5 ways to design a better digital customer experience
- Customer Experience
As international travel makes its way cautiously back onto the agenda for many of us and the return to normal life continues, we’ve been thinking about the technologies that will make it all possible.
The COVID ‘vaccine passport’ app space is crowded, convoluted, and complex, with individual countries, regions, international associations and private companies launching competing apps with differing interfaces, technology and uses.
These apps were developed at speed to meet a need that none of us could have foreseen a mere 18 months ago. Digital proof of double-vaccinated status — or proof of a negative test result or natural immunity — holds the key to everything from getting on a plane or attending a professional conference, to setting foot in your local coffee shop or getting a haircut, depending on where you live.
With such wide-ranging uses, varied user profiles, and rapid development timelines, how successful have the various solutions been in terms of the user experience (UX) they offer?
In the EU, all citizens and residents will be able to generate a verified Digital COVID Certificate that is recognised and accepted for travel between all EU member states. The pass is available free of charge for all citizens and can be accessed in various formats — a digital pdf, paper copy, or via various apps developed by individual countries.
In France, the government announced in April 2021 that the existing contact-tracing app, known as TousAntiCovid, or “all against Covid” when translated, would be updated to include functionality to demonstrate vaccination status. Against a backdrop of rising cases in the country, the “pass sanitaire” is now required for entrance to bars, cafes, theatres, cinemas, museums, hospitals, on public transport and at all events attended by 50 people or more.
There has been widespread resistance to the idea of introducing a COVID health pass across France. A poll in March 2021 showed that 54% of people were opposed, and tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against the scheme in July 2021.
App store rating: 3.9/5.0
Developed by: Gouvernement Français
Italian app, Immuni — translating as ‘immune’ in English — was developed and launched in 2020 as the country’s COVID contact tracing app with functionality including reporting test results, contact tracing and alerting via Bluetooth, and offering general information and advice about Covid-19. In 2021, a new feature was added to allow users to access and display their ‘EU digital COVID certificate’ via the app.
So far, it has been downloaded 13,7 million times. There are also active social media accounts — for example, on Instagram — where information about how to use the app and how the technology works are shared regularly.
App store rating: 3.4/5.0
Developed by: Ministero della Salute
In Germany, residents are given a paper pass when they have their second vaccination which has a QR code included to scan. Downloading the CovPass app and scanning the QR code will load up the relevant personal vaccine data.
The app had issues in mid-July around data security and potential “weak points” in accessing the German Pharmacists’ Association web portal, which is used to generate the certificate. An investigation by business daily Handelsblatt found that forged documents could be used to generate ‘guest access’ for a non-existent pharmacist on the portal and use this access to secure certificates for unauthorised third parties.
App store rating: 3.0/5.0
Developed by: Robert Koch-Institut
In England, after various discussions about the use of third-party ‘vaccine passport’ apps and international solutions, it was decided that the existing NHS (National Health Service) app would be repurposed to provide a digital Covid certificate allowing people to use their smartphone to prove they have either been vaccinated, recently tested negative for Covid, or have natural immunity through previous recovery from the virus.
Whilst the Covid-19 vaccine is not compulsory for British citizens, the government recognises that businesses and other organisations can legally ask customers for proof of COVID status to access their premises or events if they are compliant with equalities legislation. A report published in July 2021 stated that ‘essential’ services and retailers should not however be using certification as a condition of entry.
App store rating: 3.0/5.0
Developed by: NHS Digital
In the USA, there is no federal solution to the COVID pass issue and states and cities are being left to develop their own apps and technology. The Biden administration has declined to back a national app and the issue has become highly politically contentious with 15 Republican states limiting or banning vaccine passports via legislation or executive orders.
The majority of people in the US are therefore still relying on the paper vaccination records issued by the CDCP as proof of their vaccination status, with the exception of those in a handful of states which have pushed forward with the launch of their own digital solutions.
In New York, residents will be required to show proof of vaccination status before entering indoor restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other venues from 16 August 2021. This can be done using your paper vaccine card, a copy of your official vaccination record, the city’s NYC Covid Safe app, or the state’s Excelsior Pass.
The Excelsior Pass is New York State’s vaccine passport app that launched in March as the first government-issued pass in the US. It’s been downloaded by more than 2.5 million residents so far. The app works by linking with a person’s vaccination record and automatically generating a custom QR code 15 days after the date of the second vaccination.
The Excelsior app is built by IBM and is a customised version of the IBM Digital Health Pass that uses blockchain technology to allow individuals to share their health status through an encrypted digital wallet.
