Thought leadership — To provide that Wow! Experience, companies must be thought leaders. Only unique, relevant, and directly usable, applicable content will result in a truly stellar customer experience. Staying ahead of the curve, we research constantly and update all of our materials about the workers we serve, and take a futuristic approach to this. Not only do I direct the Real Identities team to study and follow the market today, but I look decades into the future along the trajectory of IDs and I look at the industries and companies we’ll serve for years and decades to come.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Fenimore Dworak.
Susan Fenimore Dworak is a fake ID expert and the CEO of Real Identities, a team of legal and tech experts based in Silicon Valley that works nationwide to prevent the use of fake IDs by curating and presenting current, clear, and correct images and information about real and fake IDs. As a regulatory analyst and legal compliance expert who spent her career at the nation’s largest law firms, Susan teaches companies how to navigate and comply with complex legal landscapes that require companies to check ID and confirm identity. Susan has a BA in Political Science from UCLA and a JD from Santa Clara University School of Law. She is a Nasdaq Milestone Maker and a Draper University Startup Hero.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m an entrepreneur at heart, always seeking opportunities to engage in social responsibility and maximize social impact. I started www.RealIdentities.com five years ago when I read that companies were spending millions in legal fees and penalties, all due to a lack of customer “service,” of sorts. That is, they were failing to spot fake IDs, and in many cases even failing to check ID, even when required as a regular part of the customer service position. The numbers caught my eye, but what really struck me was the depth and swiftness with which fake IDs cause serious legal, financial, and social consequences. I dug deeper and made a relatively simple discovery: despite claims to the contrary, frontline staff are often not properly trained to check IDs, so it’s difficult or even impossible to spot fake IDs, especially today’s super sophisticated IDs.
That means that day after day, every day, the largest and the smallest brands alike leave this responsibility in the hands of untrained frontline staff, creating risk that can translate into literally tens of millions of dollars in liability and untold social consequences (e.g., the Las Vegas shooter checked into the hotel with a fake ID, the Oklahoma City bomber rented the truck with a fake ID, terrorists accomplished 9/11 in part with fake IDs, human trafficking happens with fake IDs, and sadly the list goes on and on).
The current methods used to “train” gatekeepers to check ID — books, trainings, and scanners — are really not training people at all. Books have a limited number of IDs and are outdated by the time they go to print. Trainings cover a fraction of IDs in mere minutes, and when people walk out the door of a live training or click off an online training, there is no way they can memorize hundreds of IDs. Moreover, they won’t know the new IDs that change frequently.
Scanners don’t work because fake IDs are built to fool scanners. Check any fake ID website and one of the first terms you’ll read is “scannable.” A scanner is a device, and it’s simply reading what is on the ID. A device cannot validate or authenticate an ID. Even if a scanner pings a database (and most private parties do not have access to DMV or government databases), the reply simply indicates that someone with that name and ID number is in a system. It in no way proves that the ID is real or that it belongs to the person using it.
To confirm age and identity, people who check ID need access to clear, current, and correct information and images about both real and fake IDs — especially since the US has hundreds and hundreds of versions and variations of ID that change frequently.
So that’s my backstory. I created Real Identities, a team of talented people who are good human beings who provide the right kind of ID checking customer service — which, in turn, provides a great community service.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’ve made many mistakes, and sadly many were far from funny — at least at the time. I hired the wrong lawyers and remain bitter to this day about paying a legal bill for worthless advice. I spent too much time in the weeds trying to learn software when I should have surrendered to the technology gods and hired a tech guru. The list is long. To summarize, I’d say my biggest takeaway is to realize early on that you don’t have to be an expert in all things. You should determine exactly what your company needs and hire the right people to make it all happen. Adding to that, if the people you interview cannot quickly understand and assess your situation to explain options and solutions, they’re not the right candidates. Move on until you find the right people with the right experience and expertise who will become assets to your team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I was lucky enough to spend my career with some of the country’s finest law firms that recruited the top graduates from the top law schools. I remain forever grateful to have been mentored by teams of brilliant people. Today, I’d say I achieve success by constantly listening to legal experts and also to our clients. I learn an incredible amount from our users — the people we are empowering and upskilling to provide customer service in checking ID in a multitude of industries. By listening to our clients and learning about their pain points, my own success and Real Identities’ impact happens more on a group level.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
As we say at Real Identities, we already have two strikes against us: One, we’re law (insert wah-wah sound here) and that can be boring. Two, we’re training (insert yet another wah-wah sound here) and that can be boring. To avoid striking out, we have one more time at bat and we have to hit the ball out of the park with great customer service and a great customer experience.
