By Biff Matthews
I received numerous phone calls and e-mails regarding my article "The Green Sheet Aug. 27, 2007, issue 07:08:02. In the article, I discussed the challenges of establishing a certification program and creating a list of merchant level salespeople (MLSs) whose unethical behavior taints the payments industry.
In essence, most asked, "OK, we agree that the MLS community needs to step up, but what, specifically, needs to be done?"
One idea is to improve our business operations. After all, some difficult situations arise because of inattention, not because of a desire to do harm. I believe widespread implementation of certain common-sense procedures could make a list of rogue agents much shorter should it ever come to pass.
I appreciate that every MLS hates paperwork and would rather be out selling. However, time invested on the front end is time well spent. Ensuring that those responsible for setting up your new merchant accounts can complete their work quickly and accurately will substantially contribute to a positive experience for all new merchants.
The happier the merchants are, the more likely they will be to refer you to their colleagues and remain loyal customers when market conditions become tenuous.
Let me restate a well-known fact: It costs two to three times as much to fix a problem than to prevent it. It's understood that boarding and implementing a new merchant can require hundreds of individual data elements. MLSs must provide those elements for installation to be successful.
A formal checklist is imperative because it eliminates the No. 1 cause of error - simple, everyday forgetfulness. Here are the basics:
Compose your checklist with questions and responses in the order in which data is input, even creating separate sheets for each input source. Imagine the hazards inherent in shuffling back and forth through 10 to 15 pages in order to fully board and implement a merchant, and you'll understand why the process can be so time-consuming. Errors are commonplace.
Always use multiple sources for critical information. Typically, the owner or contract signatory is the person least likely to have all the answers.
Even if that person insists he or she does, confirm all information provided with other responsible individuals within the organization who have direct responsibility for those functions.
Ask questions and confirm data with accounting, operations and telemarketing staff. Sales clerks and service people often have the data you need as well. This step is critically important when an Internet Protocol (IP) device or PC application is being implemented.
These steps were part of a manual input form we used years ago. At the time, this was comprehensive and relevant to staging any merchant. Obviously, it does not reflect all the fields that apply to every merchant now, though it is still a good starting point for your checklist.
Why is having the right data so very important? An ISO client of ours didn't have a checklist and forbade us from contacting its merchants directly. These are two very bad signs, as you'll see in a minute.
This ISO ordered configuration and deployment of a standard high-speed modem device. Upon receipt, the ISO told us the device "didn't work." A few days later, after much effort on the part of all parties, the ISO called saying the merchant needed an IP-configured terminal, which we shipped. That device also failed to function as expected.
Our senior technician devoted three full days working with the processor and reboarding the merchant. He also got the equipment manufacturer involved in testing different configurations, and the processor became involved in rebuilding and downloading files into the IP device at the merchant location. Still, the solution eluded us all.
Finally, with no practical options remaining, we contacted the merchant. We learned immediately that the IP connection was from the terminal to a wireless router.
This required, obviously, an entirely different set of specifications and questions. All of the work done to that point had been a waste of everyone's time.
We faxed new specification questions to the merchant and our ISO client. The silence was deafening. Two weeks later, we followed up with the merchant and learned he had taken his sizeable processing business to another company out of frustration with the careless ISO.
It is lunacy to invest time to make the sale, then activate a merchant without taking the time to understand his requirements. Here is my thinking: Be observant; look at the area where equipment will be installed. Note the area where help desk calls will be placed.
An MLS recalled recently discovering a hodgepodge of service and authorization stickers on the wall near a merchant's telephone, along with others scrawled on the wall. Some information dated back to the first Bush administration.
The MLS said she cleaned up the wall so her new merchant only had the correct service and authorization information for her installation. Imagine the time and money she saved her new customer and his employees, not to mention the help desk and authorization entities. As a bonus, she also saved herself unnecessary service calls. Truly a triple win - just for paying attention.
Also, make an outside call to determine if a dial prefix is required. Follow the telephone line to determine if a fax or extension is attached. Ask a salesperson if the line for the terminal has an extension or another device attached to it.
Determine if there are sufficient outlets where the new POS device is to be placed. Are those outlets permanently on or connected to a switch, and if a switch, when and why is it ever turned off?
Fully communicate to all stakeholders all of the services you sold that the new merchant is expecting.
Beyond check guarantee, other card types and debit cards - are credits to be password-protected? Is a spill cover required? How many rolls of paper are reasonably needed for the first few months of transactions?
Obtain the contact name, phone number and e-mail at the "ship to" address for equipment. Find out who, in addition to the contract signatory, is the next primary contact and take down additional phone numbers and e-mails for that person. Fully communicate the lease or rental timeframe and payment amount.
Identify any extraordinary items required for this particular installation. Which items are purchased, and at what price? Is payment being made via credit card, check, automated clearing house (ACH) or COD?
If the payment is by card, provide the account number, card name and complete billing address (a legible photocopy is preferred). If payment is by automated clearing house, supply a voided check. Triple check for omitted or added digits and number transpositions. Simple errors such as these are more common than anyone would imagine.
These are some of the best tools for creating your checklist. You still need to determine and communicate all the rate and fee items. But those are blanks you can easily fill in.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150 or e-mail him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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