How to Motivate Users to Complete a Difficult Task

   Product Management

An AirBNB UX Process Redesign Concept

Have you ever encountered the difficulty that your users do not perform the tasks you need them to? Persuading users to perform a specific task, such as registering or buying a product, is a challenge in most industries, but it becomes especially difficult when that task requires extra effort from the user.

In the past years, UX experts have developed numerous theories and techniques to increase the success rate of difficult tasks, including behavioral design to gamification. In this article, we’ll create a step-by-step guide on methods you can use to increase customer completion rates, using AirBnb as an example.

About the Case Study

Let’s face it: filling out forms suck. and if the form also asks you to take a photo of a document that you don’t have anywhere near you, and then upload it to the platform, that simply is not going to happen. This is currently the case for Airbnb.

One of Airbnb’s most important goals is the security of the hosts property, belongings, and their guests. It can be quite a challenge when so much at once is at risk. For example, hosts can request that guests upload their legal identification before booking. This option allows Airbnb to have the legal information of a guest at hand in case of an emergency; and for hosts to corroborate the age and gender of the guests. However, this is not required when opening an account to be an AirBNB guest. And of course the only way to ask for this information is require users to complete a form with photos included.

All of this means that many guests do not have their identification available on the Airbnb platform by default, and requiring the guest to upload identification adds friction to the simplistic booking experience. This friction can cause the host to lose guests early in the booking process.

The Challenge

Increase the success of the guest booking process in situations where identification is required. To achieve this we must make the task simpler and improve the guests’ motivation to submit the required documents.

In addition, if Airbnb were able to make its users have more complete profiles that include their social networks (facebook, instagram or linkedin) and their identification, this could contribute to a safer environment for both guests and hosts, and could also improve the general experience of booking through the platform.

How can Airbnb motivate its users to completely fill out their profile? Let’s explore behaviour design of AirBNB’s users and give you ideas to solve similar problems in your own products.

Step by Step

To convince users to finish high effort tasks, here are some steps you should consider. You may not need to follow all of these steps, since some of them may not be suitable for your product. But keep in mind that the more of these elements you consider in your user experience, the better the chances your users will finish the task.

1. Reduce Effort by Breaking Up the Task

The famous foot-in-the-door technique: getting a person to agree to a large request is easier by having them agree to a modest request first. Like wise, it’s much easier to ask users to complete one small task at a time than asking them to complete one giant task, so always divide large difficult tasks into smaller steps.

Airbnb does this very well:

Here, instead of creating a large form with a lot of questions at first sight, Airbnb created a series of screens with small steps, so the user won’t feel overwhelmed with a large task. This reduces the risk of users dropping out of the document upload workflow.

2. Reduce stress by showing progress

Displaying how much progress the user has made can increase a large task’s completion rate. By seeing how far they have come, users feel a sense of achievement, which reduces the desire to leave the process once it’s started.

As we have seen, on the Airbnb process, they use a simple progress bar to inform the users how far they have progressed through the task. Progress indicators help users estimate how much time the remaining steps might take and their relative place in the entire task.

Note that by starting users off with a progress bar that’s almost 1/3rd completed, Airbnb hits on the goal gradient effect, which affirms that motivation increases the closer we are to completing our goals.

3. Make it easy

Even if a user is highly motivated to complete a task, they may bail if the task is too difficult to complete. The way to overcome this is to make the UX feel super easy and smooth.

A great way to facilitate the task is to offer users more than one method to perform the task, allowing the user to choose the most comfortable option. Keep in mind that offering too many options can confuse a user or make them wonder which option is the best, and therefore make the task harder than it should be. You can avoid this by offering a recommendation of the easiest option to finish the task.

Airbnb offers three options to upload your ID, and also they recommend the first one: using the mobile app to take the photo with your phone.

However, the option to use the Airbnb app to snap and upload a photo is not a smooth process. They send the user a link to his phone via text message, by tapping that link, the airbnb app will open to a section that is not reachable through the normal use of the app. In other words, the user is required to begin the ID upload process through the website, prompting a text link to his phone, and only then he will be able to use the app for taking the photo.

