An Easy Way to Exceed Expectations

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 8:06 AM | Category: Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

This fall is my family’s 14th and final year at the elementary school where all three of my kiddos attended for at least five years of their lives. It’s going to be tough to leave because many staff members are like family. Volunteering at the middle and high schools aren’t the same as at the elementary school. So I’ve been making an extra effort to be more involved because it’s my last chance as a parent.

A moment of insanity … volunteering to do the newsletter

I went a little crazy and volunteered to do the PTA’s newsletter. I knew I could do the newsletter, but the time commitment was a concern. (I know how to say no. Yes, really, I do!) It took a lot of time to do the just-released first issue, but it’ll go faster next time now that I have a template for it. (I hope!)

To my surprise, the raves started pouring in. I couldn’t imagine why because previous editors did a nice job with theirs. Folks said they appreciated the extra effort with the interactive features, such as linking to parts of the PTA website and adding bookmarks that you can click and it takes you to the related page. They also liked the editorial calendar with due dates, list of articles in past issues month-by-month and easy online access to the calendar.

One issue down. Eight more to go. I hope I can keep this up.

Lagniappe: Do more for others

Lagniappe [lan-yap] n. 1. Small gift given to customer with a purchase. 2. An unexpected bonus.

Employers and clients hire folks to do a job, provide a service or create a product. They also gain our expertise and experience even if it comes from an unrelated field. That’s part of providing good customer service. Part of our job is to speak up when a manager leans toward a decision that may not be the best one for the company. Sometimes you have to be proactive and say, “I don’t recommend this route because of XYZ. The better route would be LMN because … .”

You inform. You offer solutions. You explain why. You respect the final decision. That’s all you can do.

You can also look for ways to help improve the business. For example, one client’s website had a bug and his staff couldn’t fix it. I went in, played with it, harumphed a few times and finally fixed the little bugger. (Ha! I’m reading “Ender’s Game.”) What I do for the client? I’m an editor and writer. He didn’t hire me for web design or website management. (I got my start as a writer by writing about web design.) It’s a skill I happen to have that turned into a lagniappe.

It’s not just for surprising and delighting clients and employers. You can apply it to all parts of your life.

What’s your lagniappe? What are some ways to do a little something extra for clients?

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Get on a First Name Basis with Online Prospects and Clients

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 at 9:32 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 2 comments

Drapers Barber Shop Martinsville 300x185 Get on a First Name Basis with Online Prospects and ClientsOnce upon a time, geography and the surrounding community limited the customer base for small businesses. Today, our connected world offers an unprecedented opportunity for small businesses everywhere because we can live anywhere and work with clients on a global scale.

But what have we sacrificed? Sometimes we long for the days when an owner knew the name of every customer who entered the store. Communities foster customer loyalty and help keep a small business afloat during tough times.

Building meaningful relationships lies at the heart of social media marketing. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not solely another avenue for advertising your products and services. They exist to form a community for your business.

To build a small town atmosphere of support online for your company, remember these four key points.

1. Be a Resource

Customers look for people and businesses that they can trust. Using your social media accounts, you can be a source of knowledge about your company’s area of expertise. Instead of just posting about sales and promotions, use these outlets to share information that you’ve been learning or reading about.

If you’re an accounting firm, this could mean posting easy-to-understand updates about changes in the tax code. Likewise, a natural foods store might post about a new study questioning the health benefits of a product like soy — even if it’s among the products that they sell. By being honest and providing real, objective content, customers realize they can trust you with their purchases.

2. Be in Touch

The ability to directly contact your customers is a valuable asset. First, you have to establish trust – people don’t want to give out their email or phone number in fear of receiving spam. If you can collect this information, however, you now have a direct line to your base. Offer a discount to compel people to sign up for a newsletter or coupons sent through text messages.

Once you collect the contact information, don’t abuse the trust. A monthly e-newsletter can go a long way in helping build on that trust. Shape the newsletter the same way that you do in social media. Balance objective content with information about your products and services. 80/20 works well here where 80 percent of the content is valuable information and 20 percent is self-serving. Likewise, a weekly text message about a great deal helps remind customers to visit your site or connect with you.

