By Tom Waters and Ben Abel
Bank Associates Merchant Services
As we wind down our tenure as bearers of the Street SmartsSM mantle, there is one important cornerstone to your career as a merchant level salesperson (MLS) that we feel is important to touch on. It's something that can be left out of training sometimes but is of critical importance to maintaining your portfolio. It's not sales technique, it's not general technical knowledge, and it's not the ability to recite interchange categories with yours eyes closed.
What is it then? It's embodying the confidence you want merchants to have in you to keep them calm in hectic situations. In other words, it's people management. What does that mean?
As an MLS, a credit card processing professional and a solutions provider in a complex and critical area of a merchant's business, it is imperative that you define yourself to the merchant as more than, for instance, just a 12.6-volt car battery ready to be switched out thanks to a Presidents' Day sale at Costco.
You are the face of the service and a merchant's first phone call when something goes wrong. It's important that you trust in your own knowledge as a professional and are confident in your interactions.
Doubting yourself and thus projecting that doubt onto others, or exploding like a powder keg at the slightest spark, can lead to significant problems in dealing with merchants – and a most unattractive residual report.
We'd like to look at how your approach to merchants can greatly impact their reactions and understanding of a situation. Imagine the following situation described in GS Online's MLS Forum by user jdeckard.
As the clock ticked to 9 a.m., the sounds of a phone ringing reached into an MLS's dreams and lassoed him back into the real world. Blinking to chase away the remnants of sleep, he reached for the phone, recognized the number as a merchant and answered.
"Good morning; this is John."
A barrage of hostility erupted from the phone as the angry merchant released a deluge of accusations about the batch that was supposed to arrive this morning, but had not. The merchant said the MLS was a thief, a cheater, a scoundrel of the highest degree. The merchant made demands and said if they weren't addressed satisfactorily, the MLS would fare a similar fate to Charles I of England.
The MLS waited until the merchant finished, then, with the utmost confidence in his position, answered, like Socrates, with a question, "Well, Mr. Merchant, everything looks OK on our end. Have you tried calling the bank to make sure it isn't them?" A response infused with the same hostility came storming back through the phone.
"No, I haven't called the bank. It's a holiday, and they're closed." The MLS held his tongue, waiting for the merchant's synapses to fire and the critical thinking to set in. Through the receiver, the MLS heard a soft "Ohhhhhh" as the pieces fell together, and the mystery of the missing deposit was solved without the assistance of Scooby-Doo and the gang (referring to the central character in a long-running U.S. cartoon series franchise Scooby-Doo). This enigma fell far short of the intrigue required for a TV special.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" the MLS asked. The merchant declined, said thanks and got off the phone. As abruptly as the situation had begun, it was over. The MLS headed back into his dream to enjoy the rest of his sleep. Daylight, breakfast and the real world would have to wait a little longer.
The situation jdeckard recounted, or one like it, is something most anyone in our industry has experienced at least once or twice. A frantic or hostile merchant channeling the spirit of Chicken Little as he or she rushes to conclusions about a dramatic problem that is frequently far from what the merchant has surmised.
But an MLS can respond in a few ways when this occurs, and the nature of this response can greatly change the end result. The MLS can be driven into a nervous tailspin, stuttering and wide eyed as he or she tries to think of excuses as why this may have occurred. This will do little more than validate the merchant's concerns and exacerbate the problem. After all, if the professional doesn't know what's going on, the problem must be serious.
What if, instead of being calm and rational, the MLS responded in kind, with reactive hostility? Something along the lines of, "Why would you wake me up for this when it's so obviously a federal holiday?" may be what you would like to blurt out upon receiving such a hostile call, but we cannot advise against it enough.
Even if there had been some truth in the merchant's words, responding in a reactive way would have been a serious mistake and a quick way to have the merchant thumbing through the processor classifieds. As MLS Forum user Malyn Group stated, "[T]reat every merchant with professionalism and kindness. It can take years to build up a fine reputation and a second to bury it. Besides, you never know when that pestering $25 a month residual account will bring you a great referral. Bottom line is don't burn your bridges." This statement cannot be stressed enough.
There are countless stories about people destroying their reputations and careers with a poor tweet or some other quick action they'll never have the chance to retract. A comment about AIDS tweeted by Justine Sacco while she was en route to Africa during the 2013 holiday season is an example of this. Many found the tweet to be offensive. It went viral, and she went from a high-level job in corporate communications to someone out of a job and widely vilified. In the same vein, an MLS's reputation in an industry or area can be destroyed, creating negative ripples that decimate the individual's career and income.
Responding to the merchant calmly and confidently will help take the merchant's foot off the gas for a moment and hopefully prevent some premature greying.
Be confident in the service you provide, know that certain kinds of issues may arise, and be generally aware of what they may be and how they can be resolved. Instead of allowing one merchant's tunnel vision to lock you and that individual into only one possible explanation for a difficult situation (for example, the MLS must obviously be a thieving crook) help the merchant to take a step back to consider the alternative variables that may have led to the current dilemma (for example, it's a federal holiday).
In his story jdeckard let the merchant blow a quick gasket; then he responded in a calm, appropriate manner. He knew the answer was a simple one, one the merchant would realize on his own given the chance. Thus, he let the situation play out. Either a nervous stutter or thermonuclear reply could have resulted in the encounter leading to a cancellation letter.
Keep in mind, though, that there is a big difference between being calm and being dismissive or indifferent. Let the merchant know that, while the reason for the problem could be easily explained or resolved, you took the problem and concern seriously.
The moral of this story, and the many others like it told around an MLS's campfire, is that it could easily have been a spooky horror story about "the merchant who once was a client" but instead is a humorous, educational tale about proper people management.
When merchants decide to do business with you they put their faith in you to handle an important part of their business: their credit and debit card receivables (and possibly services gift cards and other value-added services).
A merchant's understanding of how serious a situation is will likely be defined by your reaction when the merchant reaches out to learn why something has happened. Your calm disposition during this will help diffuse the situation and can be necessary to maintaining your processing relationship. Remaining calm and collected can be the difference between your portfolio having the life of a weekend in the Bahamas or a weekend like the one depicted in the 1989 dark comedy film Weekend at Bernie's.
Tom Waters has been dedicated to the merchant service sales profession since 2001. Currently, he is responsible for cultivating relationships with entrepreneurs in information technology, accounting, sales and marketing in his role as Sales Director of Bank Associates Merchant Services (www.bams.com). Using fresh and matter-of-fact training methods, Tom has contributed to the success of thousands of agents, affiliates and clients. He can be reached via email through firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 347-651-1065.
Ben Abel is Regional Director at Bank Associates Merchant Services. Since joining the team in 2006, he has risen through company ranks with a paradigm that his success was measured by the success of those around him. Ben is a dedicated, pioneering trainer whose methods of merchant services consultation have helped many agents expand their portfolios in terms of processing volume, deal count and profitability. He can be contacted at 347-866-9571 or email@example.com.
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