By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
It's a well-known fact that merchants want payments acceptance to be fast, simple and seamless. However, a recent survey by the National Small Business Association found a majority of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) lack the time, skills and resources to fully utilize their POS systems.
The association's 2019 Technology and Small Business Survey cited technology implementation as the number one challenge facing SMBs. Among 551 SMB owners surveyed, 74 percent said keeping up with technology and "taking appropriate security precautions" were top concerns. Nonetheless, NSBA researchers found that most respondents rely on themselves, rather than experts, to protect their networks and ecommerce sites.
"Nearly all small businesses maintain an online presence for their business, and 34 percent of small business owners personally maintain their company website," NSBA report authors wrote. "Furthermore, more small-business owners are handling their company's IT themselves than at any point in the last nine years."
A frustrated clerk scowling behind the counter while attempting to run a customer's credit card transaction is not a good look. Neither is a POS technician who installs a system, addresses questions in a clipped, patronizing manner, and departs without having explained how the system actually works. Merchants feel undervalued when ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) don't take the time to help them understand and fully implement their POS solutions. How can payments pros help merchants feel more comfortable with technology?
Katrine Horn, life coach, TEDx speaker and self-love activist, has been helping people conquer fear of the unknown to reach their full potential. Like many business and life coaches, she draws from her own experience in her work with clients. By showing them that she has faced similar challenges, she builds trust and creates common ground.
Following are her recommendations for helping merchants become more comfortable with technology:
Horn went on to say that technology is a means, not an end. She made technology work for her and her clients by having clear objectives and keeping her eyes on the prize. "I'm a lifelong learner, and I had to learn a lot of technology when I started an online business," she said. "There are so many resources online that were helpful. In time, I learned which software companies provide the best support services."
The NSBA study found SMBs increasingly use smartphones, cloud-based solutions, ecommerce sites and online business management platforms in their businesses. These technologies facilitate social media engagement and telecommuting, they noted. Sixty-seven percent of respondents use Facebook and 62 percent use LinkedIn to stay connected to customers and employees. Nearly half of business owners surveyed employ remote workers routinely. On the negative side, proliferating cloud, mobile and virtual technologies have increased the SMB community's susceptibility to attacks.
Researchers found that cyberattacks can be costly and time-consuming for SMBs, taking on average from three days to two weeks to resolve. Respondents that work with government agencies have found NIST guidelines burdensome. And most small firms surveyed were not familiar with data protection and consumer privacy regulations; just under half of merchants that collect visitor data on their websites fail to offer an opt-out provision.
As payments analysts have noted, POS and IT management are not top-of-mind for most SMBs, who mostly think about these things when something breaks. Merchants may also procrastinate changing or upgrading systems due to worries about cybersecurity, equipment integration issues or entrusting third-party service providers with payment transactions and sensitive customer data. These concerns are valid; not every technology service provider offers real-time human support professionals who listen to customer concerns, make recommendations and overcome objections.
The past decade brought innovative solutions to the SMB community. Dashboards, mobile payments, app marketplaces and vertically focused software that big brands have used for years are now available to SMB owners. Today's solutions are more robust than ever before; they offer valuable tools that can help merchants attract and retain customers and manage and grow their businesses.
Offering simple, easy and seamless solutions and the support to back them up will always appeal to merchants, but not all service providers offer a toll-free help desk. Instead, they are betting that merchants will figure out their apps, devices and software on their own. How many small and midsize merchants will take the time to watch a YouTube video, search an online knowledge base or navigate pages of code and FAQs? Subpar conversion and retention rates suggest that merchants, like consumers, will abandon POS and ecommerce platforms they find annoying, complicated or time-consuming.
In the age of self-service and do-it-yourself technology, there's never been a greater need for confident, accessible guides. MLSs who understand customer needs will increase customer retention and exponentially grow their merchant portfolios. In the end, next-gen technology is awesome, but helping merchants apply it in unique and innovative ways is the real differentiator.
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content development specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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