3. Say thank you … always.

Regardless the type of business you run, saying thanks never goes out of style. If all of your transactions go through an automated online system, you can send a follow-up email that says thank you and includes a link to a survey or a comment box where people can offer feedback. (Yes, you can automate this.)

If you’re a company that deals with fewer clients than a retail store, it may be feasible to send handwritten cards. Once you order the cards, it only takes one minute to write a line or two of thanks and drop it in the mail. The effect can be a long-term and fruitful business relationship.

4. Remember Special Occasions

Customers need reminded that they’re doing business with fellow human beings, especially in a time when much of our business and interaction occurs through the portal of a connected device. Holidays aren’t an excuse to have a sale. Depending on the size of your company, sending holiday cards or gifts to your most valued customers works wonders in building loyalty and strengthening relationships. If a competitor ever comes along, clients will remember that you sent them holiday wishes. It’s also okay to celebrate your company’s birthday. Remind your customers that you’re growing, and it’s thanks to their support.

In a business world where we’re increasingly separated from clients, it’s important to find ways to establish real connections through relevant content and direct outreach.

What other ways have you found to get to know your customers?

Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a provider of personalized pens, imprinted apparel, mugs, customized calendars and other promotional products. He regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.

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5 Steps for Small Businesses Reputation Management

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 at 9:08 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 9 comments
man without identity 5 Steps for Small Businesses Reputation Management

Image by sxc.hu user ortonesque

Online reputation management is not just the province of those businesses and public figures that have been subject to scandal. On the contrary, in this age of Google where anyone can look up anything and anyone, reputation management is vital. For small businesses, it’s not a vanity or a luxury, but a true necessity.

Think about it this way. Whether you’re a small business owner, the manager of a dental practice, professional services provider or the owner of a café, you need to bring in new customers. And you typically bring them in one at a time, not en masse. The thing is, customers you bring in are likely doing their due diligence, checking you out on Google and seeing what other customers have said about you.

If Google only brings up positive information about your brand, then you’re in fine shape. If there are any negative listings or bad reviews out there, however, then your company’s online reputation is sunk — and along with it goes your business prospects.

It doesn’t matter if those unwanted listings are true or not. Maybe they’re legitimate customer reviews, or maybe they’re defamatory posts written by business rivals or disgruntled employees. What matters is that these undesirable Google listings are going to send potential clients to your competitors — and your small business will begin to fade into oblivion.

All of that is the bad news. The good news is that reputation defense is very possible — whether you choose to enlist the services of a professional reputation management company, or simply do reputation repair strategies on your own.

Here are five cost-effective steps that any small business can use to ensure maximum brand protection.

  1. Know your online reputation. This is the easiest, most significant step for protecting your business’ online reputation. It’s astonishing, the number of businesses who don’t realize what people are saying about its products and services on the Web. Monitoring your reputation can be as simple as using Google and Bing, and perhaps setting up a Google alert, as well. Searching on Twitter and Facebook is also a good idea.
  2. Build a strong, defensive wall around your brand identity. Now that you have a good idea of where your business stands in terms of its reputation, you’re ready for the next step of building a strong, defensive wall. Start by snatching up all domain names associated with your business — that is, the name of your company, .com, .net, .org and so on. You may not actively use these domains, but owning them helps you build a hedge of protection on Google and other search engines.
  3. Get active on social media. A good Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest presence can be vital for your company. It shores up goodwill for your brand, and it populates search engines with positive content. Perhaps most importantly, though: if you’ve claimed your company’s name on Facebook and Twitter, then your enemies can’t seize it to use against you. Watch for company mentions — good and bad — and respond to them as you would a customer who calls to complain or compliment. If you don’t have an answer to the problem, acknowledge you heard the customer and you’re working on it.
  4. Create positive content about your company. Once you’re bought up some prime online real estate, and started using social networks to your advantage, then you can begin the work of amassing some strong, compelling content about your company. Remember that the battle over your company’s reputation is a battle for Google dominance. If someone writes a bad review of your company, and it shows up on page 10 of a Google search, that doesn’t matter. It’s what’s on the first page that matters. The best thing you can do to protect your brand, then, is to inundate Google with as much positive, brand-enhancing content as you can — using the very domains and social media accounts you claimed earlier!
  5. Bury bad reviews and listings. The final step is to remain committed to the process of publishing positive content, and trusting that positive content to do its job. While responding to feedback is important, it’s equally important to remember that the creation of positive content is what will ultimately curb the effects of bad reviews. Stay resolute in your content creation, and remember that it’s likely to be an ongoing process, one where you build your defensive wall, one brick at a time.

