By Steve Norell
US Merchant Services Inc.
Customer service: how do you know how good your customer service really is? A mentor once told me your customer service is measured only by the last time you provided it. Let's say you provided great customer service to a merchant 100 times, but on the 101st, it was below your standards. I guarantee the 101st time is the only one the merchant will remember – not the 100 times you provided great service.
Most MLSs are one- or two-man shows. Their customer service is usually done in person, or they receive phone calls from merchants on their cell phones. After hours, customer service is usually handled by the associated ISO or processor. Typically, a merchant can't find the processor's 800 number, but has the MLS's cell number on speed dial – and expects an answer by the second ring.
As MLSs grow their businesses and monthly revenue, they hire in-house people to take calls and deal with issues that take time away from sales efforts. This is the perfect solution, and one I cannot stress enough. All MLSs with growing businesses will find that at some point they cannot sell, provide customer service, answer phone calls and train on new services ‒ not to mention handle the administration side of the business ‒ without sacrificing something.
The only downside to hiring customer service reps is that the MLSs start to forget how to program or troubleshoot issues with terminals now that they are devoting all their time to selling. This happened to me until I made a conscious decision to start re-learning more about the terminal my company deploys.
One customer service model employs an 800 number on the side of the terminal, and when a merchant calls an MLS directly, the only answer the merchant receives is to call the 800 number. Most major banks where employees sell bankcard teach this as the only answer to give when a merchant calls. However, customer service at the mother ship will never be perfect or even the best all the time.
In a typical call to an 800 number at a major processor, the merchant seeks help in the middle of his or her busy hours, for example, and can barely hear due to noise in the bar. An automated teller conveys how to get help, which turns out to be accessing a bevy of options, none of which addresses the merchant's immediate need. Once the call finally gets past that automated gauntlet and speaks to someone, the help provided is suspect at best. Sometimes calls are routed overseas where they speak English ‒ but not American. This is not a recipe for success or retention.
I won't spend a lot of time describing the differences between in-house customer service and outsourced customer service. What I want to review is the benefits and detriments of one versus the other. The top two reasons for doing your own customer service are the ability to stem attrition and the opportunity to upsell.
Once my team started to do our own customer service, our merchants began to build relationships with the people in customer service. They knew one another by name, and when merchants called in for help, they would request the person they had dealt with in the past. What this told me was that my merchants were invested in my company on a more personal level than they otherwise would be if they knew my company's name, but not the individuals representing the brand. This is how you stem attrition. And when you lose a merchant to a competitor, odds are that when the merchant calls customer service and the quality of service isn't even close to what you provided, the merchant will come back.
Second is that in-house staff can perform a low-key upsell or, as they say in the restaurant business, "suggestive selling." There is no way that calling an anonymous 800 number is ever going to be as good as you and your team are. So what you need to do is hire and train people who understand and adopt your customer service philosophy.
Many years ago, I shared a booth at a tradeshow with another MLS who was representing a different company. A potential merchant customer stopped and asked him why he should process with his company. The MLS responded with the usual comment in those days, which was, "We have a better level of customer service."
With that, the merchant asked a question that left the MLS dumbfounded. The merchant said, "Prove it." The MLS finally responded by stating there was no way he could prove it until the prospect became one of his customers. The merchant came back and said, "I am not going to just take your word for it, and I am not going to sign with you on a leap of faith."
Well, it went downhill from there, and the merchant moved on. I got to thinking about this and realized the merchant was right. If my company was ever going to be the type of business that made sales on more than just the usual "I can save you money" line, we had to do it with better customer service and be able to prove it when asked.
So this is what we did. I set up the 800 number to ask just one question when a merchant calls. Based on that, the caller hits one number, and someone on staff answers the phone. No call waiting, no music, no ads. If the first line is busy, the system hunts to a second phone, and if that is busy, then it tries the next one until someone answers. Sometimes I have answered when everyone else is busy. I don't always have the answer, but I get to have a conversation with the merchant and say I will get the answer and call right back.
Whenever one of our MLSs is at a merchant trying to seal the deal, all the rep has to do is have the merchant call our 800 number and see what happens. This is how you prove that your customer service is better. If you really want to bring home your claim, tell the prospect to then call his or her current processor's 800 number and compare it to yours. It is almost certain you will beat them hands down ‒ provided you use the model described above.
At the end of the day, what is customer service? It's neither customer nor service. It's the opportunity to provide merchants with better relationships and to build on those relationships.
Give that a shot, and let me know what happens.
Steve Norell is director of sales at US Merchant Services Inc. Based in Port St. Lucie, Fla., he oversees the USMS sales force and maintains the company's bank and processor relationships. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or by phone at 772-220-7515.
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