By Jeff Fortney
Trust is a word often bandied about in the payments industry. How can businesses prosper if they don't have the trust of their employees and customers? But, like most valuable things, trust is a commodity that is hard to come by.
In definitions of trust, the key term reliance often pops up. Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) rely on their processing partners to deliver on promises - to be honest and forthright, and to place no obstacles in the way of sales growth. In turn, processors rely on MLSs to be honest with merchants, to promise and then to not only deliver, but over-deliver, on service and support.
A high degree of trust has more than an indirect relationship to healthy, business-related interactions. Statistics have proven that consumers will forgo cheaper-priced services and pay more for those offered by businesses and people they trust. Building and keeping trusting relationships nurtures repeat business, putting a steady stream of money in merchants' pockets.
What is more, the trust sales reps build with merchants spills over to merchants' business partners, friends, acquaintances, even other merchants. The spread of an agent's good name and trustworthiness is the best type of marketing: It's free, and it leads to new business which, in turn, leads to more new business.
Therefore, trust is an essential component to doing business. It must become a part of every ISO's and MLS's business plan. Follow these steps to establish and nurture trusting business relationships.
ISOs and MLSs have certain expectations when they select processing partners. Transparency - upfront, honest business dealings - should be the most important expectation.
All fees and terms should be clearly defined before agents sign contracts with processors, and vice versa. Agreements between agents and processors are not designed to benefit only one partner or the other; they are designed to benefit both.
During contract reviews, consider this question: Does any section, chapter or sentence differ from the initial verbal understanding? If so, ask that the apparent discrepancy be clarified or changed. In short, each party's expectations should be clearly defined.
When examining fee structures, ask questions. Make no assumptions. If a particular fee seems out of place, or a figure looks confusing on the page, ask for clarification. Possible discrepancies in contracts will have a material impact on profits, so get informed on what is being charged.
Due diligence and careful examination of contracts before signing on the dotted line can keep misunderstandings from growing into the cancer of distrust.
Newton's law applies to all business dealings - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In agreements between agents and merchants, ISOs and MLSs should consider the consequences to merchants. Short-term profits often come at the expense of long-term trust.
For example, it may be easy to "forget" to mention mid-qualified and nonqualified rates to merchants, or to not mention early termination fees or annual fees. However, once merchants are impacted by these fees, they lose trust in their reps, opening the door for them to go elsewhere for processing.
And dissatisfied merchants will talk to other merchants about what wasn't disclosed in contracts.
Agent actions toward merchants should clearly demonstrate honesty and integrity. The easiest way to be trusted is to do what you promise to do. And, if for any reason you cannot fulfill a promise, inform the merchant involved and provide an explanation. Otherwise, trust will degenerate.
The straightforward approach is crucially important when dealing with merchants. But don't forget merchant relationships with processors. Though merchants have direct relationships with agents, they also have indirect relationships with processors. So understand processors' distinct approaches to merchants and the types of support and customer service they are willing or able to provide.
Yes, always be truthful, even if it hurts. It means that any lie, no matter how small, chips away at trust levels. Don't purposely withhold any information from merchants. While failing to provide information may not be considered technically lying, it's still not full disclosure. Honesty in all business dealings builds trust.
Everyone makes mistakes. But when you err, take responsibility. Apologize and fix the problem. A sincere, "Sorry, I will get it fixed," and remedial action will go miles toward maintaining trust through even the most difficult times.
Don't put off notifying clients of distressing news. Delays in this regard are almost as egregious as outright lies; they often make situations worse. Disclosing bad news immediately may be painful, but it offers a better chance of making the trauma short-term and transitory. But the breach a delay may cause in business relationships may be irreparable.
Good communication is the lifeblood of trusting relationships. Clients don't have to be your best friends, but they must be respected and always told the truth.
Trust is earned, not given. Processors must earn the trust of ISOs and MLSs who, in turn, must earn the trust of merchants. But once earned, the value to all participants will far exceed the effort invested.
Jeff Fortney is Director of Business Development with Clearent LLC. He has more than 12 years experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340.
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