A small business needs a sterling reputation on the Internet. Your online reputation is more than just your business card in the virtual world — it’s the source of all your credibility as a company. By taking these simple steps, however, you are effectively taking online reputation seriously — something that will pay huge dividends in the end.

About the author
Rich Gorman is an expert practitioner of reputation management techniques and a designer of direct response marketing programs for companies large and small. He leads the team at www.reputationchanger.com.

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Are You Memorable?

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 at 7:40 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Life Tips, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

donald duck clock Are You Memorable?Ask anyone between the ages of 13 and 30 who knew my dad to share something they remember about him. Most will reply with “talking like Donald Duck.” Walk in to the office in my mother’s house and Donald Duck greets you from every direction beginning with the large bright yellow latch-hook picture of Donald Duck on the wall.

I don’t know how Dad started this Donald Duck talk business, but it’s one of those things many people remember about him. His wife, three kids, and friends showered him with Donald Duck gifts for years.

Accidentally Memorable

I also have one thing that makes me memorable. No, I don’t imitate any famous characters. No, I don’t perform magic tricks. This one came with the package that the doctor delivered to my mother when I arrived. I was born deaf only no one knew the little secret until around my first birthday.

Despite years of speech therapy and repeating nonsensical sounds, I have a deaf accent . Whenever I met a new teacher or professor, I often introduced myself in the first class explaining that I read lips and will sit in the best place where I can see the teacher. I joked that I could never skip class because the professors would notice the deaf one didn’t show up.

In eighth grade, my drama teacher asked me if I was Michael’s little sister. This may not sound shocking … until you hear that we’re 10 years apart. Imagine all the students in 10 years who came through her door before I did. When she taught my brother, I was just three years old — not exactly recognizable from a photo. Michael showed her a photo of three-year-old me when I wore the clunky hearing aid in a box on my chest. Would she have remembered me without it?

What makes you or your company memorable?

You don’t need to run off and take lessons on how to imitate a famous character. As outgoing as my dad was, I can’t imagine him pulling out the Donald Duck trick in a business meeting. It could be a a clothing accessory that stands out, a company mascot, smashing customer service or a well-written email newsletter.

What helps you remember a company? How does your stand out?

 

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RSVPs and Following up

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 at 9:20 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog 2 comments
shimmery envelope RSVPs and Following up

Image from sxc.hu user miamiamia

As the deadline for the RSVP approached, I grew disappointed each day after checking the mailbox. By the time the RSVP due date came and went, 50% of the replies from one list and 60% from the other came in. So I did the uncomfortable thing of emailing folks who hadn’t replied.

Good thing I did. Some said they never received the invitation, or maybe it got lost with the holiday season mail. By the time I emailed everyone whose email I had and weren’t obvious nos (out of towers, recently widowed, etc.), the replies went up to 65% and 85%. Not bad considering I didn’t have addresses for some of my son’s friends. (He had to hand deliver these, some of which never made it to the recipient.)

When I selected the invitations, I debated whether to do RSVPs by email or by mail. I asked the stationery vendor if one method had more success. She said it varied. Besides, it’s easy to make a mistake in typing an email address. A recent invitation using email RSVP used an email address that wasn’t short — something like jennifersweddingrsvp@hotmail.com. I opted for the traditional route: a reply card with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).

