Monday, February 23, 2009

Identity theft - the most prevalent crime in America?

I spoke at the Society of Government Meeting Professionals regional meeting in Oklahoma City this weekend. If you haven't been to Oklahoma City recently, its Bricktown area is nice - with a great baseball park, new NBA stadium, and a nice "riverwalk" (really a concrete canal, but well done anyway).

Enter the Secret Service

Daniel A. Baker spoke immediately before me. He's a Special Agent from the Oklahoma City Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service and he gave a fascinating talk on identity theft. I spend most of my time trying to prevent credit card and information theft, so it was interesting to see the law enforcement perspective that takes over when prevention fails.

One statistic that hit me was that 3 or 4 out of ten Americans have been victims of identity or related theft (e.g. credit card fraud) either directly or through family members. To me, that implies that identity theft is the most prevalent crime in America.

Do we spend most of our time fighting crimes people don't commit?

Another interesting statistic came in my mail from the City of Lewisville. Homeowners with registered alarm systems now must pay $50 per year, because 99% of the 6,000 residential alarms that Lewisville police respond to are false. So, last year our police spent more time responding to about 50 break-ins (and nearly 6,000 false alarms) than to the several hundred identity fraud crimes that I'd expect in a city of 100,000. As I've blogged in the past, I've had $1500 stolen (and refunded) from credit card fraud and an attempted theft of nearly $24,000 in check fraud, yet no law enforcement agency I contact has the resources to tackle such "small" crimes.

I'll keep working on fraud prevention, but I wonder if the criminals are staying a step ahead of us with these newer electronic crimes?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How long do you want to be a clerk?

I spoke about the APEX Initiative at MPI's Meet Different conference in Atlanta on February 9th with Terri Breining from Concepts Worldwide. During the Q&A period at the end, Alisen Herman stood up in the back of the room and explained how her organization, Acord, had helped the insurance industry through electronic data standards. These standards allow you to submit an insurance bid online and receive dozens of quotes within minutes. Such response is expected in the insurance and banking industries, but is not common within meetings and events.

I thought her final comment, to the audience, was especially relevant. She told the collection of meeting planners that they needed to insist that their suppliers and software providers adhere to the APEX standards, or else the industry would never move forward while everyone waits for "everyone else" to move first. She said, "How long do you want to be a clerk?", because that is what meeting planners often end up being when they spend the majority of their time copying information from one place to another and re-typing data over and over.

Welcome to APEX

Here are the slides we presented:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Losing customers without letting go completely

I just cancelled my home VOIP phone service, which Lingo raised to $33/month from $21/month in 2003. The service agent was polite in handling my cancellation request, and then she offered me the option to downgrade to $7/month for a “basic plan", which allows free incoming calls forwarded to my new phone number and $0.03/minute for outbound calls. Since many people still have my old number, I took their offer because it's worth $7 not to lose incoming calls while I transfer people to my new number.

Losing customers the wrong way

No one wants to lose customers, but companies handle this inevitable situation differently. AOL made it easy for me to sign up for a "free trial", but I found it almost impossible to figure out how to cancel after the trial ended so I wouldn't get charged every month. I finally cancelled and never would consider going back. When my wife cancelled our weekly house-cleaning service, the owner lost her temper and verbally berated my wife before slamming the phone down. The business owner never got to hear my wife ask about the bi-monthly or periodic service we wanted to switch to.

Let go, but keep the door open

Lost customers are still customers, and the conversation around cancelling a service is also an opportunity to offer another service of value. For example, a meeting planner may want to cancel their online registration service, but still retain access to their data for past events. So we offer a low-cost basic service that allows access to existing data and retains their web site and event configurations in case they return to use our service in the future. Many clients don't know that they need all of their historical data, but they are terrified of losing it - and they'll pay us to keep it stored, just in case they need it later.