You read the books, consulted the experts and took precautions to protect your small business from a data breach. Even so, you have just discovered that your carefully laid defenses had been usurped. At this time of maximum vulnerability, it is vital that you act decisively, thoughtfully and with care.

Don’t Panic

As stressful and frightening as this situation certainly is, stay calm. Don’t let fear or anger cloud your judgment or cause you to make rash decisions. Resist the impulse to turn off your computers or shut down your network system. Doing so might cause you to lose crucial data that could help a forensic expert get to the bottom of the data breach.

Retain all logs for your systems, databases, applications and networks. Enlist help in getting a forensic image of your hard drives and, if possible, live memory of your systems. As soon as possible, contact law enforcement and inform them of the crime. Depending on where you are located, they may even have a special unit dedicated to cyber security.

Write it Down

Your next crucial step in dealing with a breach is to carefully document every aspect of the incident. Describe how you learned about the breach. Then detail what parts of your network were attacked and recount to the best of your ability what data were compromised.

Taking time to meticulously chronicle everything you can about the incident will help you as you talk to law enforcement officials, forensic specialists and even your attorney in the weeks and months to come.

Notify Everyone Involved

A data breach is not something that can be kept secret. Each state where your customers live will have different notification requirements to which you must adhere. Make sure you know what regulators need to be notified and by what dates. Also, be sure you know exactly what information you must include.

Get Help

Although it may be tempting to try to save money by dealing with the breach on your own, this could cause harmful delays and additional stress, neither of which is helpful. Hiring an attorney, a forensic specialist or a cyber security expert can equip you with the tools and the knowledge you need to weather the storm.

Contact Financial Institutions and Credit Card Providers

Whether you have free credit card processing or you pay a merchant company to provide it, you need to get in touch with all of the banks and processing companies with whom you do business once you have identified a breach. Ask them to monitor your account and alert you to any unusual activity.

No business is immune from cyber crime regardless of how careful and extensive its precautions may be. If you are ever one of the thousands of companies that falls victim to data breaches each year, take heart. If you deal with the crime in a careful, step-by-step fashion, being sure to document everything and to get help from the experts, you can survive this often devastating and upsetting situation.

 

The success of your business hinges on numerous variables. Of course, the products and services you sell need to be relevant, compelling, competitive and available to customers when they want them. The sales environment, whether virtual or brick and mortar, should be welcoming, and you and your staff need to be both knowledgeable and customer-focused. In order for that to happen, it is essential that you understand what motivates customers to make purchases as well as what can stop them.

Problem/Need Recognition

People do not part with their hard-earned money without a reason. As a business owner, it is up to you to understand what motivates your customers to buy your goods and services. Your job as an effective salesperson is to help your customer understand the nature of their need and see that you have the solution in what you are selling. Whether what brings your customer to your store or website is a physical need such as hunger or an external stimulus such as a recommendation, you can bring home the sale if you communicate to your patron that you have exactly what is needed to meet the need or needs at hand.

Information Search

When a new customer walks into your store or visits your website for the first time, this is the end of a process that you should carefully analyze. A potential customer with an unmet need will use various methods to search for ways to solve their problem. They might ask friends for recommendations, conduct an online search or drive through the town’s business district to locate a vendor. The more you can put your store or website at the forefront of these processes, the more likely it will be that new customers will purchase what you have to offer. Take the time to market your business on social media as well as on internet search engines. In addition, take advantage of the positive experiences of your current customers by providing them with incentives to review your business on sites such as Yelp and Instagram.

Evaluation of Alternatives

Savvy customers already know that you are not the only provider of the goods and services they want. They may even recognize that your prices are at times higher than those of some of your rivals. In and of itself, that is not usually enough to send a potential sale to your competitors as long as you have cultivated your customer’s trust. One way to establish a “team member” relationship with your customer is to be honest. If your prices are higher, come out in the open and explain why. Perhaps your quality is higher or you provide additional after-purchase services or guarantees that your rivals do not. The key is to help your potential buyer feel good about the idea of purchasing their products and services from you.

Purchase Decisions

The process of making a sale is often compared to fishing. It involves attracting a customer, convincing them to commit and then completing the process. At any point, as with reeling in a fish, the purchase can be interrupted by the customer. As a business owner, your job is to keep that perfect balance between explaining the benefits of your product and applying too much pressure. Throughout the sale, it is imperative that your customer is convinced that the purchase was well-researched and is both economical and intelligent. Finding ways to remind the customer of why they came to you in the first place can often provide the focus that is needed to seal the deal. From your end, it is crucial that all aspects of the purchase process are as seamless as possible since even the most committed customer can leave or click away in frustration if mechanical or logistical problems with the purchase transaction process become too frustrating. Therefore, make it a priority to understand your point-of-sale equipment, and be sure all staff members are trained to do so as well. In addition, make sure your website is mobile-friendly to ensure that purchases can be easily made on tablets, phones and other devices. If, in spite of all of your hard work, a customer should leave without consummating the sale, use targeted emails and product discounts to convince them to return.

Post-Purchase Behavior

Even after money has changed hands and the customer either clicks away or walks out the door, your work is not done. What happens after the sale is, in fact, just as important as are all of the preparations that made it possible in the first place. If a person purchased your goods or services, chances are excellent that they have a positive view of your business. Now it’s time to accentuate that by thanking them for their purchase either in person, via email or both. Requesting feedback can also be a great way to market your operations while simultaneously giving your valued customer a platform to spread positive messages about what they bought and from whom. Even if someone inserts a negative comment or two, you should view this as an opportunity to respond promptly and take steps to immediately address the problem. After all, no one is perfect, and most customers are quite tolerant of mistakes or oversights if they know you are willing to make amends.