Working with clients is similar. Sometimes if you haven’t heard from a client, you need to follow up. This makes it easier on them like a reply card and a SASE because they hit “reply” and don’t have to look up your contact information. I have one new client, a very small business. He paid half up front and hadn’t had me do much by the time the first of the year rolled around. I followed up with him every couple of weeks.

Some clients need nagging. Not in a bad way … They actually appreciate it. Every client has a different style of getting things done, and for some, it helps when the contractor or freelancer is proactive.

Even checking in with former clients leads to new business. I worked with one client during the early days of his start up. The business did so well that it bought two companies and closed multiple venture rounds, including one from a top venture capital firm. The company moved its headquarters and hired full-time employees. I helped until they found full-time employees.

I contacted the CEO of the company, who originally brought me on board, to see how things were going. It turned out he left the company and went to work for another start up. He’s been assigning a variety of projects to me.

Another client hadn’t responded to my submission for a small project. I followed up with her to find out the status. She said that we were almost there and to follow up with her the next week.

If you find you didn’t respond to an invite by the time the deadline passed, still follow up. A late reply is better than no reply. I believe many people think they don’t have to reply if they’re not coming. We still need to know. RSVP stands for répondez s’il vous plaît, which translates to “Please respond” not “Please respond only if you’re coming.”

What’s your experience with RSVPs? Following up? How do you decide when to follow up and how often?

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Recovering from Mistakes

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 at 5:39 PM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media No comments

Long ago, far away (OK, about an hour from where I write this) … in a softball game, I  failed to catch a ball thrown to me at first base. This disappointed my coach because he depended on me to catch a reasonable throw every time. He forgave those occasional wild throws out of my reach. But not this one.

dropped baseball Recovering from Mistakes

Photo from flickr user Keith Allison

As soon as the team got all three outs and came off the field into the dugout, I went to the coach. The look on his face confirmed my suspicions that he’d be disappointed in me. I apologized and told him I’d hit a home run to make up for it.

That was some promise for 12-year-old me. I excelled in softball, but I didn’t hit homers in every game or every other game. I felt bad about my mistake and wanted to make up for it.

And I did.

The Proof’s in the Pizza

People can recover from business mistakes. They happen and most of us rational folks accept that. It’s how we handle the mistakes that impress or depress customers. Amy Ravit Korin ordered pizza from Dominos online without talking to anyone. You’d think placing an order online would cut errors since you don’t have anyone speaking or listening in the equation. It’s all in writing (typing).

Not only did the pizza arrive over an hour late, but also it wasn’t the pizza she ordered. Korin tweeted a pizza her mind icon smile Recovering from Mistakes about the experienced in Twitter. Ramon DeLeon, the owner, caught her tweet and responded that he would make it up to her. First, he sent the correct pizza.

The next morning, he apologized in a video that also included the store manager. Despite its mistake, Domino’s gained respect and lots of video embeds for owing up to its mistake.  DeLeon also provide Domino’s pizza for over 350 people at a social media gathering in which Korin was involved in unbeknownst to him. (Talk about fate!)

Customer Service All A-Twitter

When I’ve complained in Twitter and received a response from the company, I’d follow up with a positive tweet about the company. Do a search for #customerservice and you’ll see complaints, compliments and job listings. Here are a few minus the job listings.

Baulch: Major props to Apple for registering my Portection Plan for my iPhone 4, even though I bought it 31 days out of warranty. #CustomerService.

rissipiecie: So my meds were messed up earlier…the head pharmacist personally brought them to my home…45 mins away…now that’s #CustomerService

msnods: So they’re out of rice @chipotle and its going to be 10 minute wait so they gave everyone in line a free bag of chips. #customerservice

KennaLuguri: Just got great #customerservice  over the phone from #Sears. Is it bad that I’m now more surprised by good customer service than I am by bad?

