By Nancy Drexler
Across all industry lines, people want to conduct business with individuals and companies they trust. Over the course of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama convinced more people that he was reliable, consistent and trustworthy than did John McCain. This campaign strategy can serve as a model for winning merchant accounts.
If you can convince merchants you are deserving of trust, sales will follow. It doesn't happen overnight, but it is worth striving for. Any company willing to take the necessary steps and stick to them can establish itself as a trustworthy industry leader.
True concern about your customers is what delivers trust. Facts, history and experience establish credibility, but trust is built gradually in a relationship that demonstrates accessibility and caring.
Too many of us in the industry demonstrate concern for our customers right up until they sign their contracts. We think that giving them the customer service number eliminates the need to follow up. True customer care and concern should be expressed throughout the sales process and, of course, well beyond.
We at SignaPay have learned that nothing delivers trust as well as flexibility. Listening to your customers, understanding their needs and being willing to bend a little goes a long way toward building trust.
Demonstrate that you trust your customers, and you'll make it much easier for them to trust you.
This naturally applies not just to the sale but also to the service that follows. Responding to customer calls, allowing them to vent and bending a bit when you can - these true customer services build lasting, productive relationships.
It is hard to trust someone who hides behind a wall of voicemail and support staff or a mask of invincibility or pseudo sincerity. It is far easier to trust those who acknowledge their mistakes, admit their frailties and own up to their shortcomings.
In our industry, you will no doubt be delivering bad news to your customers from time to time. Too many processors avoid delivering the bad news entirely by applying fees without notifying their customers, perhaps hoping they won't notice. Others send short missives to announce or explain thorny issues.
These explanations often use blame and argument rather than honesty and concern. It is this "try to squeak it by now and apologize for it later" approach that builds distrust and sours relationships.
You'll do much better with your customers - and keep them far longer - if you make some effort to truly explain a situation and acknowledge hardship or error.
Your risk department is a great place to start. If you are not releasing a customer's funds, explain why. If you are communicating a risk retrieval, let your customer understand what has happened and what can be done about it.
Be empathic whenever you tell merchants that they will not find quite as much money in their bank accounts as they had expected. Your customers may be unhappy with you, but they will not distrust you.
When deciding where to take their business, people will shy away from the unknown. This makes your reputation an immeasurable part of your success.
If you don't have a reputation as an industry leader, it is time to build one. All the expertise in the world will not matter if nobody knows about you. Your expertise is only as good as your exposure. It is not hard to develop a reputation as a leader in your field, but it is time-consuming.
You can start by googling yourself. If your name isn't attached to a number of industry sites, blogs or publications, you are not doing everything you can to build exposure. People seeking advice or experience in our industry should find your name or your company name every time they search.
So get yourself out there. Start by joining industry associations and trade groups. Then join committees where your efforts will be recognized. Attend industry events, and network as much as you can.
Participate in online social and business networks. Add your comments to a blog or three. Submit articles to trade journals and local news outlets. Offer to speak at industry gatherings or local business meetings. Be a mentor or a sponsor. Get positive testimonials from current clients and associates, and add those to your Web site.
Remember, this is not a one-shot deal. Just getting your name on lists is not enough. You cannot generate buzz or establish credentials without actually contributing. You have to walk the talk. You have to really know what is going on in the industry and have a good sense of what works and what doesn't.
If you are writing, keep writing. Be the first to write about new products or trends. Offer valuable advice to those getting started in your market.
If you are contributing to a blog, be diligent and contribute as often as you can, offering intelligent insights and challenging perspectives. If you volunteer for a committee, do your part and then some. Attend meetings. Answer calls responsibly. Offer to help, and deliver on what you promise.
For years we've known to choose strategy over tactics in marketing, and it is clearly a lesson learned well by the Obama campaign. Establishing your credentials and building your reputation requires the same branding strategy as does any product or service. And that means being clear about who and what you are and staying true to your message.
To establish yourself as a reliable, trustworthy industry leader, begin by asking yourself these questions:
If you can't readily answer yes to these questions, perhaps you are not ready to generate exposure. To successfully build your brand, you must truly be who you say you are. So be honest with yourself. Then decide if you can commit your company resources to making a trustworthy reputation a top priority.
If you can, get to work. Create a list of business objectives that are client-focused. Define a customer service policy. Write it up, and distribute it as a company mandate. Train your internal staff to uphold your policies. Then you can begin to market.
Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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