenon

For those of you familiar with running a hackathon or bootcamp, you won’t be surprised we started off with a brainstorm (and yes: an abundant amount of post-its were present). We listed all possible use cases and associated domains we could think of, for which Blockchain has the potential to disrupt its current business (e.g. e-identity, storing digital assets, cryptocurrency, supply chain management, etc.)

After going through 40+ ideas across a range of domains, we agreed upon a‘painful experience’ that each of us had experienced at least once: handling product warranty. Rings a bell? Ever lost the receipt of a TV that decided to stop working overnight? Ever found back the receipt you had been searching for hours, only to discover it was unreadable thanks to the ink that spontaneously decided to dissolve? Ever questioned the legitimacy or origins of a second-hand tablet, some fancy speakers or a smartphone that you found on Craigslist? Not to mention the witness of in-store disputes between a dissatisfied customer and the company-policy-abiding clerk about a lost, damaged or torn receipt.

This led to the problem statement:

“How can we design a service that makes activating, using and changing product warranty easier, more secure and tamper-proof — by using Blockchain?”

We defined 3 design principles in creating our MVP

Before we got our hands dirty in the muddy waters of serious coding and service/UX design, we defined three design principles in creating our new service:

  1. On-boarding new users should be extremely easy
  2. It should be feasible: ready to implement today, not tomorrow
  3. Integrating our service at retailers should not require them to change their existing sales process, nor infrastructure

Let me very briefly explain points 1 and 2.

First of, we think most people find product warranty — and insurance, for that matter — a rather ‘boring’ matter, like saving for your pension or buying a safety helmet before you go out cycling. It’s nothing more than a necessity and only really becomes important when shit hits the fan (read: your $800 Pioneer tabletop suddenly decides to only play the ‘Sound Of Silence’). Therefore, we want to ensure users shouldn’t have to take any hurdles and make it super easy to onboard: ideally in just one single step.

Secondly, we’re designing a service that can be implemented and used today. Some of us have the tendency to design amazingly innovative solutions that could truly change the world, only with the small caveat that we would need the blood of an Alien, an extract of the sun’s soil and the engine of a flying car. If we truly want to show the potential of Blockchain now we need to solve an immediate problem and be pragmatic and realistic in doing so.

‘Core’ MVP: putting warranty on Blockchain with minimal on-boarding

Our MVP (or, as Laurence interestingly rebranded the term, ‘MLP’) is a very lightweight solution to a heavy problem. It allows users to add their receipt information on blockchain, by using a Facebook Messenger bot (yes, we’re talking about the FB chatbot api that was released on April 12th, 2016).

Wait… why did you use Facebook Messenger? Well, the answer is obvious: people are becoming ‘app tired’. From the 60+ apps people have installed, they only use 5. Downloading and installing yet another app, firmly goes against our 1st design principle (which was: ‘extremely easy on-boarding’). By offering our service through an existing channel (such as FB Messenger), you take away a huge hurdle in engaging new users. Design for existing channels, don’t make force people to come to yours.

“By offering our service through an existing channel (such as FB Messenger), you take away a huge hurdle in engaging new users. Design for existing channels, don’t force people to come to yours. Now that the Facebook bot api is released, this finally becomes feasible.”

Another enormous advantage of using the new FB chatbot is of course that you can automise the entire process, without any human interference.

That being said, here’s a little process overview that explains the steps on a very high level:

So what’s going on here, exactly?

  1. The user receives a receipt, like always.
  2. Yet this time, it includes a uniquely generated QR-code* that holds all information of the purchased product (item, serial number, date- & timestamp, etc.).
  3. With it, he receives instructions to find the ‘warranty bot’ on Facebook Messenger.
  4. There, he can send a picture of the receipt to the FB Messenger bot.
  5. After doing this, our engine unwraps the QR-code and stores all product information on the blockchain.

Easy as that! Your receipt is now safely stored in the blockchain ledger. It cannot be tampered with: nobody can delete, alter or even check its contents, without having the private key. The user can now safely throw out his paper receipt and still be assured of an honest warranty claim handling when necessary.

*: We’re using a QR-code so that the retailer doesn’t have to change anything to its Point of Sale infrastructure, other than generating a unique code after payment, printed on the receipt. He’s also not required to fill out any contact details (name, email address or telephone): Facebook is used as the unique identifier. This ties in very nicely with our 2nd and 3rd Design Principle (feasibility & retail integration without changes to infrastructure)

…So what happens next?

Okay, great. Now what? How do I view my stored warranty? Well, at the moment you store you warranty for the first time, a warranty-profile is created. You’ll get a direct link in FB Messenger to that directs to a web-based profile, right after the bot confirms your successful warranty entry;

 

Now it becomes really interesting!

  • In the home view, you can find the newly added product, as well as any previously stored products
  • Then, if your rushed the decision not to buy insurance at the time your were in-store, you can still do so now — with just one click
  • When, after a year or so, you decide to sell your product, the blockchain-stored warranty can be seamlessly transferred by connecting to eBay, Craigslist or Amazon or any other marketplace, through their respective plugin or api. This ensures optimum safety for both you and the buyer. No more disputes about receipts!
  • Finally, you could even go one step further and view the product’s history. This shows the asset’s mutations on blockchain, giving an honest, transparant view of previous owners, warranty extensions and other key-events.

A brand new day for customers, retailers and insurers

Will blockchain indeed disrupt entire industries? Yes, we believe so. Its possibilities are virtually endless: the ability to store assets in a safe and secure, tamper-proof way, opens up a whole new world for financial institutes, retailers, governments and other industries. What we’ve learned from our hackathon only underlines this belief: we were able to create a functioning blockchain MVP that could potentially make a great impact in its industry. If we had been exploring a different theme, its impact would have been just as big — it’s all about finding added value and translating it to customer and business value.

Our particular MVP could disrupt the way we track and handle warranty and insurance claims, sell products secondhand and buy additional insurance for our brand new products (this product can be anything, from an electronic device to a car). The business potential for new use cases and revenue models is high. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Buying extended warranty and/or product insurance after receiving a notification about the expiration date of your warranty
  • The user gets complete overview of purchased consumer goods with warranty. As such, it resembles his or her complete household, making it easier for insurers to estimate the total value and monthly fees. As such, it acts as a ‘digital vault’
  • This digital vault would be of immense value to the retailers, banks and insurers: it would allow them to recommend product deals, product combinations and various kinds of insurances
  • When users buy a new camera, the system detects the ‘old one’ being still present in the list and sends a push notification/recommendation to sell it on an online marketplace
  • The insurer (or even a bank) could offer this service in its current app as a plugin (perhaps by means of a widget), thus offering all of its services under one roof for the end user.
  • Viewing product history is really a recording of everything that happened to the product. This creates an enhanced product-buyer relationship and increases business transparency (e.g. for retailers and suppliers)
  • Retailers can extend the chatbot by developing automated services for it (e.g. product offerings, tips & tricks, product updates, etc.), without having them to download a dedicated app

Currently, our MVP is a white-labeled solution (which means that it’s not branded). This service could be provided by an insurer, a bank or a large retail chain (e.g. Amazon) or even by a combination of these parties. Most notably it will be very interesting to see how this space unfolds for insurers, over the next years. On a similar note, the Facebook Messenger interface is interchangeable for any other (existing) channel, such as WhatsApp, a banking or insurance app or even a dedicated website.

To go short, we think that the combination of blockchain and an instant messaging bot creates a solid, safe and transparent solution on one hand, all while keeping a friendly, low barrier user experience on the other.