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Technically challenged? Bring in an expert - now

By Biff Matthews

An important issue on our company's radar was illustrated, in great and dreadful detail, recently. It involves a merchant, not yet a customer, who has serious, persistent problems with downloaded file builds done by a service provider.

The provider has an iron-clad, one-sided, exclusive contract. And it's obvious why. Without it, this customer would have terminated its services long ago.

The merchant can probably prove nonperformance in court, that is, if he can stomach the legal fees. If not, he's stuck and will continue to pay dearly in cold cash, lost business, lost productivity and other measures for an increasingly common problem.

Errors proliferate

Not long ago, file build errors were simple human errors. There is still simple human error, but the current scenario includes a new kind of "human error" resulting from the growing complexity of terminal applications. Simply said, the speedy evolution of technology has become overwhelming for many merchant level salespeople (MLSs).

While they can sell products, some MLSs have not acquired enough knowledge of how the products actually work. Intimidated by technology, they aren't able to adequately move the sale up the line in such a way that merchants and providers can do their thing and live happily ever after. Instead, these MLSs exit the scene, moving to the next sale, leaving in their wake a bevy of questions and assumptions ... and a minefield of inaccuracies.

Of course, the primary focus of MLSs is, and should be, sales. Kudos to the organizations that recognize this and provide qualified tech support personnel who can intelligently consummate the sale, ensuring that everything works as promised.

Merchants get stung

This is not the norm, however. Often, tech support is nonexistent. That means there are significant gaps in information provided to the people building the files.

One immediate result is that transactions are downgraded. Any merchant who can read a statement will quickly see that providing incomplete data means higher fees.

A different kind of problem occurs when merchants are converted to new applications. Too often, salespeople don't realize (don't they ask?) the merchant has been running electronic benefits transfer, payroll cards, or whatever.

So, the new application is only set up for running the programs the MLS has sold. The system isn't configured to accommodate existing, and often critical, applications. The result: functionality and revenue are lost.

Without existing applications, merchants can't guarantee checks, accept gift cards, etc. So, they not only lose time fixing the situation, but they also lose business and goodwill.

Merchants will not tolerate this indefinitely. Clearly, they are entitled to skilled support from their vendors (whether from MLSs or back offices) that will ensure a smooth transition, and smooth operations.

Techies are needed

If MLSs are to be responsible for the technical aspects of the installation, they must have appropriate tools and training. And each time terminals and applications are updated, new training must be part of the process. Investing in salespeople who have the aptitude for technology, and weeding out those who don't, will also help.

MLSs working with companies that are not committed to proper training and technically challenged MLSs who understand their own limitations should consider this: Because merchant retention is the essential prerequisite to residual income, the wisest course may be to hire a tech support specialist dedicated exclusively to your merchants.

Like real estate agents who hire qualified assistants to manage paperwork, details and follow-ups so they can focus on sales, MLSs who are truly at the top of their game will understand this investment is wise and risk free.

Repeat sales can often be 75% of total income. But there's always attrition. Not every merchant renews, regardless. New business is always needed. The salesperson who focuses exclusively on sales - and makes sure there's qualified, dedicated technical support - has taken a huge step toward fewer problems, solidified relationships and excellent referrals.

Compensation structures that favor new business are a factor, but true professionals understand the value of quality products that work the way merchants expect them to.

This necessitates quality tech support that makes sure the merchant isn't plagued with lost functionality or higher fees due to missed or inaccurate information.

Also, help desk personnel who assist with file building and other important functions are, for the most part, knowledgeable and well-trained. But they can only work with the specifications and parameters provided by MLSs or their tech support. Help desk staff can't make it up as they go along, and mind-reading is not among their skill sets.

Accountability is imperative for anyone working in this complex, evolving industry. It's time we put the interests of the merchants who keep us all in business, first.

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

Article published in issue number 060802

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