For many businesses, the holiday shopping season is the busiest time of year. Foot traffic is heavy, lines are long, processing volume is up, inventory is maxed out, and tensions are high among both customers and staff. This high-stress period can really bring any inefficiencies and frustrations with your technology and services to light. With the holidays behind us and business returning to normal, now is a good time to reflect on your payment processing service and reevaluate whether it’s effectively meeting your business needs.
When evaluating a payment processing service, it can be helpful to focus on four main categories: reliability, customer service, payment security and promotional tools. Was your payment processor naughty or nice this holiday season? Let’s answer that by asking the right questions.
First and foremost, was your payment processing reliable? Did you experience any network downtime or authorization network outages? Reliable payment processors have backup controls in place to help reduce or even eliminate downtime, so you’re never left without the ability to accept payments.
Reliable payment processors use high-availability strategies like:
- Backup servers in multiple and diverse geographical locations. If one server fails, transactions can be routed to other servers with no interruption in service. A reliable processor using redundant servers should be able to demonstrate a good track record of uptime. That type of historical data can be an indicator of how much downtime you might expect over a particular period of time.
- Dial backup solutions. When a dial backup solution is in place you can continue to process transactions by using the phone line to access the network if your local internet service provider experiences an outage. The most efficient backup devices switch over to dial automatically with no manual effort needed and return to internet protocol as soon as it becomes available again.
- Stand-in authorization service. Sometimes, even if the server is up and you have local internet access, you may still be unable to run transactions due to an outage elsewhere in the authorization network. A reliable processor can “stand in” for authorizations when the card brand’s or bank’s authorization networks are down. In this case, the processor assumes liability for any declined transactions that received stand-in authorization during the outage, so the merchant doesn’t have to worry about financial loss on declined transactions.
Outages aren’t the only issue that can bring business to a halt. Difficulties with batch closures, refunding duplicate transactions, hardware connectivity and other technology failures can make a significant impact on otherwise smooth business operations, as well as contribute to long lines and customer inconvenience.
These issues may be par for the course when it comes to operating a retail or restaurant business, but good customer and technical support can make the difference between minor and major problems. If you experienced any difficulties this season, ask yourself these questions:
- Was tech support available during your time of need? A payment processor with good customer service offers support around the clock, every day of the week. You should never have to wait for business hours to get the support you need.
- How long did you have to spend on hold when you called? Good customer support should be readily available to you without excessive waits or getting lost in an automated menu system.
- Did you receive helpful support from a knowledgeable person? Were you ultimately unable to get a helpful response for your problem? If not, you may need to reevaluate your payment processor. Good customer service includes live support with expertise in all things related to payment processing and POS systems.
Fraud and Card Data Security
The holiday shopping season is a notorious time for fraudsters and data thieves to strike. Employees are busy and distracted, and may not exercise due diligence when rapidly taking payments, making them vulnerable to fraudulent transactions. With transaction volumes at their peak, the payoff for thieves looking to steal payment data is high. You should be able to trust your payment processor to have your back and help you avoid the pitfalls of security threats facing your business year-round, but particularly during the holidays.
You’ll know your processor is on top of security when they offer:
- Card data encryption and tokenization. Encryption protects data in flight, from the terminal where it’s swiped or key entered, until it reaches the bank for settlement. Tokenization protects data at rest when it’s being temporarily stored for uses like recurring billing, tip adjustment or bar tabs. Both technologies should be built into your payment processing service so there is no sensitive data that is accessible to thieves.
- EMV chip card processing. EMV is the new standard for payment processing. An EMV-enabled point of sale (POS) or terminal reads sensitive data that is stored in a data chip on the front of the card instead of the magnetic stripe on the back of it. EMV helps reduce fraud and makes it extremely difficult to create counterfeit cards with stolen data.
- Fraud awareness resources. Knowing what to look for is half the battle when it comes to stopping fraud. When chip cards and EMV terminals are not in use, a good payment processor should provide you with tips and best practices for employees to follow to reduce fraud at the point of sale.
Promotional Tools and Growth Strategies
Being a good payment processing partner requires more than simply facilitating transactions. Payment processors can help you maximize your profits over the busy shopping season. A quality provider can give you the tools and resources you need to attract new customers, retain existing ones and help increase your overall profitability.
Some must-have business building products and services include:
- Affordable gift cards. Gift cards continue to be a booming business and remain in high demand from customers. Holidays are a particularly lucrative time to offer gift cards. Your payment processor should offer attractive gift cards that work with your existing POS system. A solid gift card program includes free gift card transactions and customer balance inquires, and will also offer customers the ability to order and redeem cards online.
- Loyalty programs. Encouraging repeat customers is essential for every business. Whether you accomplish that by sending customized promotions to customers’ mobile devices or email addresses, or by offering a proprietary store card with built-in discounts and cash back rewards, your payment processor should be able to help.
- Marketing support. Effective gift and loyalty programs generally have strong marketing elements backing them that ultimately drive their success. Payment processors can be a wealth of information on how to successfully promote your programs and get the word out about your products and services. From professional gift card merchandising materials to mobile alerts for customers in the geographical vicinity of your business, your processor should be able to support your goals to increase your customer base.
If your payment processor lets you down in any of these areas during the crucial holiday season, now may be a great time to see what other options are out there. Finding a payment processor who cares about your business and can leverage payments to your benefit can give your business the boost it needs to have an even more successful year.