By Jeff Fortney
Like many people, my father had favorite clichés. For example, "Do you think I am made of money?" or "You will get it. It's just a matter of time." Often he would use one of these replies to answer a question I had about homework or a challenge I was facing. Of course, he and I would then talk through the issue, but the cliché came first.
The use of clichés became a running joke as I became an adult. The trick was to find the most obvious cliché and use it at the most inopportune moment. One time, as my mom complained that her feet were hurting my brother said, "Every cloud has a silver lining." Of course, she didn't see the humor and asked what that had to do with her feet. His response was classic. He said, "It means you get to go shoe shopping."
The goal was to get the other person to see the absurdity of the comment and laugh, because we all know that "laughter is the best medicine."
My father had one expression I thought was a cliché in my youth, but based on my research, may have been his own creation. After a conversation with an individual he trusted or someone who had demonstrated honesty, he would say, "That is an honest man." This was the biggest compliment he could give; it implied his trust in that individual. He rarely made this statement, but when he did, I knew the person he spoke of was trustworthy.
Honesty has come into question often lately, and the payments world is no exception. Merchants have always looked at merchant level salespeople (MLSs) with a jaundiced eye. Now, even more so. Ask any merchant prospect why he or she didn't believe we were being honest, and the individual will most likely say something like, "You guys will say anything to get me to sign."
Sadly, this is all too commonplace. Every industry has a bad apple or two who will say and do anything to get the sale. Ours is not an exception. Yet, even if we believe strongly in honesty, there are indirect influences that can result in wary merchants being proven right.
Honesty can be indirectly compromised by processing partners. It happens when fees are padded on different pass-through expenses and not fully disclosed to the merchant or the MLS. You may believe you are offering a better deal, but if the result isn't better than the merchant's former deal, the consequence is, at best, your reputation is damaged. At worst, your honesty and trustworthiness are called into question.
In the payments world, getting an immediate sale isn't the primary objective; keeping a merchant as a long-term processing partner is. This is the real secret to success. Honesty grows into trust, and trust is the key to retention. So, the cliché "Honesty is the best policy" must be your mantra if you intend to build a profitable, long-term portfolio.
Honesty can be damaged in two ways: internally and externally. Internally, you are in control. Externally, the harm done to you is the direct result of other people's actions. There are steps you can take in both cases to protect your honesty and reputation.
Many give lip service to their honesty, but to be truly honest, your activities must demonstrate the meaning of the word. You must be intentional in your actions. Doing so means avoiding statements that, although they may be true for you, have an indirect implication on your merchants. For example:
The key to controlling your internal approach to honesty is to live it. Be transparent, sharing the good, bad and ugly. But be wise. There is no need to be blunt. Your choice of words, especially when the information is negative, doesn't need to be unsympathetic to the situation. Be honest, but be aware of the impact of your words.
Although you can't control the actions of others, you can control whom you decide to trust. It begins with your ISO partner and any vendor you support. It is critical to fully understand your current partner's pricing practices. For example, if you are not sure whether said partner pads fees, pull a few of your merchant statements. Compare the cost of assessments, Mastercard's Network Access and Brand Usage fee and Visa's Acquirer Processing Fee to the costs your partner is charging. If any of those fees are higher, it's an indication fees are padded.
Also, ensure that your merchants know to call you with any concerns. You should be (at a minimum) their escalation point for issues that arise.
If anything concerns you about your partner's business practices or policies, you have two choices: you can approach the partner with your concerns and see if the company is willing to change, or you can find a different partner.
If you choose the latter, do your homework. Make sure you know how the potential partner prices, and the company's position on honesty. The more transparent, the better. Remember, honesty isn't just a good policy and practice, it sells well. Who doesn't want to do business with an honest person?
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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