In 2018, for a large bank, I conducted in-depth interviews with 8 customers about their experiences paying bills. The bank was curious what methods people use on their own, which ended up informing the bank’s design of bill tracking software.
- The interviewees were intrigued by a bill tracker but also talked about including additional dashboard features (like cash flow tracking, monthly and other historical information, and detecting when amounts due differ from usual).
- Many users didn’t distinguish between bills and predictable regular expenses (like groceries or subscriptions).
- Participants strongly desire notifications for upcoming bills (7 of 8) and prominent display of due dates (5 of 8).
- Less commonly cited (3 of 8) were running balance and color coding of bills by number of days until due.
- No consensus about how they would want bills to be displayed or ordered.
- We interviewed 8 people about their experiences with paying bills.
- Participants were asked to answer three “homework” questions prior to the interviews:
- how they make payments in various scenarios (shown in the table below)
- what one thing they’d improve about paying bills
- what’s the most important thing we should know about paying bills
- We talked through the Discussion Guide (shown in the Appendix section below).
- Each person participated in a short ideation session about the attributes of their ideal bill payment system.
- Participants were shown a printed “sketchy” mockup of the Bill Tracker and asked for feedback.
- Most participants were also shown another printed mockup of other features under consideration: detail screens from the Bill Tracker or the home screen of the Payments Portal.
If you make these payments, how do you make them? (N=8, multiple responses allowed per scenario)
|Bank Website||Company’s Website||Cash||Paper Check||App like Venmo||Other|
|Pay electric bill||6||3||2||1||2||1|
|Pay medical bill||4||4||0||2||1||1|
|Mortgage or rent||6||0||0||1||0||1|
|Donate to charity||2||2||2||2||2||1|
- PayPal was cited by 4 of 8 participants.
- Key desires for the bill tracker:
- notifications (7 of 8)
- due dates (5 of 8)
- running balance (3 of 8)
- color coding based on time until due (3 of 8)
- No consensus about how to order the listed bills: by due date, alphabetically, and by importance were all mentioned.
- Most (5 of 8) were willing to share account numbers, but there were strong negative reactions (4 of 8) to sharing username and password.
- same day payments important (Susan H., Jerry T.)
- transfers from savings to checking before paying bills (Susan H., Nicole H.)
- credit card to pay bills (Patricia Z., Derek K.)
- PayPal use (Susan H., Stephanie B., Nicole H., Jerry T.)
- home-grown bill tracking in Excel (Susan H., Derek K.)
- desires for bill tracker:
- user-input notes (Stephanie B.)
- running balance (Susan H., Derek K., Jerry T.)
- due date (Susan H., Patricia Z., Gayle H., Ninette S., Derek K.)
- color coding of bills based on time until due (Susan H., Patricia Z., Jerry T.)
- notifications when bills are coming due (Susan H., Patricia Z., Gayle H., Ninette S., Derek K., Nicole H., Jerry T.)
- monthly totals (Gayle H., Derek K.)
- categorization (Patricia Z., Gayle H.)
- amount differences compared to previous (Ninette S., Jerry T.)
- order by:
- due date (Patricia Z.)
- alphabetically (Gayle H.)
- importance (Ninette S., Nicole H., Jerry T.)
- security info willing to share:
- account number – yes (Susan H., Patricia Z., Derek K., Nicole H., Jerry T.)
- username/password – no (Susan H., Jerry T.) – reluctant (Derek K., Nicole H.)
- due dates (Derek, Gayle, Nicole, Ninette, Stephanie)
- warning for upcoming bills (Gayle, Patricia, Stephanie, Susan)
- total per month and historical (Derek, Jerry, Stephanie)
- track everything, incomes and expenses (Derek, Gayle, Ninette)
- differentiation between recurring same amounts and recurring variable amounts (Gayle); highlight changes in payments (Jerry, Patricia, Susan)
- breakdown of charges, like on credit card statement (Nicole, Patricia)
Hello! My name is ______ [primary interviewer] and this is ______ [secondary interviewer]. Thanks so much for coming in and talking to us.
Let’s go over a few things before we begin.
- We’re not testing you – you get an A just by showing up. We don’t make any of the tools we’re showing you, so you won’t hurt our feelings if you tell us something doesn’t work for you. The best thing you can do is give us your honest feedback!
- We will be talking to you about two topics:
- Talking a little more about paying bills
- Showing you some ideas we have about how we can help, so we can get your feedback.
- This will take about 45 minutes.
- We will be recording this session and taking notes, which will only be used internally to improve our products.
- Did you have a long drive to get here? Segue into —
- Where do you live/work?
Paying Bills Today
- [Review homework]
- As you think back over the past month, did you run into any problems while paying your bills? What happened that was frustrating?
- How did you solve that problem?
- What was the outcome?
- Can you think of some other problems you’ve encountered with paying bills? How were you able to solve them?
- How do you keep track of which bills you have paid, and which bills are coming up?
- What works well about that solution?
- What works less well?
So we’ve talked a little about how you manage your bills right now. Let’s talk a little about some ways we might be able to solve some of the problems you’ve encountered, and make your life a little bit easier.
Let’s talk through some of these ideas first, and then we’ll show you some sketches and get your thoughts.
First, what if you could see all your bills at once? What are some of the things you’d want to know about them? [brainstorm…]
What if, in order to see due dates and amounts owed, you would have to enter your login information for each bill/account on your bank’s website? What would help you feel comfortable doing that? Would it be worthwhile?
[Show each sketch and ask open-ended questions]:
- What do you think of this solution?
- Do you have any questions about what you’re looking at?
- What would be useful about this solution?
- What would be less useful?
That’s all the questions we have for you. Is there anything else you want to ask?
Thank you SO MUCH for helping us out!