PatrickCSanders: Just had the absolute worst #customerservice experience @vapiano_usa on 18th&M NW #DC. Absent-minded chefs/mgmt, & food that never showed!

HeyyyGuyyy: Horrible #customerservice by @BestBuy_Deals during Hurricane Irene – Picture #BestBuy #Irene

I checked on the company accounts of the two negative tweets. No acknowledgment. Another user started a conversation with @PatrickCSanders about experiences with Vapaino.

People will talk about you and your company without you. While we can’t control anything online, we can listen and acknowledge. It can mean the difference between negative publicity and earning customer advocates.

What mistake did you experience that you complained about online? Did the company respond? Have you turned a problem into a positive experience? What happened?

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Expectations and Speaking up

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 5:22 PM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments

My youngest enters third grade, a grade that feels like a pinnacle school year. When my oldest was in third grade, I was pregnant with the youngest and had him at the end of the school year. He visited the school many times as a baby and toddler. Now, he’s over halfway through his elementary school career. Third grade is the first year they take those fun state tests with Texas introducing a new one this year making everyone crazier than usual.

Third grade is when things get serious in a child’s education and life. Less play, more work.

2011 firstday z Expectations and Speaking up

First day of third grade

Lessons from Third Grade

Third grade happens to be one of the grades I remember well. It’s the one year I recall laying out my clothes the night before — brand new dress and ugly blocky ’70s shoes. When the students waited in the cafeteria to find out our teachers, we third graders talked about who was mean and who was nice. Out of all that, I remember someone saying, “Mrs. Miller is the mean one.”

Guess who I landed. I also had almost every third grade teacher. First, I had Mrs. Johnson for reading and Mrs. Lambert for math. My mom went straight to the principal and told them to try again. She believed the school placed me in lower level classes than where I needed to be. They moved me to Mrs. Johnson for math and Mrs. Massey for reading. Happily ever third grade.

Oh, and Mrs. Miller? She was a wonderful teacher.

The lessons: expectations and speaking up.

Expectations

We can’t help but have expectations in our lives and careers. You interview for a job and form an idea of what to expect in talking with the people interviewing you. You meet with a potential client discussing the project collecting tidbits from the conversation hinting what it might be like to work with the client.

Sometimes our expectations are on target. Sometimes they’re not. The more accurate information you have, the more likely reality matches expectations. My third grade friends had no basis for saying Mrs. Miller’s mean. It was probably a long line of hearsay.

Speaking up

When something isn’t right or you believe it can be better. Speak up. Fight for it. As a freelancer, my clients hire me for my expertise in content. If I see a missed opportunity or a better way of doing something, I speak up. A freelancer isn’t a person who only does what the client asks. It also means acting like a consultant who shares knowledge and experience to help the client.

For example, I’ve worked with a client on his company website for a long time. Search engine optimization (SEO) rules have changed since we first met. I told him I’d like to revise pages per current SEO recommendations explaining what needed changing and why. He told me to run with it.

When one of my kids received an assignment way out of his league that would hurt more than help, I spoke up. It had happened before to another student and the powers that be didn’t do anything to correct it. I couldn’t stand by and watch my son suffer the consequences of a poor decision on the leaders’ part. It took a few messages, but we found a compromise.

When did you encounter expectations that didn’t match up to reality? How about when they did match up? Why didn’t they match up? Why did they? How about a situation when you spoke up to a manager or a client?

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Six Easy Ways to Keep Clients

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 5:28 PM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

I’ve used two web hosts since buying the meryl.net domain around 1995. The first charged a bit, had a lot of problems (email delivery and keeping the site up also known as server uptime) and provided subpar customer service. At the time, the rate was probably standard with fewer web hosting services and it being the earlier days of the Internet. (Yes, that is the old meryl.net logo here.)meryl net logo Six Easy Ways to Keep Clients

Another web host came along that charged much less for more features than the original. Some people may not consider it the most powerful web host — it’s a smaller service than the biggies most small to medium businesses use. Because of excellent customer service, I signed up my nonprofit organization with the same web host. Eventually, someone else became the webmaster of that website and complained about the host. (I don’t remember the exact comment.)

