Digital vs physical services

We’ve been involved in a service design project that involves a fully digital online onboarding and contracting experience. However, the actual service is a physical one (in which you can reserve a physical storage space, for your excess stuff).

Before doing our research, our hypothesis was that most people would like to be able to enjoy this 100% digital onboarding and contracting process, removing the necessity to travel to the physical storage space and sign the contract with an ‘analogue’ signature.

After a research phase – that covered a variety of interviews, focus groups and brainstorms – we concluded our hypothesis was (mostly) incorrect: people do want to check out the product they’re receiving, before they sign for it. Not just because they want to ‘check what they buy’ first, but more so because of distrust in technology.

This is especially true for high complexity buying decisions, which is definitely the case for renting a self-storage space (for more on high vs low complexity buying processes, please see this article).

(Little side anecdote: the reason Jeff Bezos started selling physical, old fashioned books on Amazon, as its primary product, is exactly because of this reason: Jeff thought that a paper-based book was one of the few product that people don’t need to physically see, touch or inspect, before they come to a buying decision. Thus being a ’safe bet’ for Amazon to display in their online catalogue).

When we dive a bit deeper in the research activities (which were carried out in various areas throughout Mexico City), we’ve came to the following preliminary conclusions:

*: For a definition of socio-economic classes, please look here.

Although we had over 1,600 data points for this research, it doesn’t necessarily mean these results are non-disputable. However, it’s interesting to take quick look at some of the insights we gathered from this data:

  • Socio-economic classes A and B were clearly the most interested in using a fully digital service. They see digital and technology as a tool to improve their lives, and really understand that having more digital processes in their lives, will boost their overall effectiveness and efficiency
  • Class C+ is the last class that sees technology as a valid and ‘enriching’ way to close a contract, or do physical payments. They need to be assured the system’s security is as best as can be, so they feel comfortable adopting digital for those processes.
  • When we move into C an C-, things look pretty different. Often heard statements are:
    * “I prefer cash because I have more control and understanding of what I spend”
    * “Identity theft is a big thing, and I’m scared of making digital transactions as people can steal my card data”
    * “I pay for a self-storage with my family, we split the bill. Others give me cash, so I prefer paying in cash too”
    * “I have a smartphone but I don’t really understand it, cash and ’normal money’ feels a lot more familiar”

Optimize tone of voice and digital experience

What can we learn from this? That it’s very important to realize who uses your (digital) services for contracting, onboarding and payments, especially for high complexity products/services. People are different – and that makes the world a fun place – and their opposing context, cultures and (emphasized here) financial situation, has implications for your business.

For the experience we were designing, we decided to create a service that allows people to easily ’split the bill’, as well allowing them to still physically sign the contract after a first visit to the on-site location. Also, we’ve made a variety of strategic content decisions about the right tone of voice, to emphasize the system and data safety, and even giving incentives for completing an online-only process.