A few weeks ago, TRAI created a beta microsite where it compares telecom tariffs based on what users want. And this is what it looks like:

Eesh.

In HBO’s Silicon Valley, the startup Pied Piper creates a revolutionary compression tool and circulates it among friends who are also coders and get feedback. Everyone responds with glowing reviews. Only Monica Hall, who works for an angel investor’s office and has no background in coding, is sceptical about the tool. And as it turned out, the beta tanked. Turns out, if you create a tool that has a UI that is only simple for its creators, and people like them, then it’s going to have a hard time taking off.

So! Since TRAI’s tariff site is on a beta too, in the spirit of feedback and consultation, here are a few suggestions to the regulator on how to make its compare tool easier to use.

Rethink the whole format

TRAI, honey, what are you doing with all those sliders and radio buttons? First of all, they don’t work — really, they literally don’t work. The sliders snap and options snap right back to their defaults as you go about configuring them — especially if you choose an ISD or Roaming pack. What’s more, they conceptually don’t work. Put yourself in the shoes of an informed telecom consumer — would they rather configure, in a single screen, a bunch of criteria that are all specifically important to them, or are they going to want to see a variety of plans based on a general sense of what they want? I’d argue the latter.

One way out of this would be a multiple questions format, that asks individual questions to users. For example, a flow of questions could look something like this:

  • What’s your PIN code/where do you live? [the first question gets the circle and narrows down plans and carriers/ISPs available to them]
  • Do you want broadband or mobile data? [this is kind of a clunky question, and can be avoided by having a separate site for wireline]
  • Is unlimited calling — both domestic and national roaming — important to you? [probably the most important question before going to data preferences; this question splits out into two different trees depending on the user’s answer]
  • How much data do you want daily? [it’s better to not ask consumers about the period of the plan since savings on long-term plans is something they can decide better when they see plans side by side]
  • How much money are you willing to spend each month? [regardless of what period they want the plan for, it’s easy to filter plans by what they cost on a monthly basis and present information accordingly]

For international calling and other specialized plans, it’s better to have different processes altogether.

Provide links to resources on telcos’ websites

Telcos have been instructed to provide their tariff details to TRAI in a standardized format for the tariff site. Good. But telcos themselves need to take more responsibility in how they display their tariffs on their official websites. As a solution, TRAI could advise telcos to provide a link on their sites that instantly leads to a tariff.trai.gov.in webpage that has already filtered plans as per that telco and the user’s location. That way, telcos are more incentivized to provide all their tariffs on their site to begin with, so that complaints don’t start pouring in that they’re gouging consumers on price with the tariffs on their website.

Conversely, TRAI should make it easy to view a carrier’s plans on that carrier’s website itself and provide links if customers would rather browse the tariff information elsewhere.

Figure out the design before launching

Please? The official online RTI filing website, for instance, is among the best in the world. And its design is (for lack of a better word) horrible. A pro-consumer regulatory move like the tariff microsite can easily fall apart because of bad design. If there is a weak link to this chain, the design shouldn’t be it. You don’t even need to hire a fancy designer (which government contracting rules make very difficult). Take your pick of any open source templates that are available, and use them. Better yet, do a hackathon. If there is a way for you to make the site look better than it does right now, do it.

Another design tip is this: be more intuitive about how you display plans. Right now, this is what the output looks like:

That’s just… that doesn’t help me at all. I really have to try hard to figure out what exactly the benefit of each plan is, and how it’s going to help me. Hopefully, the standardized tariffs that you’re demanding from telcos will fix the mess of a description that you presently have in the beta.

At the end of the day, even if a lot of people don’t end up using this microsite, it’s very important for it to exist. And it’s very important for people who do visit it, to have their decision made easier, as opposed to having a whole new problem in their journey to choose a telecom plan. If the microsite looks good, does its job, and is designed and architected intuitively — with active participation by telcos themselves — then this could be a significant regulatory achievement.