Redefining Reliability in Payments

Scott Coburn

I was en route to the airport last week to catch my flight when I suddenly realized I hadn’t yet checked my departure gate.  As my Uber driver approached the entrance to the airport, I pulled out my trusty iPhone to check the status of my flight and confirm the departure gate.  I tapped the airline app icon on my iPhone, entered my flight number and proceeded to wait, while the all-too-familiar, rotating gear icon began spinning away.  I assume this was to serve as a reminder that very complex things were happening behind the scenes, and that I should have patience as the app worked to gather my flight particulars.   So I patiently waited… and waited… and waited some more.

Several minutes passed and I started to panic a little bit as my driver approached the first terminal, and asked me to confirm the departure gate.   I had attempted to reload the app a time or two, but couldn’t get any further than the now-very-obnoxious spinning gear icon.   As my driver proceeded to pass the second and third terminal exits, I was now starting to mix in some choice words, berating the airline app, the airline itself, my iPhone, and technology in general.    How could something so seemingly simple fail me in my time of need?   I expected reliability in the device and service I was attempting to use… but was left disappointed and frustrated.

This story illustrates a very common theme that is running rampant through the payments industry.  As mergers and acquisitions continue to reduce the number of big players in the payments game to a select few, the reliability of the products and services these companies provide is going down the drain.   Remember a few years back when FiOS was acquired by Frontier Communications?  If you thought it was hard to get competent customer support before that acquisition, you will probably blow a gasket next time you try to get anywhere with Frontier (if you haven’t already smartly switched to DirecTV).  Bigger almost never equals better when it comes to providing reliable service and support.

In the payments industry, in particular, reliability goes far beyond the device itself.   It goes without saying, you should expect that your terminal or POS system will work when your customer pays with a credit card and that the transaction processes correctly & efficiently.  But isn’t it also fair that business owners should expect and receive reliability far beyond the device itself?   Absolutely!  But this is precisely where so many processors drop the ball and fall short of the mark.

A business owner should expect that the appropriate fees are applied to each transaction and that your funds will be deposited to your bank account on time.  And if something should go wrong with your device, you should expect to easily connect to an actual human being who should quickly help diagnose and resolve the issue with minimal impact to your business.   Regularly receiving a monthly statement that clearly outlines all transaction data and fees is also a perfectly reasonable expectation.  This sum of these parts is reliability, which, indeed, goes far beyond the device itself.

Now let’s consider the perceived value of a payment processor, through the eyes of the business owner.

Given the importance of getting paid, business owners should rightly view their payment processor as a trusted partner and a value-add to their business.  But the reality is, most business owners view their processor merely as a necessary (and inflated) cost of doing business and certainly not an ally.  This sentiment is mostly due to the fact that the majority of payment processing companies have failed to provide consistent and reliable service and support to their customers.

I believe that reliability in the payments space needs to be redefined, especially as the landscape continues to evolve with more and more mergers and acquisitions on the horizon.  The new definition of reliability in payments extends far beyond any piece of hardware or software being used to accept payments.  The processors that understand and embrace reliability in how they service and support their customers each and every day will win… and those that don’t will eventually die.

As a business owner or operator, you should expect reliability in every aspect of how you accept and manage payments from your customers.  And you should also expect that your payment processor truly has your best interest in mind, and will be there to help your business grow and succeed, through thick and thin.   If this vision resonates with you as a business owner, I welcome your feedback regarding your own experience with your payments processor and how you view your relationship with them.

To finish my story, I did end up making my flight, despite the unreliable airline app experience.  Once I settled into my seat, plugged in my earbuds, and selected a movie to watch during the flight… I had to settle for a spinning gear icon and a bag of stale pretzels.   Ugh.

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