Case Study: What we can learn about end-user experience from the US chip card implementation.

The United States is years behind other countries in implementing chip card technology for credit cards.  But in October 2015, we took the plunge. Or, at least, started to.  It has not been a smooth change.  If you've made a card purchase in the US over the last year, you'll know it can be a confusing process that often feels as time consuming as — gasp! —physically writing a check.  Which is not creating many fans. 

A recent New York times article on the chip card transition is a nice case study of end-user experience during a change effort. The reactions of consumers and retail workers reflected in the article provide insight into the challenges of change, particularly those that require people to alter routine behaviors. I highlight below some of the themes I found in the article.  

1. "I'm tired of looking dumb."  No one wants to be (or feel like) the only one who doesn't know what's going on. Change often requires people to do things that they are not accustomed to or don't know how to do (initially).  As a change leader, take efforts to make the unfamiliar, more familiar.  It pays off.  In fact, some change research has identified that fear of not having required skills is a key influencer of employees' perceptions of change (Erwin, 2010). 

2. "I don't get the hype..."  The pain of change is often the most obvious part of it. In the case of chip cards, they take longer to process than "swiping".   People feel it when they wait longer for each transaction.  What they don't feel is the added security of the chip card.  

It's rare for any of us to search hard for the benefits associated with our pain, especially when we'll only enjoy these benefits at some future point in time.  It's up to change leaders to clarify benefits and put them on heavy rotation in change communications to ensure they are as top-of-mind as the more immediate, uncomfortable aspects of the change. 

3. "I hate that noise."   Chip card readers now make a loud noise at the end of the transaction to remind customers to remove their card from the reader.  This noise is probably a great idea; the problem is many people don't seem to realize what the purpose of the noise is.  Some mistake it for a signal the card has been declined. (Embarrassing! — see also, Number 1.)  

As reflected in the widespread hate of "the noise", features that are intuitively great to you or your implementation team may not be obviously so to end users. That doesn't make them bad ideas, it just means you need to test, improve and educate to ensure they have their intended effect. 

4. "Yeah, we hate it, too."  Many retail workers commiserate with customers about chip readers, rather than educating them. This may be because they themselves weren't educated, or that they don't feel a sense of ownership over the change. In any case, it's a missed opportunity.  

Front-line staff can make or break any change effort.  They can be its biggest cheerleaders or its worst critics.  Be sure your education and engagement efforts make them the former.  

5. "Is it working, yet?  No?...How about now?"  One of the biggest complaints from consumers about chip cards is that so many places have the required machines, but they don't seem to work. (They work, they just aren't certified, so they can't be used yet.  This is not a detail many people care about.  But, as an aside, it does highlight the importance of accounting for dependencies.)  

A common mistake in implementation is starting because the calendar says it's time, even when your innovation or intervention is not yet ready for primetime.  It is incumbent on the implementation team to set a minimum bar for usability that must be met prior to launching — this applies to all kinds of things, not just technology.  In my experience, any trust you gain from being on schedule will be quickly and completely eroded if what you've rolled out doesn't work or work well enough.  

If in your reading of the NYT article, or personal experience of the chip card transition, you identify other change challenges of note, please share them in the comments section below. We'll all benefit from your contribution to the conversation!

Make it a Team Effort

Discussion of pertinent news articles can be an excellent group learning exercise for implementation or project teams.  It's generally easier (and less painful) for a team to identify issues others are having, rather than to immediately try to see them in their own work.  For example, you can read the chip card article as a team to identify change challenges reflected in it and brainstorm ways they could be avoided.  Then discuss how the team might apply this learning to their own implementation efforts.  (To add a little levity, consider watching this, hilarious and largely accurate, video with your team.) 

If you are interested in change, check out our change series, including posts on key concepts from change research, employee participation and change, and facilitating employee engagement. 


Erwin, Dennis G., and Andrew N. Garman. "Resistance to Organizational Change: Linking Research and Practice." Leadership & Organization Development Journal Leadership & Org Development J 31.1 (2010): 39-56. Web.  See here.  

Workman, Karen. "Confused by Chip Credit Cards? Get in Line." The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.  See here.