Innovator Q&A: Balancing friction & customer experience with human interaction

Mitek’s Mike Sasaki, Head of Global Customer Success, sat down with Filip Verley, Product Manager at Google, to pick his brain on the role of identity verification in digital marketplaces during his time at Airbnb, where thousands of strangers connect with each other on online platforms, every single day. Filip dedicates his career to finding solutions for the merger of the physical and digital worlds and its impact on identity. Here he delves into the balance between security and user experience, what the future may hold for identity verification in the sharing economy and more.

So, Filip, why identity verification — and why now?
Filip: Airbnb and other marketplaces connect strangers, so identity verification has become very important. We believe identity is the foundation of trust. The more people trust the platform, the more they’ll use it. Identity verification allows us to connect those strangers and make that “unknown” element go away. Because if we can verify everyone, there will be more trust in those platforms and more use of the platforms.
I think one of the biggest challenges for us is: How do we balance between friction and user experience? Users want a great experience, but they also want to feel safe. Security, safety, and friction … how do we make sure we don’t lose any of it? We don’t want to cause more friction than we should, and we don’t want to lose any of the
safety or security because we’ve removed too much friction.

I’ve heard you talk about “safety, security, and creepiness.” Can you explain this idea?
Yes, so we could do all kinds of things. If you’re an authoritarian regime, it’s very simple: You get an ID number and you get a selfie. You send that to the government, it gets verified. We don’t want to go that route. There are so many technologies and solutions out there, where you can verify a person based on how they walk, for example, with their phone, or a thumbprint. It gets to the point where you have to decide as a company: What is the right balance for you?
What trends are you seeing among other sharing economy companies with regards to identity verification?
I think we’re all constantly evolving and learning; if you’re done learning, you’re doing something wrong. Everyone has started to understand, you can protect losses with id verification, but the brand impact on the marketplace is also extremely important. You have to invest in trust and safety for your platform to thrive. People will use your platform once or twice, but if they have a bad experience, they’re not going to come back.

I hear that phrase, “bad experience,” a lot. Maybe you can expand on that idea.
Think of Amazon. You ordered a 14-inch iPad and you get an empty box. That’s a bad experience. What does Amazon do? They’ll refund you or send you a new one. They’ll take care of you. For us, or any sharing platform, are you getting what you thought you were getting? If that’s not up to standard, we’re going to do everything we can to make it up to standard. Our platforms provide a vacation and we want that to be perfect and seamless. We’ll do whatever it takes to take care of our platform, take care of our hosts and guests, and make sure that happens. That’s the experience. You expect one thing, and if you’re not getting that, that’s a bad experience.

On the topic of trust versus user experience, do you think customers are willing to accept friction in exchange for more trust?
I think that’s the million-dollar question. How much friction can we impose and how much friction can we explain to our users that makes sense to them? We constantly do research and experiments to figure out the right balance. I don’t think it’s a question that will ever be solved; it’s a constantly evolving situation.

It’s also extremely fluid. It depends on the use case. It depends on the user flow. Think of host/guest. Think of driver/passenger. As a driver, you’re probably incentivized to give more information because you’re earning something back. So, we’re looking at that as well — can we differentiate our experiences between guests and hosts? How do we translate what we’re doing to give them context and empower them to take part in this flow? With all the coming, GDPR, and California law regulations, I think more companies are starting to realize you have to tell your customer, very transparently, what you’re doing. We want to convey the message that this is for safety and security, without overcomplicating it.
You’ve been in the identity space for years, now. What are some experiences and results that these experiences have led to?
It’s been a journey. As a fraud prevention analyst at a bank, I started my career way back when people were still writing checks and dealing with check fraud. But the economy was moving online, and online transactions needed protection. That turned into, “Hey, you do fraud really well, why don’t you do compliance?” Post 2001, compliance became the number one thing companies were facing. We need to know our customer. We need to know you’re not on a sanctions list. That you’re not laundering money. The physical and digital worlds are merging so much and evolving so rapidly; identity is going to help more people become part of the economy. It’s going to help enable small entrepreneurs in emerging markets. That’s the really cool part about identity. It’s extremely exciting to me to use identity as a growth and enabler – not just a way to prevent things, but also to make the online world more inclusive.