From the April 2010 issue of ISO&Agent magazine.
A dedication to educating and training sales agents and staff is a unofficial best practice for merchant-services companies. The expectation is that knowledgeable staff can better answer merchant questions, minimizing the potential for a client to become dissatisfied and switch service providers, insiders say.
"A lot of our success is based on being transparent," Jae Haas, executive vice president of TransNational Bank Card LLC, tells ISO&Agent.
A fundamental component of that transparency is adopting the best practice of educating and training staff, Haas says. "If you want to win a marathon in this business, you have to be sure you're educating your salespeople, customer-service staff and referral partners," he says, noting the objective is to ensure statements made to merchants are accurate and uniform.
Yet best practices also include paying attention to seemingly small measures, such as answering the phone. At BluePay Processing LLC, a Naperville, Ill.-based ISO, that entails answering the phone quickly.
"We try ... to answer the phone within a couple rings," says Juan Ortiz, BluePay vice president of business development. That way, callers are made to feel they are important, he says.
A BLACK EYE
Why are best practices so important? For many, they are an effective means to ensure uniformity.
"Once you create a relationship based on transparency, you have a customer and employee for a really long time," Haas says.
At the root of that relationship is hiring the right workers, he says. TransNational mostly has directly employed sales agents because it can be difficult to "hold [independent] agents accountable," Haas says. "We screen our candidates for those with the right intentions. They don't take short cuts."
That does not mean micro-managing the staff, but placing a "lot of trust and confidence in our people," he says.
Some merchants have a tainted view of the merchant-services industry because they felt misled or lied to by some salespeople, Haas says, preferring to consider such sales agents as not being purposely misleading but ignorant of other ways to sell.
"Pitches are often just about the numbers," he says.
International CyberTrans Inc., a Brentwood, Tenn.-based merchant-services company, has found a way to make such a model work using independent sales agents. They report daily activity during a morning call with their sales managers, who must then report to Joyce Cook, president and CEO.
"They are not totally alone," Cook says of the sales agents. "We believe in managing their activity and following up with merchant-satisfaction surveys. That's nothing revolutionary. It's been that way since the mid 1990s."
Cook and her sales managers expect agents to have three qualified appointments per day over a three-day period.
Ideally, the sales agent has time in between scheduled calls to make other sales calls, such as setting up appointments or calling prospects, Cook says. Each sales manager has about five sales agents reporting this information.
The result is a stream of data that International CyberTrans can study to determine the percentage of successful merchant sales versus an agent's number of sales calls.
No sales agent has ever rejected reporting this type of data, Cook says.
"They like that contact because of the ability to talk with the sales manager," Cook says. "It gives them accountability and communication with the manager."
This type of reporting system not only has helped International CyberTrans measure sales efforts, but sales agents "don't wake up on Monday and have nothing to do," Cook says. And if they do not have sales calls lined up for a Monday, the agent "has to wake up and tell us," she says.
BluePay's commitment to the two-ring answer also sends a message that the call, whether from a merchant or a sales agent, is important, Ortiz says. "It symbolizes to both parties that we care," he says.
Speedy call answering is no substitute for proficient service, but not answering the phone quick enough can be frustrating for the caller, Ortiz says.
"There are companies that do many things well," Ortiz says. "Maybe they can do installations really fast or get underwriting done quickly, but it takes forever to get ahold of them."
Underwriting is the process of evaluating a merchant's financial position to determine the risk of processing payment cards on its behalf. That said, the two-ring answer is the goal, Ortiz says.
"No matter who you are, any company is going to have issues with response time," he says. "That stuff happens no matter who you are."
Another best practice for BluePay is training the right employees. "We're looking for people who care and know what they're doing," Ortiz says, noting an individual who does not care is not a fit for BluePay. "People that care do a little extra."
Agents who are passionate about their work are less likely to pass a task off to another person or department, he says. They also will find an answer instead of tell a merchant or sales agent they do not know how to correct an issue, Ortiz says.
Stories abound in many industries of customers trying to find a resolution to a problem only to be turned away to another company, escalating the inconvenience, Ortiz says.
BluePay's staff attempts to find the answer for its merchants and sales agents even if a third-party company can provide the answer. Ortiz says his staff will follow up with the caller to see if the problem has been resolved.
"It all boils down to value," he says. "We're tying to do a one-of-a-kind experience. When you bring value to the merchant and agent, they will be happy."
That value is manifested in a lack of hassle and convenience, respecting the merchant's and agent's time and having fast access to knowledge, Ortiz says.
At BluePay, the physical environment is considered an important element. The open cubicle environment, where multiple departments share the same general office space, fosters communication between them, Ortiz says.
For example, a customer service agent who has a merchant with a technical-support issue easily can see who is available in the other department and ask the merchant to hold while the agent speaks with the technical-support staffer, Ortiz says. That can speed up the resolution process for the merchant.
Cook also has advice for agents calling on merchants. Avoid calling restaurateurs between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., she says.
If the merchant is a service company, such as a heating and air conditioning shop, it is best to call them early in the morning because they often fill their days with service calls and are likely to be out of the office for much of the day.
Like many of his counterparts, TransNational's Haas believes the individuals he hires, whether as direct employees or as independent sales agents, will do their jobs.
The goal is to ensure they make each merchant sale with integrity so the merchant does not feel mislead, Haas says.
Ideally, besides a signed merchant contract, Haas wants the merchant to consider a handshake the sign of a good deal. "We want people to know and feel the handshake is as important or more important than the contract they sign," he says.
Getting to the point where sales agents are confident in themselves and give merchants confidence in the sales agent's ability does not happen immediately, Haas says. "You have to give salespeople realistic and useful tools and knowledge," he says.
Merchants also do not want to be part of programs, Haas says. "They wanted to be treated individually," he says.
Employees want to be treated as individuals, too, Haas says.
It also helps to hire "good people with good intentions," he says. "It's a smoother road. It's work, but make it enjoyable."
Regardless of which methods an ISO uses or a sales agent incorporates, the goal is the same- make the merchant happy and reluctant to switch service providers. Dedication to that objective is a practice best followed.