By Biff Matthews
Why do we shop at the same grocery store every week and the same department store year after year? Why do we go to the same auto dealership when we're in the market for a new car? Then, when we purchase that new car, why do we get auto insurance from the same insurance agent?
It's an improtant point to ponder. Despite a plethora of alternative solutions and "better offers" (cheaper prices, faster service, better stuff), why do we do rely on that same small circle of businesses and service providers to keep our worlds turning?
The Little Black Book of Connections might have the answer. The book's inside front cover reads: "All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite so equal, people still want to do business with their friends."
It's all about relationships, isn't it? As consumers, we value our connections to specific shops and retail outlets, as well as to the individuals who run them. We have our favorite food servers at our favorite restaurants.
We like that guy behind the counter at the hardware store who seems to know all the answers to our home improvement questions.
How do businesses establish these connections with consumers? They do it through good service, honest dealings and fair pricing. Consumers get value and, in exchange, businesses get paid for it. It's the classic win-win situation. When businesses learn what it takes to make consumers happy, consumers, in turn, make businesses happy by spending their hard-earned money at these establishments.
Where business-consumer relationships are strong, price is the least important factor in recurring sales. Both parties understand that, to have a high level of quality in a product or service, a fair price must be paid, so the seller can remain in business. Companies and individuals are almost always willing to pay a premium for excellent service.
As is the case in nonbusiness, interpersonal relationships - such as good marriages and friendships - the foundation of solid business relationships begins with mutual trust. The goal is to convey goodwill and build connections that will withstand offers from competitors.
I believe mutual trust between merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and merchants begins with three things:
Price is everywhere. Competitors will always offer cheaper pricing. But customer service means everything in this industry. I maintain that a major factor in the service ethic is to always deal fairly with merchants and never resort to fear tactics, for instance, to close sales.
Fear may facilitate quick decisions from merchants, but when that fear diminishes, what's left is deep resentment on the part of merchants - particularly if the fear turned out to be unfounded or exaggerated.
When MLSs make promises to merchants, those promises must be fulfilled. Do not over promise on services you can't deliver.
Integrity is a natural extension of honesty. When MLSs say merchants can call them 24/7, they must make that pledge a reality. Similarly, MLSs must step up and solve service issues that inevitably arise with merchants. That is what merchants expect from sales reps, so that is what must be delivered.
Like integrity, verifiability is a natural extension of honesty. If MLSs tell merchants they will decrease rejects, reduce interchange, minimize swap-outs or reduce the incidence of uncollectible bad checks, those promises must be backed up with independently verifiable and factual information. As the old saying goes, facts speak louder than words.
But ISOs and MLSs are not islands. Just as merchants need support from their processors, so do sales organizations need support from their vendors. Partnering with vendors that can provide seamless service on your behalf is vital. So choose vendors carefully.
ISOs and MLSs are also buyers. You want to resell products and services from suppliers with whom you have relationships built on the same principles a customer uses to qualify you: the willingness to step up for you, and your customer, when needed.
When there's trust on both sides - with customers on one end and suppliers on the other - you have an unbeatable formula for business retention.
Three to five years ago, it was reported that Visa Inc.'s real growth (that is, the number of merchant card-acceptance locations), was just 4 percent annually. I believe it's even less today.
Given today's environment, I suspect the number of business locations that accept bankcards is actually shrinking. So it is more critical than ever to create relationships that help merchants stay in business and remain profitable.
MLSs can help merchants, and their own cause, by educating their clients about the payments industry through publications like The Green Sheet. Informing merchants is a great way to gain credibility in their eyes. Credibility leads to trust, and trust produces relationships.
The hot topic in the industry today is regulatory compliance. That subject touches merchants directly through the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) mandates.
MLSs can inform merchants about how they can benefit from these requirements and leverage their PCI compliancy and secure data systems as a way to retain customers and attract new ones.
The PCI DSS, of course, is just the tip of the security iceberg. True data security also includes the protection of trade secrets, customer lists and pricing, marketing ideas and so forth.
Work to establish yourself as a solutions provider who has expertise beyond credit cards and checking accounts. Your broad industry knowledge will help you win accounts and help your merchants understand the big picture when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.
Relationships are built on tried-and-true sales techniques: regular planned contact with merchants, active listening and questioning, and providing information and knowledgeable insight. That's the secret to getting the ultimate R&R for your business - referrals and references - in addition to strengthening merchant retention.
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 email@example.com.
The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.
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