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Automating the non-automatable

How to compel your users with the endowed progress effect

By Mike on 11th Jul 2016

CertSimple does EV HTTPS certificates, the kind that match a real-world identity to a public key. The biggest aspect of this isn't the HTTPS part, but rather the background checks involved. We focus on not wasting customer's time by automating as much of the EV process as possible:

This approach means we reject a lot of orders prior to payment, but the orders we do take we can fulfull in a reasonable amount of time: as a result, we smoke all our competitors.

We also analyse every order - to work our how we could improve that process, when doing that, one question kept coming up:

How do you automate people? How can you make someone perform an action, even if it's to their own benefit?

We've spent a bunch of time thinking about this. Clear communication certainly helps. But we can't get people to answer the phone right? Nobody can automate human interaction.

Or can they? In April 2004, two researchers ran an experiment: they set up a loyalty card system for a car wash:

In both variants, the customer still needed to purchase eight stamps. But after distributing 300 cards:

Not only did the second version improve the completion rate, the customers came back more often and the time between washes got shorter and shorter as they got closer to the free car wash.

This is called the endowed progress effect (PDF) and goes something like this:

Customers who percieve themselves as futher along a process are more likely to complete the process

CertSimple don't need any tricks here since we've already confirmed a bunch of things by the time people have got to payment. Making the user's existing progress more apparent though was important. The previous version of our product - CertSimple version 3 - already had a post-payment workflow, which looked something like this:

CertSimple version 3: Pay, recieve thanks, check email, log in, set password, see live order update status.

But we knew a whole lot of users weren't even checking the live ordering page: there's a bunch of other things between the first and last of those steps that could potentially distract users.

So we reworked it:

CertSimple version 4: Pay, see customised live background check status.

This has been in production for around two months now, and is doing well. Users understand how far they're through the process already, and respond faster.

There's also a net reduction in code which makes our engineers happy!

This is one of many things we're working on help tie real world identities to public keys on the web.

Mike MacCana, founder at CertSimple.

CertSimple makes EV HTTPS fast and painless.

An EV HTTPS certificate verifies the company behind your website. But getting verified is a slow painful process. CertSimple provides EV HTTPS certificates 40x faster than other vendors. We check your company registration, network details, physical address and flag common errors before you pay us, provide verification steps specific for your company, update in realtime during the process, and even check your infrastructure to help you set up HTTPS securely.
Verify your site now!