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Designing Connections on Top of Transactions

PhonePe Team|3 min read|11 August, 2020

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The Tipping Point

A routine Wednesday morning witnessed a casual coffee table conversation:

“You know yesterday I had to pay my driver ₹5,000. I was not really paying attention and I ended up sending him ‘5000’ as text. I was quick to understand my mistake though and paid him the correct amount — this time via the send money & UPI PIN flow. I wonder whether this is being faced by many other users.”

It had been only a couple of months since the first version of PhonePe chat was launched along with payments. It had a well thought out architecture and was rigorously tested for all the functional requirements. The numbers were very encouraging for a new feature. However, the above conversation caused some curiosity. The DNA to dig deeper lead us to more such insights:

“I pay ₹30 at my juice junction daily, and I start typing ‘30’ in the text field itself.”

“I have to pause and think how to send money vs send a message.”

Examples which were similar to above started popping up in different social circles as we did further user interviews. Most users would either send plain text or type a few digits and then realise the mistake — both on our app, as well as on other payment apps.

An apparent problem

Quite often people wrongly blame themselves for not being able to complete the task on the UI in one go. While this problem was so prevalent, it didn’t get enough attention until now.

In the moment of doing a repetitive task, people just want to dive head-on into it. It also happens to be the point of embarkment in a user’s journey. At this point the intent is strong, and the person wants to quickly jump to the task in hand and see it in motion. It’s because of this user behaviour and in the rush of doing things, they start typing in digits in the message text box itself.

Introspect: But why chat?

The need to build conversations based on chat goes a long way to ensure that people embrace digital payments as a part of their daily lives. Based on this, the entire experience hinges around the ability to send messages as a core capability. Payments built on conversations not only provides an engagement opportunity for business, but it also honours the value of human interactions. It takes away the transactional nature of payments and provides a window to the user to connect with peers and merchants. A simple thank you, or a smiley helps build these connections which were previously just transactions.

Facing the demon

We huddled up to find a solution with the following principles in mind:

  • Don’t make people pause and think
  • Remove the point of friction
  • Zero fuss solution
  • Keep it transparent and intuitive

In quick successions we repeated this cycle: brainstorm multiple possibilities, observe people’s behaviour with their keyboards, and note how they chatted on their favourite messaging platforms.

Our first few solutions were still around fancy controls — exactly not what was required! So we decided to shed all our past baggage and spend a weekend just to unlearn and make way for fresh thoughts.

A new morning!

On the next Monday morning a couple of us greeted each other to share our ideas, and almost in unison we arrived at this “A number is an amount, anything alphanumeric is a message.”

This idea was so daring and yet so simple! It was supported by one of the major findings that shifting between numeric and alphabet keyboards is ingrained in muscle memory and it doesn’t feel like an additional task at all. Although we were a bit sceptical, a prototype was quickly built. It ensured that since we were dealing with payments, the feedback was really strong as soon as the person entered the payment mode.

Excitedly enough this prototype was shared with the leadership team including Rahul and Sameer. This ensued a child-like enthusiasm to get it tested and tweaked for a month. Provisions were made to find enough resources to get an MVP created within a couple of weeks time!

The Climax

A domino effect took place due to the dedicated efforts of the team who were working on this secret recipe — going from MVP development, feedback & testing, dogfooding, early jitters, perfecting the micro-interactions and more feedback, till the move to do a 100% rollout on day one! This was also a stamp of confidence which PhonePe as an organisation has on good product and design.

We eagerly tracked the early numbers (with our fingers crossed), and within days the numbers had blown through the roof. While we already had a great number of transactions happening on PhonePe, we had never seen people engaging like this before.


Through that one single stroke of a coffee table conversation, we went on to build something which strengthens the PhonePe ideology of enabling fast and seamless payments in the lives of people while enabling conversations and building connections among businesses, partners, merchants and peers. Karte Ja. Badhte Ja.

By: Atul Kumar • Design @ PhonePe

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