3 Signs Your User Verification Friction is Too High Featured Image

3 Signs Your User Verification Friction is Too High

In Incognia’s recent webinar, “The User Verification Tightrope: Balancing Security and User Experience,” we invited panelists Chelsea Hower of Sittercity and Travis Dawson of StockX to talk with us about how they handle challenges of user verification on their platforms, without compromising the user experience more than necessary. In this post, we’ll take a look at what might happen when user experience and user verification are thrown out of balance and friction rises to untenable levels.

We’ve all been through the experience of needing to enter an SMS code or click an email link or upload a selfie or picture of our ID to complete varying levels of verification online. User verification can be an excellent tool for reducing fraud and maintaining Trust & Safety, but none of that will matter if the user verification itself is an obstacle to users enjoying the platform. When users have to interact directly with a verification method, that results in friction—the more effort they have to put in to verify, the higher the friction. The higher the friction, unfortunately, the worse the outcome for user retention and verification compliance.

High abandonment rates

You might imagine every user as having an invisible threshold for how much friction they’re willing to go through to complete whatever transaction they’re initiating, and that threshold might change depending on how sensitive the transaction is and how friction tolerant the individual user is.

If the level of friction of a given verification check is higher than a user’s threshold, they’re liable to just abandon the transaction altogether. Picture this example for eCommerce: a user finds a product they want on a P2P marketplace, and they’re interested in buying. However, before they can finish checking out, they’re asked to sign up for an account and verify a phone number with an SMS code. Maybe their phone is in a different room, maybe they don’t want to hand over their personal number—whatever the exact reason, verifying their number is more “work” or friction than they’re willing to trade to complete the transaction. Thus, they abandon.

This is one specific example of what abandonment because of verification friction might look like, but if abandonment numbers are exceptionally high, especially at critical points in the user journey like right before a transaction or at onboarding, that might be a sign that the verification checks in place are to blame. Users want your product, but they might not want it badly enough to put up with a security feature they find to be annoying or intrusive. 

High numbers of verification support tickets

Sometimes users are willing to put up with a lot of friction to interact with the app, but unfortunately, sometimes a willingness to tolerate friction doesn’t make the friction any less obstructive. Despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes problems with technology—including tech used to make API calls and verify things like names, addresses, photo IDs, and so on—are par for the course. That’s when committed users are likely to get into touch with your team to figure out what’s going wrong with their transaction or onboarding.

Some support requests are just a normal part of doing business. Excessive amounts of support requests specifically to do with verification checks might be an indication of a bigger problem with your user verification process. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, but if you’re answering hundreds of support requests a month about one small part of your user journey, it’s probably broken.

Duplicate accounts

For users who don’t mind breaking the terms of service every now and again, there’s a friction reaction in the middle of abandoning the platform completely and just putting up with the verification process—just starting over from scratch with a new account.

Take this scenario for example. Someone starts a new seller account on a marketplace platform. There’s no in-depth user verification at onboarding, but once sellers hit certain thresholds for sales, some ID verification is necessary for tax purposes. A seller might start a new account, sell up until they’re asked to complete more rigorous verification, and then abandon that account to start a new one. In their new account, they start selling up until that threshold again, and so on and so on.

Duplicate accounts are also associated with higher fraud numbers, since there’s less risk in committing fraud or abuse on an account if you know you have backups. But interestingly enough, it’s not always fraudsters that are looking to skirt verification this way.

"We are bombarded by the same account or the same person over and over and over and over again. One of the records that we've held was triple digits of accounts at one small little duplex in the middle of a certain state."

Ironically, some legitimate users are willing to go to great lengths to avoid any friction or tax liability associated with completing verification—Travis Dawson of StockX mentions once identifying a device with a number of accounts in the triple digits. High numbers of duplicate accounts among users who otherwise seem to follow the rules and use the platform normally could be an indication of users balking at the more stringent, friction-heavy verification methods that happen later in their user journey.

As Dawson puts it, “The balancing act here is that the more friction you put on the verification, the more tools you're going to put in place to detect [duplicate accounts]. The reason why is if they find there's too much friction to do the verification up front, they'll just create a new account…If you make it, easier, quicker, better, less friction to do the verification to begin with, you can get away with spending less time and energy on the duplicate accounts.”

Managing user verification friction

Because of some legal and Trust & Safety requirements associated with certain types of platforms, some verification friction might be inevitable. However, limiting the amount of friction users have to experience can go a long way in fostering long, loyal relationships to your platform. 

One solution to the friction problem is to use passive signals whenever possible. For example, real-time location verification can be used to cross-reference a user’s provided address information with their real-time device location. This check can happen in the background, without the user having to do anything other than provide their address and enable location permissions.

Another thing to consider is that not every platform’s risk tolerance has to be the same. For example, a platform like Sittercity is naturally going to have a very low risk tolerance for sitters or parents who can’t complete verification, because their platform facilitates real-world interactions and involves children. A marketplace platform like StockX, however, might have slightly less risk as sellers and buyers usually don’t have to meet in person or enter each other’s homes. Reducing friction can also be a matter of assessing your platform and deciding how much verification is necessary to ensure Trust & Safety in the first place.

User verification friction is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. Some level of friction is often necessary to ensure Trust & Safety on a platform, particularly in platforms that facilitate high-risk transactions or interactions. The key lies in achieving a balance—minimizing friction where possible, using passive automated checks and tailoring the level of verification to the specific risk tolerance of the platform. By doing so, businesses can maintain secure environments while still providing a user-friendly experience.