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Masterfully managed merchants: Your customers for life

By Mike Grossman

Let's face it. As ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), you work diligently to attract new customers. Once you have them, though, must you work just as hard to keep them? You bet.

Your merchant customers are worth a lot more than their initial transactions. Consider the sales volume that a given merchant will deliver in a week, in a month and in a year. Then project that volume over the business's potential lifetime. That should make it very clear just how important it is to keep merchants from jumping ship.

One way to do this is to deliver great customer service. How do you do that? Develop a true partnership with your customers. Take initiative. Develop superior merchant management techniques. And exceed expectations with each customer service interaction.

Study your merchants

Managing merchant relationships means approaching each customer in a systematic, timely and effective way. Being organized and proactive counts. Why not keep track of all merchant communications, history, needs and performance? After all, success for any business is entirely dependent upon that business's relationships with its customers.

Merchant management is a complete business strategy. It encompasses marketing, selling, troubleshooting and training, all with an eye toward super-charging customer service. It can include:

  • Tracking customers' purchasing behaviors and key business challenges
  • Analyzing internal sales data to recognize profitable merchants and their needs
  • Managing customer relationships to achieve improved ongoing sales effectiveness
  • Troubleshooting each request as if it were of the utmost importance.

Effective merchant management tools enable ISOs to allocate resources by introducing reliable systems, processes and communication procedures between staff and customer. But it's not just about using the right software; it's very much about tailoring business to customer needs.

Employ advanced technology

Advanced technology plays a role here, but it needs to be used in the right way. For example, at Cynergy Data, our Vimas account management software enables ISOs to submit, route, track and resolve merchant issues with speed and accuracy. Technology allows you to stay on top of problems while you are busy doing what you do best: selling.

With the help of technology, you can more easily attract and retain profitable merchant customers. Many reputable companies offer advanced technology designed to do just that. It's important to choose products that help you focus on your customers' needs and maintain effective relationships with them.

Make sure that the software system you choose will, at a minimum, allow you to attach files (in as many prevailing formats as possible) directly to merchant request tickets so that you, as well as any and all of your customer service specialists, can view them immediately and resolve each issue quickly and accurately.

Implement your system

A good strategy includes training sales employees and amending business methods while deploying appropriate technology. A merchant management system can be easily implemented by adhering to some basic principles:

  • Capture information that quickly identifies your customer. Using your own Web site or an online service for this can be very helpful. Customers can enter their own details conveniently, and with automatic response.
  • Access customer information through a database management system, which acts as the centralized system that is accessible to you and your customer service personnel.
  • Mine data to analyze your customers, understand their businesses and recognize their needs going forward. This enables you to match merchants to sales programs that are appropriate for their evolving needs.

Create a customer service culture

Treat merchants as partners. They know whether they can trust you by the way you service them, and usually they judge you on the small issues. (When you handle big problems, you know full well that your customers are watching you closely.)

Products are not personal, but customer service is. The most effective customer service approaches lead to customer satisfaction. This increases new account sales through word-of-mouth. It also leads to higher merchant loyalty and retention rates. Here are several thoughts on how to establish an effective customer service culture:

  • Customers are the reason for work, not an interruption: How many times have you gone into a store only to wait while someone is on the telephone or busy doing some non-service task? Employees often lose sight of the customer's importance and get consumed in lesser day-to-day duties. Sure, there are tasks that need to get done, but you cannot sacrifice customer service. Make it a top priority. Without your merchants, you have no company.

  • Train, train and then train some more: Cross-train your entire staff, regardless of area of responsibility, to assist all types of merchants. When customers become upset they want their problem solved as soon as possible. When training staff, use role playing so that they can confidently recognize and experience difficult service challenges.

  • It is OK to say yes, even when your rules say no: When employees can be flexible in making troubleshooting decisions without fear of repercussions from their superiors, they are more willing to serve customers to the best of their ability. Often you, or your employees, might routinely say no to customers in certain situations; however, such refusals can have huge consequences. Ask yourself, "Am I willing to potentially lose 10 residual sales opportunities because of this interaction?"

  • Always offer alternatives: Shift from the problem to the process for resolution. Offer several options. Put yourself in your customers' place. Involve merchants in determining solutions. Clearly explain any limitations that exist.

  • Ask merchants what they think: The best way to find out if you are satisfying customers is to ask them. Formal efforts could include customer surveys, interviews or comment/suggestion cards. Informally, get out and talk with your merchants. Ask them how they feel about your service. Ideally, use a combination of both methods.

You may be thinking, "Why should I go ask for trouble? Who knows what I might hear?" That's the very point. Most merchants will not voice their disappointment with your service. They will simply leave and never return. If you don't ask about the quality of your service, you might wrongly assume, for example, that you can reduce service levels because you get few complaints. This can turn off your customers and cause problems that you never intended.

Asking customers for feedback sends a message that you care about your business and about them. While you might hear some criticism, you might also learn what you are doing right and gain insights about what you should modify.

Bottom line: Every interaction is a selling opportunity. Make the most of each and every one.

Mike Grossman is the Executive Vice President of Sales for Cynergy Data, a merchant acquirer that distinguishes itself by relying on creativity and technology to maximize service. Cynergy offers its ISOs: Vimas, a cutting edge back-office management software; Vimas Tracking, a ticketing system that makes responses to customers fast, accurate and efficient; Brand Central Station, a Web site of free marketing tools; plus state-of-the-art training, products, services and value-added programs, all designed to take its ISO partners from where they are to where they want to be. For more information on Cynergy e-mail Mike Grossman at

Article published in issue number 060601

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