Since using the phone through the relay service takes more time than a typical phone call, I prefer to submit questions and trouble tickets through an online system. This web host has that. And most of the time, I get a reply within an hour — regardless if I assign the item as low or high priority. Furthermore, the provider helped me with problems outside the scope.

Because of their superb customer service, I’ve stuck with them since 2003. Sure, it has occasional down time and sent a couple of messages elsewhere instead of my inbox. They’re ready to tackle and solve my problems quickly and efficiently. Like humans, companies are going to experience problems despite using the best quality products and services with a tight process in place.

Here are six easy ways to show the love to your clients and hold on to them:

  1. Promote. If a client writes an article, I’ll link to it from Twitter. If I hear a writer needs to talk to someone that my client fits? I forward that opportunity to the client. When a client in the email marketing business publishes a new issue, I link to the newsletter wherever appropriate. Another client offers free webinar, and I help spread the word.
  2. Remember. I wrote an article about a product the client sells. Weeks later, I come across a Lego-lized version of the same product. I shared that with the client who got a kick out of it. Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s educational.  It shows I care about them and want them to be successful.
  3. Listen. Sounds obvious, but freelancers might not understand the client’s request and start working on the project without understanding what the client said. It’s OK to ask for clarification. Better to ask and get it right the first time than produce something off target and have to do it again.
  4. Ask. After working with a client for little while, I ask for feedback. When requesting feedback, I let clients know they can be short or long as they want without taking up too much time. I ask one open-ended and one yes/no question: “What can I do to better serve you?” and “Are you happy with the work?” Asking also means probing to figure out what clients want. One way to do this is to ask for examples of what they like.
  5. Fix. You and I aren’t machines. We make mistakes. It’s how we handle those mistakes that makes a difference. Don’t charge or add a discount to the invoice to fix something. A simple and sincere apology may be all you can do.
  6. Thank. I wrote notes to clients using a cool invention known as a pen. This is one thing computers can’t replace and the reason why kids still need to learn cursive.

How do you keep your clients happy? Share a memorable customer service story where you were the customer. How about a story of how you helped a client?

 

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Links: Passover 5771 Edition

Friday, April 15th, 2011 at 5:22 PM | Category: Books, Business, Customer Service, Links, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

When The Ten Commandments (Affiliate) appears all over the TV listings plus my sister’s and son’s birthdays arrive — it means it’s time for Passover. Indeed, Passover begins at sundown on Monday. It often falls on my sister’s birthday. Sometimes it lasts through my son’s birthday, but not this year.10 commandments Links: Passover 5771 Edition

I need to make this tweet from Rochelle Veturis my mantra: “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” ~Turner. My oldest went to college night last night, and of course, looked at out of state schools. The only school in Texas was a small private school. I’m telling myself it will work out. It’s her job and I just need to stay out of it unless she comes to me.

What do you know? I woke up to this message from Seth Godin about college debt. Agreed. Do you care where I went to college? I think the only people (outside of family) who cared were the ones who received my resume for my first after college job. Beyond that, no one cared. I know some companies post in their job listings that candidates should have degrees from top schools. They also know they need to look at the whole person, not just what’s on the diploma.

Despite this, I take pride in having attended TCU (one year — yes, the school that won the Rose Bowl this year!) and American U (graduate). Actually, having spent about 10 years in the school’s speech and hearing clinic when I was a kid, I went to TCU longer than most. AND my mom took classes there while pregnant with me icon smile Links: Passover 5771 Edition

Brain food…

And for fun because we’re allowed…

P.S. Of course, I want you to have fun. Since I had so much brain food this week, I figured I’ll limit the fun links to avoid overwhelming you.