It’s critical that we provide excellent service and an engaging experience for all of our users across multiple industries. That’s a broad target to hit. The people who check ID form a broad demographic that spans every age from 16 to 96, every gender, every experience level, every educational level, every language ability, every cultural background. One of our customer experience challenges, if you will, was determining how we deliver our content in a way that every worker would understand it.
The answer was twofold. First, we have to make it approachable by making it clear and concise. Second, we have to make it engaging by making it fun. Our content has to be more than interesting. To heighten the customer experience we consider everything that will make it engaging, intriguing, and even fascinating. We have to make our users want to use our app and benefit from our legal content and our training. We also have to make it fun. To accomplish that we use something rather obvious: humor. After our tech and legal team develop our content we give it to comedy writers. They make it fun and funny. People love our content. We have a secret sauce that reduces the intimidation and boredom associated with the complexities of legal compliance and actually makes learning law fun, presented in a way that is understandable and memorable, creating a great customer experience for every user, every time.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
That is a perfect way to ask this question! Where is the disconnect? A disconnect is exactly what happens. In creating a brand, companies create a brand-specific definition of “service.” Management assumes that workers will abide by company policy and provide brand-specific “service,” but that gets lost in translation. Workers translate the term “service” differently. That’s the disconnect.
The American workforce is diverse, and we all come to work with subjective definitions of manners, etiquette, and other terms that translate to good “service” based on our own backgrounds and cultural norms. As a result, we act accordingly and the behaviors span a spectrum. Management cannot assume that workers will understand their brand-specific definitions. What one worker considers polite another could consider impolite.
The answer is for companies to incorporate detailed training that outlines and demonstrates behaviors using very specific and very concrete examples of proper and improper customer service. Training should include many examples of “what not to do” in addition to examples of “what to do.”
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
One would think that more competition would force improvement, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. The current methods for checking ID are clearly not working, and while new competitors such as ID scanners entered the market over the years, nothing really seemed to improve. I will explain.
For decades workers have been using ID scanners to check IDs. These devices rely on “technology” that is over half a century old, meaning barcodes and magnetic stripes, both of which are easily forged (and as such are disappearing from real IDs). Anyone with any basic tech knowledge and anyone with substantial ID checking experience knows barcodes and magnetic stripes can be created or altered in minutes. Yet companies continue to use scanners and — worse — continue to make egregious marketing representations that scanners catch sophisticated fake IDs. These misstatements not only provide horrible customer service but put workers at risk.
Putting people at risk is in no way providing excellent customer service or an excellent customer experience. Companies and workers often don’t understand the risk until it’s too late. I will explain further.
If a worker fails to catch a fake ID with a scanner, he or she may be charged with an underage service violation and the company may also be charged as the holder of the liquor license, potentially risking suspension or loss of the license. When called to court to face civil and criminal penalties and fines, the company may try to defend itself by explaining that the city mandated the use of a scanner. The worker may try to defend himself or herself by explaining that the company required the use of a scanner. The judge can rightfully reply that sliding a piece of plastic (an ID) through a slot (the scanner) or zapping it with a cell phone (scanning app) does not constitute legal compliance because the law requires proper and thorough checking of ID or, in other words, due diligence.
That’s our differentiator. Real Identities entered the market to provide due diligence. We provide prevention and protection. We focus on IDs and we teach people how to properly and thoroughly check IDs. While we applaud any effort to prevent the use of fake IDs, we joined the market as a competitor with a plan to not only change how workers in America check ID, but also to increase awareness about the lack of customer service provided by current competitors.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
After working for years to gain market traction, one of the best “Wow!” compliments and confirmations I received was from an experienced, nationally-recognized regulator who understands fake IDs and underage drinking. After seeing our app at a national conference, the regulator said, “This is the only resource I’ve seen that will actually work.” Exactly the words we wanted to hear, because we know what companies and workers need to spot fake IDs. The regulator’s confirmation and public recognition meant a lot.
