By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
What strategies do you use to retain merchants? Does it make sense to counteroffer every competitive proposal, or are you selective about the accounts you try to keep? As we've seen online and in GS Online's MLS Forum, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have strong opinions about merchant retention.
Following are recommendations on how to build long-lasting, profitable relationships with merchants. Maintain clear, open lines of communication MLS Forum member Clearent wrote, "If you want to retain more merchants, you have to consistently communicate to them in multiple fashions, ranging from phone calls to newsletters. Unless they are in contact with you often, they can wander."
Slick Streetman added, "[I]f you are a local guy like me with your accounts in about a 50 mile radius of your office, communicate physically - as in stick your head in their door at least every couple of months and show your smiling face, thank them for their business, and let them know how important they are to you.
"I tell my merchants, 'Your success is my success and, like you, I love my customers. I will always get you the very best rate on your card fees and take care of your credit card terminal at no charge. This is how I feed my family, so, heck, you are like family to me, and I sincerely appreciate your business.'"
This view resonated with 1Slick67 who wrote, "Slick Streetman, I agree with you 100 percent. I do this with my local merchants as well. My office likes it when I visit the [bakeries]. I always visit about 11 a.m., and they always ask, would my office like some 'samples.' It's a [win-win]."
For TPSS//Tiger, on-site visits trump phone calls and emails by a wide margin. "You have to . . . contact them in person," he wrote. "Create a strong relationship with them. When you contact them, [discuss] things other than the account. Ask them how they are doing.
"People want to feel you care about them, not just their business. This will create loyalty. I also try to do business with those that do business with me. It means a lot to a merchant when you can go into the business and purchase something from them [from] time to time. They will think twice about leaving a customer behind rather than just the credit card guy."
Selling value, like closing, is ideally a continuous process that begins when we try to get the appointment, continues when we close on more than just merchant services, and is perpetuated every time we check in with our customers and explore how we can add more value to their processing systems.
This process was aptly summarized by Texascommerce, who wrote, "POS/technology; loyalty; rewards; gift cards; communication."
GreenSheetFootball believes there's no reason to chase a merchant who is heading toward the exit. He recommended bowing to the inevitable, because "they all close their accounts one day."
Maketelinc supports this view. "Some accounts are better left alone," he wrote. "Of course, help and service your customers, but don't overdo it - let sleeping dogs lie. I remember when I would go to load a roll of paper; now I try as hard as possible not to go [on service calls for issues that can be easily managed by] the merchant."
GMartin suggested evaluating accounts on a case-by-case basis to determine which ones are keepers and which are better left alone.
"How many can say they have not experienced the scenario where you check in with a merchant, only to end up having to lower fees because of some scam phone call, or some green rep that came through the door?" he wrote. "They most likely would not have called you to inquire, but since you are there, it becomes a point of conversation that needs to be dealt with."
Echoing Maketelinc, he added, "Sometimes it's best to let a sleeping dog lie."
What differentiates you from your competitors? Is it excellent customer service, leading-edge technology, fast response times or a combination of factors? To effectively compete in this market, it's important to identify what matters most to your business and ensure that all of your actions and communications reflect your company's values.
For 1Slick67, a core value is building a meaningful relationship with every single merchant, no matter how large or small, through a dedicated team of account retention professionals.
"If you are building a brand, you don't want to lose any account or have any [loose] strings out there, as word of mouth is King," he wrote. "We never let an account just go; we always work and work on all of our accounts, as I believe we have the best service [value-added services, etc.] out there.
"We have account [personnel] who only focus on account retention, and they do retain many of the accounts that are in the process of switching or who have already switched."
When all is said and done, it's best to maintain a positive outlook and focus on building value into our customer relationships.
Conrad wrote, "Thankfully, over the last several years, I've seen a decrease in churn to almost zero. To condense a hundred components into two: 1. If a merchant calls me when they are tempted to switch, I save the account. 2. My merchants are trained to call me when they are tempted to switch."
Payment pro Slick Streetman looks forward to the challenges and opportunities of each new day. "The longer you are in this industry, you get to see a bigger and bigger picture," he wrote. "After 10+ years, I still have much to learn, but it has and will always be a great ride, and one that I wake up every morning and truly can say that I love what I do for a living."
TPSS//Tiger reminded us all that the cost of keeping an existing merchant is far less than the expense of acquiring a new one. Once customers leave "it's much harder to get them back," he wrote. He added that you may have to wait for years until former customers can disengage from contracts with their existing processors.
How else can we encourage our merchants to stay? One way suggested by Ber is to humanize the relationship and not make it all about business all the time. "One day per month, I set aside as a 'nonwork' workday. No selling, no service calls ... just visit with clients, hang out, drive around in casual beach clothes."
Whatever strategies you choose to keep your merchants happily involved, remember the best value you can bring to any relationship is the unique, authentic, inimitable you.
Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive specializing in business development and sales performance improvement. She manages channel sales at Castles Technology and sales effectiveness programs through IMPAX Corp. and C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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