By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
The year 2012 has been tumultuous for the payments industry, a high-stakes drama of disruptive technology, changing regulations, and an evolving commercial landscape that offers more choice and more voice to consumers. Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have done a commendable job of helping merchants adapt and capitalize on leading-edge mobile payment technology to keep existing customers happy and to attract new ones.
We can anticipate that merchants will continue to rely on our expertise as we enter the next big chapter in payments, which will include, but not be limited to, chip cards, mobile wallets, and various mobile and cloud-based technologies. But we can't rest on our laurels, especially when an increasing number of competitors are battling over a shrinking pool of merchants.
So how do we stay ahead of the game as new players enter our space and vie for our merchants, enticing them with a virtual buffet line of traditional and alternative payment systems? We can begin by being in the moment, observing the world around us without rushing to judgment.
The practice of "sensemaking," a Westernized version of mindfulness, was developed in 2009 by Karl Weick, an organizational theorist and professor at Michigan University's Ross School of Business. "Sensemaking is dynamic and requires continuous updating and re-accomplishment," Weick wrote. "As a leader, don't let people languish in the feeling, 'Now we have it figured out.' They don't have it figured out. Why? It's not that kind of an issue.
Recovery is about workable, plausible stories of what we face and what we can do. But these are not final stories. They are stories that should be modified based on new inputs and new opportunities and new setbacks."
When we apply Weick's sensemaking metrics to a workplace environment, we create a conceptual framework for understanding how managers think and how employees interact, or what is commonly called a corporate culture. This culture shapes everything about a company's business, including how decisions are made.
The first step in sensemaking is listening and observing. How would you describe the merchant's environment? Is it formal or informal? When people need an answer, do they call, email or walk to a workstation? Are decisions made by committee vote or by a business owner?
Your observations will provide the basis for your presentation, its degree of formality or informality, and create the appropriate tone to use in addressing your decision-maker. To achieve the right perspective, take a few steps back and try to read the room.
"To have a distanced perspective of someone does not mean being cold, unfeeling or non-understanding," wrote Robert M. Branson, Ph.D., in his book, Coping with Difficult People. "My own experience is that the opposite is often true, particularly with those I care about, or need, the most. A truism that usually holds here, too, is: the more you can see others as truly separate from yourself, the more you are able to see them as they really are."
The second step in sensemaking is to identify what is working and not working at any merchant organization. We frequently ask merchants what they like about their current processing systems and what, if anything, they would like to change.
We should never stop asking these questions, even after we get the account. But let's not be satisfied by their explanations. If we take the time to observe the checkout process at work, we can usually identify ways to improve process flow and streamline efficiencies.
Direction is where strategy meets execution, a critical piece of the payment processing puzzle. Sometimes it may be easier for a merchant to replace all equipment and start over instead of trying to patch together analog and digital components. MLSs can help merchants make these important decisions and effectively incorporate new technologies into their standard way of doing things.
We frequently assume our customers are just like us. Branson suggested that this kind of thinking can hinder business development. "We all tend to believe that others are basically like ourselves, that they have similar values, assumptions and feelings," he wrote.
"Consequently, when they do not act as we expect or would like, it is 'logical' to assume that their unexpected and unwanted behavior must be due to hostile intentions, a faulty personality or just plain personal 'difficultness.' As a result, we conclude that it is up to them to change."
In a majority of cases, the onus is on us, the MLSs, to take the time to reflect, do more research and rethink our approach.
While staying in touch with one's customers has long been a guiding principle of effective account management, online tools have made it easier than ever to stay connected with our personal and professional networks.
Social media has been around since Plato introduced his bulletin board system, but today's "Web 2.0" tools are much more user-friendly and have helped to create an always-on, social learning environment, according to Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner in their book titled The New Social Learning. "The new social learning leverages online communities, media sharing, microsharing, content collaboration and immersive environments to introduce people to ideas in quick bursts, when it suits their workflow, without being a big learning curve, and in a way that more closely mirrors how groups interact in person," they wrote.
In today's always-on, always-connected environment, where it is possible to send images and live video around the world in seconds, people react immediately to situations and share views in a variety of media, including blogs, chat rooms, television, print and radio.
There has never been more coverage and more sharing of alternate points of view, which means we must carefully manage our communications and the personal information that we choose to share in social media. A cute cat video can become a global sensation, but a simple mistake can also go viral, creating a storm of controversy. In his book, How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends, Don Gabor emphasized the importance of tempering criticism with encouragement and positive feedback. "Even though there is always room for improvement, when you are giving feedback it's better to praise the positive attributes of someone's efforts first, even if you really have to search for something good to comment about," he wrote.
For best results, avoid using praise and criticism in the same sentence, which could turn off listeners and make them less receptive to suggestions for improvement.
We're living in extraordinary times. Our industry is changing at the speed of innovation, and the best way to deal with it is to ride the wave: be in the moment, observe what's going on and continue to be fascinated by the endless possibilities ahead. Sensemaking isn't magical. It doesn't claim to demystify the unknown, but it can help us analyze a vibrant and changing culture. It can also help us stay alert and aware of industry trends, changing consumer behavior and the changing needs of our merchants.
Dale S. Laszig is Senior Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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