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The Green Sheet Online Edition

August 27, 2007 • Issue 07:08:02

When the system is down: Yipes!

A discussion on GS Online's MLS Forum exemplified how quickly panic and chaos can ensue when a processor's network goes down. For merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and ISOs, a perceived emergency can jam customer service systems with calls from angry, concerned or simply confused merchants who want answers -- now!

What can be done? What do you tell your merchants?

MLS David Hanlin wrote, "First of all, you want to be certain that the 'whole' system is down by verifying with tech support, and it's not just the 800 number itself that can be changed in the terminal to an alternate number."

Some processors have backup systems, but it still takes time to switch over to them.

"If the whole system is down, there's not much you can do," Hanlin said. But he offered the following guidelines:

  • If no alternate numbers exist for rerouting of POS transactions, the only option is to use manual imprinters.

  • Get voice authorizations for unusually large tickets.

  • Be certain to obtain purchasers' home and work phone numbers on imprinted tickets in case transactions are declined.

  • Key in transactions after the system is back up and running.

Contacting merchants as soon as possible is key to keeping panic to a minimum. But if you have a large client list, this could take an undue amount of time.

One possible solution, as Mark Gorge posted on the MLS Forum, is to use his company's "dial and deliver technology." It requires a previously set up account with your client/merchant list uploaded into the call system.

Once you have done this, it takes one quick call to record a message. The system then calls everyone with your message, which can include information about the outage and what actions to take (see www.teleshout.com for full details).

Luckily, such failures occur rarely. MLS Kathy Harper said that voice authorization calls can be quite expensive, "anywhere from $0.75 to $1.25 per call, on top of the normal processing fees, so it's not something you want to do unless it's a particularly large transaction."

Harper hasn't experienced a "system down" situation. But she has had her share of trouble with POS terminals. "It's really tough on bars and restaurants," she said, where there is a lot of fast activity.

"I've seen [merchants] take checks or even resort to writing [transaction information] on pieces of paper and cocktail napkins, and then entering the transactions later when the system is back up."

Retailers often don't "batch out" until late at night. So, many might not discover that their systems are down until then, Harper noted. But when the system is on the fritz, manual recording is the only option: an event everyone hopes to avoid. end of article

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