Increasing chances of student households paying utility bills on time.

Responsibilities: Conduct interviews/surveys – define goals – map user flows.
Date:January to February 2020 (2.5 weeks)
Context: Household bills are usually split amongst students as Gas/Electricity, Water and WiFi. All individuals in the household send money to assigned bill-payers as direct debits. Once the bill-payer receives all shares they pay the bill from their account using this total.

Due to poor budgeting, some people's shares go unpaid.

Unpaid shares are difficult to chase up in larger households. This means another student has to cover the payment, affecting areas of their life. e.g. working over-time. Bill-payers also have to spend time checking who has/hasn't paid into their bank. These can get lost amongst other in-goings. It's important that each housemate budgets for bills + bill-payers can easily access received shares.

The success metrics are: shares paid on time + bill-payer satisfaction rate.

Figure 1 – The final prototype to help students pay bills on time. HOVER TO PLAY VIDEO / CLICK TO PAUSE.

An initial interview with my sister helped uncover this problem. But, I needed first-hand accounts of households facing these issues. So I reached out to students at Bristol, Warwick and Reading University with a survey. Their pain points became evident.

Figure 2a – I overheard my sister complaining about managing her monthly university bills. I was intrigued and had to find out more!

Figure 2b – One method that my sister's housemate used to keep track of bills.

Figure 3 – A google survey I created in order to gather more evidence of student household billing issues.

Establishing pain points:

Translating these pain points into user goals.

I established two user groups: housemates (share-payers) and bill-payers. Working out their goals gave me a basis for exploring possible flows.

As a housemate, I want to set up a standing order for my shares of each utility bill.

As a bill-payer, I want to see who has sent me their shares before I pay the utility bill.

Providing a starting point for users to achieve goals.

I needed to provide the context for bill and share-payers to achieve their goals. This would be done by laying out important information on the home-page via basic priority guides. Initial user testing suggested a closer look at the copy to make info. clearer.

Testing homepage + flows together.

I added the homepages to each flow and tested whether bill/share-payers could achieve their goals. Users faced little trouble getting from the home-screen to sending/receiving share-money.

The revised features.

Figure 6 – The process for adding budgeted money and setting up standing orders is made simple.

Goal of feature: Allows share-payers to set and keep track of budgeted money for utility bills. This will reduce the chances of paying late by maintaining a monthly quota of bill money.

Figure 7 – Bill-payers are immediately notified of received shares.

Goal of feature: bill-payer can keep track of received shares and identify late payments. This will negate need to sift through personal bank in-goings. Can also cover late payers if required.

Testing a real household – late payers successfully negated.

I reached out to a friend at Bristol University who would test the product with his housemates. Interestingly, all housemates worked through the budgeting together, which encouraged late payers to set up their bills as well. Responses were as follows:

“We can easily add in our budgets for the month and set up direct debits with that budget. Saves me keeping track of budgets in my notepad app.”

“I pay for all of the household bills and it was a nightmare keeping track. With this app I have everything in one place and I get notified when payments come through.”

“Some of us tend to pay late due to other financial commitments but the app makes it easy to set some cash aside which can't be touched .”

One of the two success metrics was met.

Before, the process of budgeting and keeping track of late payers was split between many apps. Now, both bill and share-payers can exchange necessary payments with ease. But, we would need to see this product over long term use to test for a reduction in late payers.

What's next for this product?

Given more time, I would complete a contextual inquiry to see how users cover for late payers. Thus, implementation of a 'cover' feature would have more research behind it.

I would also gather long term analytics of the app to see if the success metric of reducing late payees worked. I would also like to work alongside a developer on this product.

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