By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) routinely win and lose accounts over service issues. The unwritten part of any sales agreement, whether it involves a new set of tires or three years of payment processing, is the notion of a trusted relationship between a customer and vendor. While this message is a core value of retailers and payment companies alike, all too often their human brand ambassadors fail to deliver the message.
Are brands better than people at relationships? I posed that question to a retail manager after a misadventure in the store's auto department. While at the gas pump, a concerned bystander pointed out my flat tire. So after filling my tank, I drove to the adjacent tire department and presented my membership card at the desk. The clerk informed me that his department would only repair tires purchased at the store. Knowing better than to argue with policy, I asked for assistance with changing the tire so that I could drive my car to a nearby tire store. The clerk suggested that I call the American Automobile Association.
"Really?" I said. "You're telling a regular customer with a disabled vehicle in your parking lot to call Triple A?"
The AAA dispatcher had a similar reaction. It's part of her job to ask hotline callers if they're in a safe place. "Really?" she said. "I have to send a tow truck to a tire installation parking lot?"
The tow truck operator, who had been working nearby, was also surprised that no one at the tire store had been willing to help me change a tire. He suggested that I go to the store where I bought the tire to get it fully evaluated. "I can remove the nail and plug it," he said. "But it would be better if they made sure that the tire is structurally sound."
I didn't report the person by name to the store manager, but I did report the incident, because the person who chose not to help a regular customer was misrepresenting his employer. The company had been founded on the principle of unprecedented customer service, a point the manager mentioned several times during our brief but enlightening discussion. "I can appreciate that you don't want to get an individual in trouble," he said. "But this issue is bigger than any one individual, and I am going to use it as a teachable moment."
Likewise, the Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) liability shift is providing a teachable moment to payments industry stakeholders. MLSs and help-desk professionals who are installing new systems and training merchants are at the forefront of EMV implementation. Their efforts, which are frequently fraught with challenges, will ultimately make the difference between success or failure in the current effort to upgrade retail POS systems in the United States.
MLSs and merchants are learning that it takes a village to implement EMV. It is not just a matter of changing processing hardware. Merchants, acquirers and payment card issuers would agree that EMV is complicated.
"There are multiple players in the EMV value chain, each with his or her own script, guidelines and checklist," said E. Ferne Glemby, President of New Jersey-based CardPlus Payment Systems LLC. "Each player completes a list of tasks, and as far as they're concerned, they're done; but scripts, guidelines and checklists don't always match, which can lead to frustration, confusion and finger-pointing."
Like it or not, MLSs are EMV ambassadors. Seasoned agents who have participated in other such sweeping initiatives, whether bank conversions or technology upgrades, are familiar with the drill. Many would assert that a project's success or failure is directly related to MLS involvement and willingness to go the extra mile.
"Merchants need a champion to help them become EMV-compliant, especially when it involves overnight equipment replacement," Glemby said. "Merchants who don't return equipment in a timely manner are frequently auto-debited, which can affect their ability to run their businesses and make payroll." She added that damaging cash flow is the fastest way to lose a customer. Major deployments, even when centrally managed by knowledgeable teams, can be subject to errors. Deployed equipment might be certified on the wrong processing platform; a terminal might be set for dial instead of IP. A download file might be missing simple but important merchant parameters such as auto-batch or receipt disclaimers.
"EMV is complicated," said Derek Webster, founder and CEO of New York-based CardFlight Inc. "In addition to needing certified hardware, the software needs to be reconfigured to handle a number of new scenarios and requirements, processors need to be re-certified, and then there are unique certification requirements for each card brand that didn't exist in a pre-EMV world."
Most merchants hardly ever think about their processing systems. It takes an event, such as EMV migration, to get their attention. "Payment professionals may live and breathe payments, but merchants are faced with many challenges on a daily basis, and very few of them are payments related," Webster said. "Focus on the key message of what they need to know and why." He added that misinformation is proliferating, and the only way to break that cycle is to know the key facts and communicate them accurately.
Webster further noted that merchants depend on MLSs to help them understand technology and make informed choices. He recommends using educational resources such as card brand websites to stay educated and up to date.
I hardly ever think about my AAA card. For years I've faithfully renewed my membership and carried the card in my wallet without ever needing roadside assistance. This month I called the toll free number twice. There was the flat tire and the time when the car failed to start because the steering column wouldn't authenticate the key.
"How would you feel if you had to pay for a manufacturer's defect?" I asked the car dealer. He acknowledged that he wouldn't be happy and referred me to the manufacturer. When I spoke to the brand, they opened a ticket and called me two days later with some welcome news. "Your car is out of warranty," the rep said. "But you've been a loyal customer and we'd like to help pay for this repair."
You've been loyal. We'd like to help. That's a great brand message. Let's make it ours.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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