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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 12, 2009 • Issue 09:01:01

The new age in customer retention

By Christian Murray
Global eTelecom Inc.

How many times did you check in with your merchants last year to ask how things were going? When did you last send an e-mail or call just to check in with your customers? How often did you introduce additional products or services after a sale?

Do you know how many times in 2008 competitors contacted your merchants and pitched value added solutions?

Not all merchants jump ship based on lower rates or free terminal programs. Many evaluate their processors based on how well their accounts are serviced and whether the processor offers useful solutions to streamline business and generate additional revenue.

Merchant stickiness depends on the quality of the relationships ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) build with their merchant customers. It depends on the perceived value ISOs and MLSs bring to the table. This can be true even with price-conscious merchants.

Many things contribute to account longevity, including robust product offerings. But it takes dedication and focus from ISOs and MLSs to help merchants' businesses grow over time.

Unattractive rates, poor service or lack of value added offerings can cause headaches for ISOs. It's difficult to fix such problem areas or reprogram MLSs to focus on value added products if ISOs don't see their value to merchants.

Not having a well-rounded marketing campaign or cross-selling initiative designed to keep merchants sticky can ultimately weaken portfolios and frustrate MLSs selling value added solutions.

Ongoing management

Many companies in the payments industry are not effectively managing retention and driving proactive initiatives. Unfortunately, good inbound customer service alone does not secure long-term success.

Evaluating and tracking portfolio attrition should be standard operating procedure. Some of the data may show how well merchants are sticking with you. Other data might surprise and frighten you.

If evaluating and tracking the merchants in your portfolio has not been important to you, now is the time to make it a priority.

Keeping in touch, servicing accounts proactively and consistently contacting merchants can become difficult as your portfolio grows. The larger the operation, the more difficult having such a focus is likely to be. Also, MLSs are often trained to "turn and burn" to meet their sales quotas.

Focus on building strong relationships and servicing accounts - this is what ultimately prevents attrition.

No neglect

It is recommended that MLSs visit or contact each new merchant client shortly after the sale to help install equipment, verify things are up and running and ascertain that the merchant is happy. Sometimes larger operations send out welcome kits. Sadly, that is often the last time merchants hear from their ISOs.

However, the feet on the street typically have closer relationships with merchants and can manage follow-up directly. Often, it takes repeated visits to earn merchants' trust and loyalty.

Ongoing contact with merchants after a sale is critical to portfolio retention. Tailor your sales efforts to meet your customers' needs by introducing solutions that focus on increased revenue streams. Bank card processing may be the main thrust on the initial sale, but regular follow-up opens the door to merchant acceptance of additional services.

Merchants feel abandoned without consistent contact from their service providers. If you don't keep in touch, you could lose your merchants to more organized providers.

Smart selling

Creating a standard outline with steps for selling new services and building and maintaining client relationships is not realistic for most.

The dynamics can change based on individual merchant needs and circumstances. Also, ingrained sales techniques and closing styles can't just be tossed aside and replaced with new ways of selling and servicing merchants.

New hires learning the business may have a better chance of adapting and implementing techniques that can ultimately promote merchant longevity.

Evaluating the variety of merchants in a portfolio and then assigning the right MLS to build solid relationships with them can be a good formula.

For example, if you have an MLS who is experienced in selling to restaurants, provide the MLS an arsenal of value added products for that vertical. That MLS can then sell or offer the following solutions:

  • Third-party direct mail services
  • Newsletter software
  • Mobile phone marketing
  • Banners and signage
  • Table tents and bill inserts
  • Gift and loyalty cards
  • Web sites and search engine optimization services
  • Flyers or other printed marketing collateral
  • Employee incentive programs
  • Radio or newspaper advertising

Matching each MLS's individual success with various merchant types is a great way to maximize sales and help merchants get the right products. Merchant questionnaires are another effective way to collect feedback and build loyalty.

If an organization can identify the products and services a particular merchant needs, it can simultaneously decrease attrition and skyrocket sales of value added services.

Table matters

With smaller margins continuing to chip away at the profitability of accounts, having the right combination of effective marketing and solutions to offer is every ISO's and MLS's concern. Developing a product selection that caters to the growth and increased profits of merchants is critical. If you successfully implement such a focus, you will always stand out from the competition.

For many, adapting third-party solutions into the sales mix might be a challenge. But not all value added solutions must be supported internally. Many providers can offer turnkey, branded solutions that they will help sell and support.

Forward focus

Cultivating relationships and building loyalty with merchants has many moving parts and evolves constantly based on new technology and merchant needs. Adapting revenue generating solutions for merchants helps their business grow and keeps them satisfied with you.

Changing the way we do business with our customers is a necessity in today's market. Merchants are looking for a one-stop shop and unconditional reliability from their payment providers.

However, many ISOs and MLSs resist embracing these philosophies and continue to invest their resources in gobbling up as many new merchants as possible without concern for the merchants' success.

Over time, as our industry evolves, merchants will stay with ISOs and MLSs who prove they can bring more value to the table. At the same time, these organizations can be a part of something bigger.

With a foundation of trust, loyalty and dependability, you won't have to offer free terminals or battle over a few basis points to thrive.

Barriers will come down as merchants realize the value you bring to them. True satisfaction and ensuing rewards come to ISOs and MLSs who help merchants find continued business success, not to those who simply save merchants a few bucks on processing.

Taking action now is paramount. If you plan to thrive in 2009 and in the years to come, get moving. Experience the difference you can make with this new focus. Your evolved sales approach will take time and determination; stay focused and keep your eye on the prize.

Your continued persistence will pay off - one merchant at a time. end of article

Christian Murray is the Director of Business Development for Global eTelecom Inc. He has more than 12 years' experience within the payments industry. GETI provides check processing and gift and loyalty solutions. For more information, visit www.checktraining.com and www.giftcardtraining.com, or contact Christian directly at 877-454-3835 or cmurray@globaletelecom.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

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