How to better understand the customer journey through cognitive interviews

May 29, 2019

Through the careful analysis of these unfiltered, cognitive interviews, Women’s World Banking is better positioned to understand the reasoning behind the financial decisions that low-income women make.

There were 20 to 30 seats, people sitting and writing. With the fear that I had, I didn’t know what to do. If I say, “I don’t know anything about banking” maybe they might pull my leg or tease me. I didn’t know anything about the bank. I came back next day and asked, “Will someone help me?” She said, “no madam, no one will do it.” I felt like crying.

-Woman Client

 Karen Miller: Hello, I’m Karen Miller from Women’s World Banking. And welcome to our next edition of our podcast.  Today, we’re going to be talking about New York City crime the 1970s, the 1980s, and you may say to yourself what on earth does that have to do with women’s financial inclusion? Well, we’re here to tell you what it’s all about. I’m joined here by my colleague Kate Webster who leads our market research and solutions development team. Kate, why on earth am I saying crime, New York City, women’s financial inclusion?

Kate Webster: Yeah, I know those things don’t seem like they go together and usually they don’t or shouldn’t, we hope. But today what we’re talking about is a research methodology called cognitive interviewing that actually started because of issues that police were having in the 1970s around how they were getting eyewitness accounts from crime scenes. And they realized that the way they were interviewing witnesses was a big part of the problem. They made some adjustments and we have adopted this new methodology called cognitive interviewing in our work at Women’s World Banking.

Karen Miller: How have you adopted this?

Kate Webster: Let’s pretend you were a witness to a crime in the 1970s and I’m a police officer investigating these crimes. If it were that time, I would likely ask you a series of questions that were very pointed. Such as, Karen, tell me about the woman you saw. What color hair did she have? What color dress was she wearing? How do you feel about those kinds of questions?

Karen Miller: I would feel a little tense about answering them appropriately and trying to remember.

Kate Webster: Yeah. That’s exactly what happens. Because when me, as the interviewer or the police officer in this case, is dominating the conversation and is driving you to very specific details, you will provide an answer even though most likely is not going to be correct. What police officers were finding was that these responses they were getting when they were investigating crimes were inaccurate and it was because of the methodology. We, as people, encode the details that are most important to us in our memories. But when you’re being interviewed and somebody is pointing you to particular details if they are not relevant to you, you likely didn’t encode them in your memory. So, you’ll come up with something and you’ll likely believe it but it’s usually inaccurate.

Karen Miller: And so, it’s entirely likely that a lot of innocent people went to jail in the 1970s? Is that what you are saying?

Kate Webster: Or they couldn’t actually solve the crime [laughter].  Starting in the mid 1980s, the police realized what their technique was doing to their ability to actually solve these crimes. So, they adjusted their approach and adopted what we now today call cognitive interviewing technique. It was designed intentionally to help with memory retrieval. With this approach, the witness really drives the conversation and it’s based on the key details from their memory and the police officer really takes more of a facilitator role. And so, we adopted this also in our research – more of a facilitator role to help women recount memories, particularly around early memories with certain financial services or financial products.

Karen Miller: Well what does that actually look like in practice? Because I’m trying to imagine that in my mind how that works.

Kate Webster: If we were to go back to the scene of a crime in New York City, and took this approach to investigating it, the interview would sound something more like, Karen, I’d like you to close your eyes and relax and imagine where you were that day in New York.  And after a moment you would cue me that you had a memory that you had retrieved, and I would ask you probing question such as can you describe the moment to me as if it was a movie scene?  Where are you in this moment? Who is with you? What is happening in this moment? Or what stands out to you in this moment?

Karen Miller: It seems like that would give a very rich tapestry to the story and the evidence that a police officer would be looking for.

Kate Webster: Yeah exactly. Because, no longer is your attention being focused on particular details, but you are recounting the scene as you saw it and as you encoded it in your memory. And so, this actually led to much more effective investigations and accurate recollection of the details because witnesses could then describe the scenes as they remembered them and highlight those details that were most relevant.

Karen Miller: Okay, that all sounds well and good. And maybe more crimes were solved in the 1980s, but moving it over to our work in women’s financial inclusion.

Kate Webster: Does it feel like a stretch?

Karen Miller: It feels like a stretch. You’ve got to walk me through this.

Kate Webster: The cognitive interview methodology has been adopted by multiple industries since the eighties because of the effectiveness of the technique. We see it a lot in CPG type organizations who really understand the associations and motivations that people have when it pertains to a particular product or brand. This is the first time to our knowledge that it’s been used in international development, which was exciting but also challenging. The reason that we did it is because we wanted to better understand our women customers in a more complete way. This included their motivations, their emotions – what are some of those psychological barriers that they experience?  What are the experiences that they’ve had with particular either financial products or services or experiences around money etc.? Things that are often missed with other techniques.

Karen Miller: Can you walk me through a recent example of where we’ve done this?

Kate Webster:  We have done this recently with two projects in India, through our partnership with the Visa Foundation. And the first one was around understanding what was preventing low-income women from engaging with their savings accounts. They have accounts and they go, and they just withdraw cash that they get with a loan repayment or a loan payment and then the other question we were trying to answer is how could we introduce a new income replacement health insurance product in this market. This is a new product to the market so we really wanted to understand both the awareness and the associations around insurance. But each interview lasted an hour and after 50 hours of interviews, we were able to find some really great themes.  It’s an incredibly powerful technique.