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How to Select the Right Credit Card Processing Service: Understanding products and payment security

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 at 4:43 PM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments

In a previous post, we started with features to look for in selecting a merchant account provider. This covers payment processing and credit card security options for growing businesses.

blue credit card How to Select the Right Credit Card Processing Service: Understanding products and payment security

Photo from sxc.hu user stelogic

After selecting your merchant account provider, it’s time to review which credit card processing options and products fit your business, and how these services will prevent credit card fraud. When comparing products, consider the following:

  • What are your specific business goals and needs?
  • Does your industry demand specialized services or products?
  • How can you improve convenience for customers and employees?
  • Is your payment process compliant with PCI security standards?

Processing Service Options

To figure out the right processing products for your business, look at your business needs and customer demands. Are you interested in expanding into the e-commerce space? Does your on-the-go schedule require a mobile processing capability? Do you deal mainly with mail order and telephone order transactions? A merchant processing solution can be customized for every business for the greatest return on investment.

Electronic invoicing: Capabilities used in addition to or instead of traditional paper billing, helping cut down on waste and mailing costs through online invoices and bill payment. Merchants can reduce late payments and offer more convenient, flexible account management and payment options for customers.

Mobile processing: The growing use of iPhones, Blackberries, Droids and other mobile devices brings a greater need for mobile processing. With mobile processing capabilities, you can process credit cards and debit cards from your cell phone – often with little or no additional hardware required.

Wireless processing: This service supports business on the go, so that you can accept credit cards without a brick-and-mortar facility or direct hookup. Hotels use wireless terminals to accept credit cards for room service, and drivers can accept credit cards for transportation services right from their vehicles.

Mail order/telephone order (MOTO) merchant account: Streamlines the transaction process for businesses that deal primarily with catalog, telemarketing and other card-not-present sales. Products include a virtual terminal, which allows merchants to manually enter credit card information securely from any computer, and process them in batches for faster service.

E-commerce merchant account: Allows merchants to accept credit cards for products sold online, integrating with major online shopping carts for efficient, convenient checkouts.

Retail merchant account: Ideal for merchants with point-of-sale processing needs, such as more efficient card-present transactions. Retail customers expect speedy checkouts that are as quick and easy as swiping a credit card. Retail merchant accounts provide access to updated credit card terminals and software.

Restaurant merchant account: Allows merchants to accept credit cards at fast food, short order, casual or fine dining establishments. Features may include tab transfers and easy gratuity, among many other options that help wait staff focus more on foodservice and less on bills.

These examples should give you an idea of the basic types of processing services available. A provider can work with you to customize an account to meet your needs.

How to Ensure Secure Credit Card Transactions

Credit card fraud becomes more complex as technology advances. Compromised data leads to devastating consequences, including a loss of credibility and money.

To cut the risk of security breaches and protect businesses and consumers, credit card merchants are required to run processing systems that comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). PCI compliance ensures your business takes the proper precautions and undergoes regular system maintenance for the highest levels of security.

Common PCI requirements include changing default settings and passwords after system installation, installing and maintaining point-of-sale equipment correctly and preventing the storage of unnecessary data. These issues involve simple fixes, and yet violating them can result in millions of dollars lost.

Make security a priority as you search for a merchant account provider and select credit card processing services. Learn about PCI compliance and verify your credit card processor’s payment gateway, data storage facilities and processing systems comply with PCI standards.

End-to-end encryption is a PCI compliant security feature that encrypts credit card data from the point of credit card swipe to authorization, so that sensitive information remains protected throughout the entire transaction process.

Tokenization is another powerful security measure that protects stored data. This replaces credit card information with tokens that are rendered useless should a security breach occur. Ask your merchant account provider how its services meet PCI requirements and help you minimize your liability.

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If you’re new to credit card processing, read this post on selecting a merchant account provider, and start by doing homework on effective payment processing technology for your industry. Once you’ve signed up for a merchant account, prepare to work closely with your credit card processor as your business and customer demands continue to grow.

About the Author: Jacqui MacKenzie is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Internet marketing agency that works with BluePay, a company offering credit card processing products. To learn more about payment processing industry, follow BluePay on Twitter.

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