Cash Machine/ATM Staring Contest

Cash Machines (or ATMs if you prefer) are a big part of daily life. They have pretty much replaced going into banks for drawing out cash. Many of them are located in high traffic areas such as shopping malls, train stations and airports. The busiest always have a queue of people waiting at them. So, it’s pretty important that they are easy to use and to make the interaction as fluid as possible.

There are many things they could do to improve, but the one I want to look at today is the 2nd step – entering my PIN number.

Some bank’s cash machines are bad at this. I walk over; insert my card and enter my PIN. The machine stares at me blankly; almost sinister. I stare back. The machine is daring me… it’s thinking ‘just one more number and I’ll eat your card’. I look around nervously… then spot some tiny text hidden away on the dimly lit screen to: “Enter your PIN then press Enter”. I hate those machines.

Why do you make me press enter?!

Everyone’s PIN is EXACTLY 4 digits long. Passwords on a computer or a website can be any length so you need a way of saying you’ve finished typing, but here they are always 4, this is common knowledge – the step isn’t necessary.

So, why do they make you press enter? It’s a confirmation step so you have chance to go back if you made a mistake whist entering your number. But that’s not really an excuse to add friction to the process – the confirmation is only of any value to the last number you enter! It doesn’t make a difference to the first 3 numbers – you can go back and correct these before the confirmation even comes in to play!

Pick a number between 0 and 9

In practice, this step only saves you if you type in the last number incorrectly. Cash machine keys are pretty large so I’d imagine the chance of mistyping is pretty slim in the first place! Even then, the consequences of getting it wrong are minimal – you get 3 attempts – so even if the first attempt is wrong you get another 2 shots. Human nature is such that if you get it wrong the first time you’ll pay more attention the second.

If mistyping is a frequent problem, I’d still remove the step (the 4 asterisks on the display don’t exactly help here!). I’d accept the 4th key as confirmation, but then insert a pause whilst displaying a way to cancel the confirmation before the validation actually takes place. The user would perceive this time as part of the validation process. You could even display an advert for another service whilst you have their attention.

Wherever possible you should try and reduce the number of steps and interactions you make your users go through to achieve their aim. Ask them to participate only for the essentials. If you can reliably guess what they will do, don’t make them do it!

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