In India, there is very little awareness of health insurance and particularly among the low-income, it is considered as something that is not for people like them.  We really needed to better understand how to think about bringing a product like this to market and how to design it in a way that serves the needs of these women. There is a very strong association that we heard through this research between health insurance and hospitals. Health insurance is actually seen as hospital insurance in many cases because it enables the policyholders to be treated in a higher quality hospital than what they’d be able to access otherwise. Typically, they have to go to government hospitals which were described as places people go to die.

Woman Client: I didn’t fully understand the value of insurance until my husband was very serious and he went into a coma stage and they said 30 percent pulse is there only.  In the hospital, they said he does not have blood going into his brain. They say for one day is 35 thousand (rupees). His insurance card was there, and they checked to see if it was running or not. And he got conscious just because this insurance was there. They saved his life. In a government hospital, they might help him out but not treat him very well. I’ve seen my neighbors and my parents, people who went to the government hospital and then they passed away. I thought insurance was a very good thing. I took the whole family took a picture with the insurance card. Only then did I learn the value of insurance.

Kate Webster:  That is precisely why we wanted to do research like this so that we can get those richer insights around the experiences that people have with these particular types of products or their bigger associations around financial services.

The work that we did around savings was also really fascinating and it led to some really rich insights around women’s experiences with savings.  It’s very apparent that there are many barriers that women have to overcome before they start saving in a formal banking institution. First, they actually have to overcome the social norms that are very prevalent and very ingrained. They’re around a reciprocal savings economy where women feel like if they have money and someone else is in need they are obligated to share it with them. They also have to overcome barriers around going to a bank and filling out forms when many of them are illiterate and innumerate. This clip speaks to how so many of the women we spoke to had really negative and emotionally charged memories of state banks. Particularly when it came to customer service and feeling out of place. These banks feel foreign to these women and reinforce the notion that they don’t belong.

Woman Client: In the counter they said get a token and I didn’t know where to get the token. There were 20 to 30 seats, people sitting and writing. With the fear that I had, I didn’t know what to do. If I say, “I don’t know anything about banking” maybe they might pull my leg or tease me. I didn’t know anything about the bank. If I had somebody maybe they laugh at me. I just came out and asked the security guard. I felt like I should not go without doing anything. He is not educated well. But he is on my level so I can ask him freely and he will tell me.

When I went to the token place, she asked me “single account or joint?” I didn’t know what that meant and just said it’s for me. She said go and fill the form. I took it and just came home because I didn’t know how to fill the form. I came back the next day and asked, “Will someone help me?” She said, “no madam, no one will do it.” I felt like crying.

Kate Webster: One of the things that was unexpected that came out of these interviews, that I thought was really fascinating, was that in multiple stories we heard about this hero who emerged, and it was the security guard.

Karen Miller: The security guard?

Kate Webster: Yeah. And so, the security guard was perceived by these women as being somebody who was more on their level in terms of approachable and accessible and able to help them. They fit more so in these women’s reference groups and feeling like they are part of the same community versus the people who worked at the branches.

Karen Miller: That’s fascinating. So, security guard to the rescue.

Kate Webster:  Yes, yes, yes. Multiple stories of the security guard.

Karen Miller: These narratives have been really powerful. What do we actually do with this information?

Kate Webster:  Yes, so we’ve actually been in the process of taking all of these learnings and incorporating them into our solution design, both around savings and insurance. We’ve learned a lot about the barriers around distrust and discomfort of transacting within a formal, some might say judgmental, banking space and we’ve created a program in the saving space where we are actually sending out representatives into the community, so the bank comes to them. It leverages the existing social structures around group lending and group savings.

On the insurance side, one of the key findings that we had was around the purchase path that women go through in making the decision to take up insurance. And one of the pieces that was really compelling and becomes critical in our solution design is this notion of – they only buy insurance from somebody that they know and who they trust. So, fortunately, Ujjivan is known as a trusted partner to them already.  As we think about positioning this product it’s really critical to do so with a partner who already has that trust with these women.

Karen Miller: Trust does seem to be a common theme whether it’s trust in the security guard in the institution to buy insurance and so I think you know that comes up regardless of what market we’re in that there is this critical element of trust that low-income women want to feel when they are engaging with financial services, often for the very first time.

Kate Webster: Yeah, it’s critical in all aspects of the experience and gets reinforced throughout the ongoing customer journey.

Karen Miller: I hope we’ve been able to share with everyone today about the linkage between crime in New York City and women’s financial inclusion and other solutions so that we can more effectively serve more low-income women around the world. Kate, thanks so much for joining us today.

Kate Webster: You’re welcome.

Karen Miller: And stay tuned for our next podcast.

I hope we’ve been able to share with everyone today about the linkage between crime in New York City and women’s financial inclusion. We are very excited about the opportunities and insights cognitive methodologies have for our work. In particular, I would like to thank the Visa Foundation for support of our work in Ujjivan. We are looking to expand this methodology in our other solutions so that we can more effectively serve more low-income women around the world. Kate, thanks so much for joining us today.


Disclaimer:  The original interviews with the women clients were spoken in Kannada.  The recordings were subsequently translated into English.