I should add that one of my favorite reactions is that moment of discovery when a client or an app user has that “Wow!” or “Ah, ha!” moment upon seeing the value and benefit of the app. I love witnessing the moment a client recognizes our differentiator and understands the protection it provides.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Ripple is just the right word. One “Wow!” experience can be a large pebble (or boulder) in a pond. The alcohol regulator who provided the testimonial mentioned above became an advocate for Real Identities and introduced us to other regulators and stakeholders so we could form partnerships and collaborate to have a greater impact on the use of fake IDs for the sale and service of alcohol in the US. We’ve since served on panels, and written publications, that are reaching even more people nationwide. We’re now working with states on programs to make great things happen.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Thought leadership — To provide that Wow! Experience, companies must be thought leaders. Only unique, relevant, and directly usable, applicable content will result in a truly stellar customer experience. Staying ahead of the curve, we research constantly and update all of our materials about the workers we serve, and take a futuristic approach to this. Not only do I direct the Real Identities team to study and follow the market today, but I look decades into the future along the trajectory of IDs and I look at the industries and companies we’ll serve for years and decades to come.
2. Know your customer — I don’t mean Know Your Customer, as in the “KYC” of verifying the identity of your customer, though that sounds ironic, being in the identity business. I mean that it’s critical to know your customer to understand precisely why they use your product and exactly how they will benefit from it. Many times during the UI and UX design phases engineers would recommend multiple “bells and whistles” for our app, ID.TRAINING. I consider many of them useless or even counterproductive distractions. If our users do not directly benefit from it, it’s not going into the app.
3. You are nothing without integrity — I often tell people to ignore what I call the “shiny, happy marketing” on a website and go right to the disclaimers for any product or service they consider using. Those disclaimers, and particularly the limits on company liability, will tell you a lot about the company’s integrity. It really irritates me when I read the disclaimers for ID scanner companies that fail to fully disclose the hacking risks of scanning and capturing personally identifiable data potentially resulting in millions in liability while stating — on the same page, no less — that the limit to their liability is the 3.99 dollars the user paid for the scanning app.
4. Remain focused — The CEO must ensure the team remains hyper-focused on the collective goals and key performance indicators of the company and its clients to provide an excellent customer experience. The key word there is “collective,” and this comes down to effectiveness. Let’s say your company meets its sales quota for the quarter or the year. That’s great, but it’s not enough. Are your clients meeting their goals and KPIs? In our case, are our clients’s workers using the app, learning, properly and thoroughly checking IDs, and finding fake IDs? Has their risk and liability been reduced? The product has to be effective to ensure an excellent customer experience.
5. Exceed expectations — Let the client know that you understand their needs. Explain precisely how you are going to not only meet but exceed their needs so you can instill confidence in what you’re offering to the client, allowing them to focus on their business. We have contingency plans to ensure that we’re an asset and not an obstruction or disappointment to our clients, from tech redirects to human resource overlaps to just about anything that can go wrong so the client always receives streamlined, excellent service.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
I love this question. When a client has a “Wow!” experience with Real Identities, we ask that they provide testimonials and evangelize the preventative and protective benefits of the Real Identities app. Our clients are the people we need to hear from to improve service, so we ask them to communicate both the positive and the negative, if any. We thank and applaud them for choosing our app and we remind them of their successes in using it. For example, we might send a message that reads, “Congratulations! Your team caught over 200 fake IDs this quarter. Will you please write a testimonial that we can post on our website and social media?” It’s a great way to get valuable commentary. We also remind our users to provide feedback through the app and make it as easy as possible to do with just one click.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
First, awareness. Government agencies and employees must be aware that current solutions are not working, and that technology described with impressive terms is not always impressive, and that technology is not always the answer. Second, regulation. Regulators can better understand unintended consequences when they increase their individual and collective knowledge of how ID scanner technology works and does not work given the numerous vulnerabilities (and there are always vulnerabilities). Third, change. We must change how identity is confirmed in this country, and focus on our specific needs through our own social, political, and legal lenses. For example, some scanner companies advertise that their devices are used by law enforcement or the military or the government of a small country — but those are completely different products. The statement is technically true, but they are talking about completely different devices, because they are not the scanners that are sold to private companies in the US. It’s almost false advertising. Many of the ID technologies used in other countries won’t work here for countless reasons related to constitutional rights, federal and state laws, and so much more.
Bringing those three things together — awareness, regulation, and change — is key. Technology is built by humans, so it can be scammed by humans. The gatekeepers who confirm identity need a resource to understand exactly how each technology is scammed so they can protect themselves, their companies, and their communities. When one human is giving a mind-altering product like alcohol, cannabis, or pharmaceuticals to another human, the human providing the product must confirm the age or identity of the person receiving the product. It’s that simple. Some products are regulated for a reason. We built the Real Identities app to create awareness, help with regulation, and change the way America checks IDs. It’s a movement we can all get behind.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please visit us at www.ID.TRAINING
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!