Over the course of four weeks this fall, I traveled to Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and London, Ont., plus I conducted teleconference workshops with Worldpay partners in South Carolina, New Jersey, Toronto, and the Philippines. And that doesn’t include the online workshop with the California-based partner whose team is spread throughout North America including Portland, Boston, British Columbia, and Montreal. Or the phone call with my favorite partners from Guam.
Since I’ve been all over the map (geographically speaking), it seems only fitting that I share with you some thoughts that are all over the map (metaphorically speaking). This is going to be a twisting ride through randomness regarding channel trends, advice, best practices, and other points of interest. Be sure your seatbelts are securely fastened low and tight around your hips. Sorry – too much time on airplanes.
- A Worldpay colleague shared with me this quote they heard at Money20/20 in Las Vegas (one of the few U.S. cities I didn’t fly over in October): “Those companies that seek to make the consumer’s life better will win.” For resellers and ISVs, that was true in 2018 and smart solution providers know that trend will only accelerate in 2019. Those offering technology solutions that reduce friction between the merchant and consumer will stand out and retain their customers. Think online ordering, online reservations, multiple payment avenues, loyalty programs, etc.
- A Worldpay ISV partner said this at the start of our Customer Service Workshop: “We don’t do what our customers do.” Because of that, your staff has to make extra efforts to fully understand your customer’s perspective, opinions, challenges, and needs. Do whatever it takes to get as close to your customer as possible. Best practices I heard this past month include scheduled face-to-face visits, executing a brief auto-survey after a ticket is closed, conducting a comprehensive merchant survey annually, and “shift shadowing,” working an entire shift at the customer site to better understand how their business functions.
- Successful partners I’ve engaged with not only focus on but articulate to their staff the importance of boarding customers who are “in it for the long haul.” The days of selling a system or software license up front, collecting the check, and then heading for the hills are over. One partner I talked with offers generous discounts on products and installation if the merchant moves their credit card processing.
- I met with one VAR team to discuss the book The Trusted Advisor which details how to engage with prospects and customers in a way that creates an ever-deepening trust to enable a long-term partnership. (There’s that “long haul” theme again.) They told me their most effective techniques included making recommendations instead of forcing your decision on the customer, training techs beyond products to ensure they understand customer engagement best practices, and saying “I don’t know” instead of offering a mushy, generic answer to avoid embarrassment. Key to that last point is to then quickly find the answer to the customer’s question. There’s a giant difference between shrugging “I dunno” and saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out right away.”
- During one discussion, a longtime channel executive and I talked beyond his business and tried to help each other see around the corner in our industry. We both agreed on this premise: Local resellers who are only selling the POS and offering minimal value-add services to small merchants exist today, but their numbers are dwindling. The area of survival for VARs is selling comprehensive solutions (POS, payments, digital signage, kiosks, security, online ordering, loyalty, Wi-Fi, etc.) and services (maintenance, antivirus, cellular failover, managed services, etc.) regionally or nationally to multi-location merchants who value and can pay for what you offer. But, like the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby, there are only so many stalls available in this part of the market, and those who are first to the gate get to run in the race. Those who are too slow will miss out. So get on your horse (pun intended) and expand your offerings and your customer reach.
- Notice how I didn’t mention Hardware-as-a-Service in that list of solutions you can offer? There’s nothing wrong with HaaS but, as one channel executive told me, it’s often a roadblock preventing VARs from shifting to the as-a-Service business model. Resellers can’t figure out how to self-fund HaaS so they stop their recurring revenue business transition altogether. Just like a novice skier starts with the bunny hill and saves the Double Black Diamond course for much later when they’ve developed skills, you should start with simpler recurring revenue offerings and save HaaS until you build up your competency.
- This next bit of advice comes from the Customer Health Checkup merchant surveys I conduct and was emphasized in my recent Customer Service Workshops. The #1 driving factor behind high customer satisfaction is the speed at which you respond to them. You don’t even have to solve the problem; they want to hear from you right away and know that you’re working on their behalf. For example, if a customer emails you about an issue, stop what you’re doing, step away from your keyboard, pick up the phone, and call them to fully understand the situation. If the issue can’t be solved immediately, tell them exactly when you’ll call them back and then provide regular updates (as frequently as they want) until the issue is resolved. Customers will cut you a ton of slack if they know you’re working on their issue. But if you don’t proactively communicate with them, most will assume their problem isn’t a priority to you.
- One more point I offered frequently during my recent Customer Service Workshops: Don’t get angry at complaining customers even if they’re genuinely frustrating human beings. Because instead of calling you to gripe, they could be calling your competition to replace you.
- Personal note: When I travel, I’m a sandwich guy (instead of a fine-dining or casual sit-down restaurant guy) and I found two eateries I’d definitely go back to. Snarf’s Sandwiches has locations in Colorado, Missouri, and Illinois, and Texas, and their eggplant parm sandwich made me wish I had ordered two. Abe’s Subs & Wraps in London, Ont., won’t win any ambience awards (except maybe from Bare Bones Restaurant Magazine), but their Italian sub rolls with cheese baked on top were out of this world (light, flaky, and not overbaked). After eating my veggie sandwich, I actually ordered a second sub roll to take home to share with my family. Sure I got strange looks from the staff – and the POS system couldn’t handle my order – but I got my bread and was happy to take a slice of heaven back over the border.