Merchant Innovation

The Role Of Customer Service In Strengthening The Processor/Merchant Bond

Customer service matters in all walks of business, to consumers and businesses alike, but especially so in payments.

Troubleshooting issues when they arise, or anticipating them before they happen, can make all the difference in ensuring transactions and other business processes flow smoothly and voluminously.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Latiffa Sharpe, vice president of merchant services for First American Payment Systems, said that merchants, in establishing relationships with their payment processor customer service units, typically “are time-strapped business owners reaching out in pressing circumstances. That can range from cash flow to equipment issues, all of which are mission-critical in their day-to-day operations.”

Against an ever-evolving payments landscape, she said, merchants have gone from simply wanting to accept credit cards to desiring more robust tools and/or reporting mechanisms that help them manage their business beyond just accepting payments.

These complex changes have impacted the customer service realm, as support teams have had to learn more advanced equipment and software applications.

“Long wait times and follow-up delays are the fastest way to lose [merchants],” she told PYMNTS. With that in mind, Sharpe said, First American begins training – through on-the-job and classroom efforts – its associates seven weeks before they transition to a call center floor. “You can’t be friendly, efficient or responsive if you don’t have proper training,” she noted.

Sharpe explained that First American’s approach delivers foundational training for the first two months, expands into a core set of topics throughout the first year and then includes ongoing refresher and advanced training throughout the employee’s tenure.

As a result, the firm has been able to keep wait times down and has also seen the benefit of low call abandonment rates.

Employee churn remains low, said Sharpe, shoring up the expertise not only of her unit, but throughout the company at large, as 90 percent of supervisory staff started out as customer service agents.

Sharpe also related to PYMNTS that customer service in the payments space has its challenges – credit card acceptance is both critical to a merchant’s business success and can be difficult to navigate and understand.

In generalized customer service, the model focuses on scripted responses, repetitive call scenarios and automated support, she said. But in payments, every call and issue can be different and complex.

“Whether it’s verifying billing and deposits so a merchant can make payroll or resolving a technical matter so they can continue processing, our support teams understand the trust that has been placed in us as their payment provider,” Sharpe said.

Asked by PYMNTS as to the key components in providing optimal customer service in the payments space, Sharpe said that in addition to the aforementioned knowledgeable staff, accessibility is paramount.

“Customers need to be able to reach you and access their account information. Technology and self-service can certainly enhance and simplify the support experience,” she noted. “We provide our merchants with a robust online portal to access account information and business reporting tools, anytime, anywhere. We also offer email support. However, we recognize that many of our customers prefer to talk to us due to the nature of their inquiry/issue. When someone needs to talk to a person, they don’t want a complicated process or long wait time. We are proud of the fact that we maintain 24/7 customer service and technical support.”

And, Sharpe added, acting in good faith is also crucial in cementing the bond between a payments processor and merchant.

“Not every customer call is going to be an easy one,” she said. “Customers understand that mistakes will happen, but how you handle and work to resolve those mistakes is important. When issues arise, we strive to strike a balance between what works for the merchant and the organization.

“Acknowledging a mistake and taking steps to fix it in good faith goes a long way toward building a positive rapport with customers,” she said.

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