App store rating: 2.8/5.0
Developed by: New York State Office of Information Technology Services
The city’s new NYC Covid Safe pass is a very simple app that allows users to take pictures of their paper vaccine card and store it within the app.
It does not require any verification of the paper document to ensure it represents a real card. Questions have subsequently been raised about the security of the app, with one local resident replying to local politician, Mark D. Levine’s celebratory launch Tweet with a successfully uploaded photo of their cat in place of a vaccine card:
App store rating: 3.1/5.0
Developed by: Department of Information Technology And Telecomm
As well as the solutions being developed by individual states, governments and countries, there are a number of private providers who have launched vaccine passport apps designed to be used and recognised internationally.
Motivations for these private providers vary. Some have been developed by philanthropic organisations with the aim of reopening the world and returning to pre-pandemic habits, and others have been funded by trade bodies — such as the International Air Travel Association (IATA) — with specific commercial outcomes in mind. Many companies are also developing internationally recognised solutions that can be sold to other organisations or governments to brand and personalise — IBM and VST Enterprises, among others.
CommonPass is the vaccine verification platform developed by the Commons Project — a digital services nonprofit — along with the World Economic Forum and other organisations. It allows users to share their current COVID status in the hope that they can safely return to travel, work, school and life.
It collects a user’s COVID-19 status and verifies his or her identity. It then produces a unique QR verification code that airlines and countries can rely on to ensure that a traveler does not have the virus. The makers of the app say CommonPass lets travelers access their lab results and vaccination records.
App store rating: 2.2/5.0
Developed by: The Commons Project
The IATA Travel Pass was developed by the International Air Transport Association — the global trade association for airlines. The app helps governments verify the authenticity of vaccine and covid test certificates and the identity of those presenting them and aims to streamline international air travel to countries all over the world.
For passengers, the mobile app helps store and manage verified certifications for COVID tests or vaccines. It also lets passengers find accurate local information on travel, testing, and vaccine requirements for their trip, and contains a directory of approved testing centres and labs at their city of departure.
Multiple international airlines are currently trialling the IATA Travel Pass app with their staff and travelers — Malaysia Airlines, Emirates, Avianca, Vueling, Qantas, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Air France, and others.
(graphic above from IATA website)
App store rating: 1.9/5.0
Developed by: International Air Transport Association
Developed by British cyber technology company, VST Enterprises, the VPassport app provides a single app to track a multitude of health related information — vaccination status, recent tests, travel and boarding pass details, and event details. It also includes a built-in contract tracing tool and a service for booking appointments at local testing centres.
A USP of the V-Health Passport app is that it avoids QR codes — which it says can be faked and duplicated easily — as a means of certifying test results. Its technology is already in use in 80+ countries and VSTE has partnered with a number of private companies who are able to rebrand the app for their own use.
App store rating: 3.9/5.0
Developed by: VST Enterprises
Other international vaccine apps:
These apps have to work for everyone, from ‘digital native’ Gen Z’ers through to retirees who may be less comfortable with new technologies. The ability to prove vaccine status, immunity, or a negative test result is something that will be required of people of all backgrounds. Therefore, the technology has to be accessible in order to avoid being discriminatory in nature and creating a situation where people are excluded from aspects of modern life due to struggling to use an app.
A key concern for wide sectors of the population around the increasing prevalence of Covid vaccine passport apps is data security. Apps and solutions that are upfront about what data they require and how and data will be used help to build trust with the user from the outset.
Although simplicity and usability is the number one priority, this shouldn’t come at the cost of strong design. App providers can convey trust with a clear and professional look, while being friendly to help users feel comfortable and safe. Whilst unnecessary flourishes should be avoided, a defined visual identity can be achieved with the right fonts, colour palettes, layouts, and informative illustration.
The implications of vaccine passport apps not working are potentially huge and likely to evoke a strong emotional response from the user — a missed family wedding due to not being able to board a flight, or being unable to attend a ticketed event when the appropriate pass cannot be generated.
It is essential that vaccine apps — however basic — function as they say they will. Providers should listen to all user feedback and ensure bugs and improvements are actioned quickly.
Vaccine passport apps offer a great opportunity to provide helpful information on the pandemic — local and international regulation, the latest data, and guidelines about keeping safe.
Including this kind of information alongside the basic functionality to prove vaccine status — as with TousAntiCovid and CommonPass — can help users feel like they are part of the wider solution, rather than simply using a tracking app. It reinforces the ‘why’ and offers a quick way of disseminating important, up-to-date information.