Why can’t users upload their photo when casually using the Airbnb app on their phones? And if the process is this difficult and involves so many steps, why did airbnb recommend this option instead of the other two? A way to improve this experience could be to make it accessible at any time from within the app, and also with a simple reminder when the users are already using the app.

Also, the recommended way to upload the photo should be the option “Take a photo from this browser”, which allows the user to use their computer’s webcam to take the photo.

4. Reward users’ good behavior

Offering prizes for the fulfillment of certain tasks is very effective, even though it’s true that where long-term behaviors are the goal, more purposeful incentives are better. But there are circumstances when rewards are in fact appropriate.

In your own product always try to find and use those intrinsic rewards that users could obtain by using your UI. For example, for Airbnb an intrinsic motivation could be to have access to better apartments, and therefore better vacations. Airbnb should use this information to motivate their users. But sometimes intrinsic rewards are not enough to motivate users. When it comes to tasks that users do not want to do, especially the infrequent ones, the use of extrinsic rewards are a safe option, because there are no pre-existing behaviors that could be demotivated or eliminated by giving rewards.

Airbnb already offers rewards for inviting friends to use their site and creating an account (free travel credit). So why not extend that as a prize to users for uploading their ID, and maybe for completely filling out their account info? Of course this could mean a big investment for Airbnb (and for your own product), so you should always consider whether the balance of pros and cons using these types of rewards pays off. If it doesn’t you can try the next tip instead.


5. Be playful

Gamification can be a powerful tool to motivate your users to reach your goals, especially through adding “fun” to boring tasks.

Gamification is not about playing games, or just about giving users “points” or “badges.” Those are useful components, of course, but they are not the whole thing. The real purpose of gamification is to use fun to motivate people towards certain behaviors. So if you face a boring task, gamification elements can persuade your users to finish that task. Done well, gamification can appeal to users’ emotions and making tasks more pleasant and fun to do.

To achieve this, you can make some simple changes to your user interface. The easiest one is making the language funnier: using clever jokes, funny quotes or simply adding a little bit of irony to your instructions, can make your user smile and stay with you through the task.

Another effective way to add fun to your interface is by using animations. And let’s be clear, animations are not just for decoration. A well-thought-out and positioned animation can help you influence the users emotions and create engagement.

As Eynat Pikman shared, animations can have different roles in UX design, like helping the users to keep the focus on the task; giving feedback to the users so they can see the results of their actions; helping users maintain engagement with the UI and also offering fun or delight.

This is where Airbnb fails: their process to upload an ID is relatively easy and has a good user experience, but it is so boring and hard that I found myself failing to complete the task 6 times before writing this post. So here is a little concept proposal that could solve this specific problem:

On this proposal I kept the progress bar and the divisions on the process that Airbnb already had. But I also added an animation that shows a guest on her way to meet the host and his home. Every time the user completes a step of the task the animation also shows progress: the door starts to open and finally the host greets the guest with a smile.

The purpose of this animation is to sustain the sense of progress in the user while offering feedback and orientation. Saying something like: “If you keep going on this task you will be finally able to reach your dreamed lodging.” At the same time, the animation creates expectation: “What is behind the door? Who’s there? Maybe if I continue to the next step I will find out.” All of this appeals to the user’s emotions and contributes to keep the user moving forward on the task.

This last point about reaching out for the user’s emotions and trying to make the task fun and delightful through animations is more effective than people may think. In fact it is proven that animation reduces frustration and abandonment. Viget Labs, for example, did a neat experiment showing that people are willing to wait on a UI longer if there’s a branded loading animation.

As Nick Babich says: “Never underestimate the power of delight to improve the user experience. The difference between products we love and those we simply tolerate is often the delight we have with them.”

I also modified the language instructing the user within the process. Adding a little humor and sarcasm with the intention of making the task more fun. The idea behind this change is to encourage the user to read each new instruction and think: “How funny” instead of “How boring this step is.”

Before (Airbnb Screen)

After (My Design)



So if you have a task in your interface that your users refuse to finish, or where you usually lose those users for good – especially if it is a long and boring form- applying these steps can be very beneficial for your application.

As you can see on this Airbnb case, I have chosen a very specific solution for the problem, but you may find that just some of my recommendations are suitable for your own product. So let me know your experiences with behaviour design and motivation, or what you think about this post in the comments!

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