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So much more than a device to help your customers make their purchases, your point-of-sale solution (POS) can become the backbone of your business. Even so, the idea of shelling out the dollars for an upgrade might go against the grain.

Before you close your wallet and decide to limp along with your old POS (or to go with no POS at all), take some time to learn how an updated system can bring your business to the next level and pay for itself many times over.

Enhancing Your Revenue

It only makes sense that paying to give your POS a facelift would be a great deal easier to swallow if doing so meant that you would make significantly more revenue.

Once you get a POS that has built-in capabilities to take mobile payments, contains accounting and reporting abilities and has inventory management software, you can watch as your profits slowly but surely begin to climb. Your POS can be your silent and very talented partner in several ways:

  • With your new mobile payment processing capabilities, customer payment transactions can be completed not only faster but also at any location in your restaurant or retail space. With shorter lines and seamless checkout, you will have happy patrons who are more likely to return to your establishment as well as recommend you to their friends and family.
  • With your modern POS, inventory management is a breeze. The days are over when you would run out of sought-after items, leaving potential customers disappointed. With your POS on the task, you can generate reports well in advance of your stock running low and order accordingly.
  • Your new POS most likely also contains software that will allow you to set up a customer rewards program with very little effort on your part. Your regular patrons will be even more motivated to visit again and again if you make it worth their while with free or discounted merchandise that they earn when they make purchases. All that remains is for you to use your POS to keep your dynamic database updated.
  • For some businesses, a modern POS can be a catalyst that can bring about an expansion in services as well as an accompanying increase in revenue. Now that you can benefit from portable credit card processing, you can take your company on the road to places such as trade shows, farmer’s markets, concerts and craft bazaars.

Providing Cost Savings

No one knows better than a business owner how many small and large costs are constantly eating into your bottom line. Luckily, your new POS can help you to minimize many of these drains on your capital.

  • Inventory management. Let’s visit this important area again but now from the standpoint of cost savings. If you have ever misjudged your current stock and ordered a surplus of expensive items that you ultimately did not sell, you know what a toll improper inventory management can take on your enterprise. Automating it via your POS can prevent incidents like this from happening again.
  • Time savings. You have heard the saying that time is money, and nowhere is it more evident than in the running of a business. Now that your POS can automate tasks such as accounting and inventory management, you and your staff can be freed up to take care of other equally important priorities that might have previously never gotten the attention they deserved. For instance, you might now have a few minutes or even hours to make changes to a window display. Furthermore, your POS can enable you to make the best use of each staff member’s time.
  • Eliminate manual errors. One of the greatest gifts that your POS will bring to you is the automation of tasks that you or your staff may have done by hand in the past. From tallying employee hours to keeping track of sales slips, there is inevitably a higher chance of human error if the data are being entered by a human who is probably also juggling several other tasks. Relinquishing these time-intensive tasks into the capable purview of your POS can not only free you up to engage in other tasks but also may well protect you from costly data entry errors that could come back to haunt you when the time comes to balance your books.
  • Space saving. Of course, portable units can be carried by staff to any desired location to complete a payment transaction, but even POS workstations are now designed with maximum use of space in mind. High resolution/high contrast backlit antiglare LED displays are easier to see in a variety of lighting conditions, thus making the customer ordering or payment process faster and less prone to errors.

With technology evolving fast, it probably comes as no surprise that your POS can become an integral player in virtually every aspect of how you do business, from what goes on in your back office payroll, inventory and accounting arena all the way to your customer payment experience. Some entrepreneurs might fear that delegating so many tasks to a system of hardware and software will compromise their integrity and turn the company they worked so hard to build into an impersonal and robotic place. Rest assured that this is not the case.

Your customers will patronize your restaurant or retail establishment based on the quality of the products or services you offer as well as how they are treated each and every time they walk in the door. No machine can ever replace that unique quality that sets you apart from your competitors. Your POS is simply there to enhance what you offer, help you generate more revenue and cut down on your costs. Who can argue with that?

As a small business owner, you need a convenient way to accept credit card payments. Your customers expect to be able to pay with plastic, and not offering this option can severely limit your cash flow.

Why Accept Credit Cards?

Businesses without a method for accepting major credit cards can’t access a large chunk of the consumer market. Thirty-five percent of shoppers used credit cards to make purchases in 2014, and 43 percent of transactions involved debit cards. Those numbers are climbing even higher. Whether you operate out of a brick-and-mortar location or make the majority of your sales on the road at various events, it’s essential to have a reliable method for processing credit cards.

Accepting credit payments can also make your business more lucrative. Customers tend to spend 12 to 18 percent more when using plastic than with other payment methods, and this money goes straight to your bank account without the risk of being stolen by unscrupulous employees. Credit card payments don’t bounce the way checks can, and there’s no need to make separate trips to the bank to deposit your earnings.

Options for Credit Card Processing

To choose the best method for accepting credit cards, look for an option designed to meet the needs of your business while providing maximum convenience for customers. As you compare the most common choices, consider the type and number of transactions you commonly handle, where you make the largest number of sales, and whether or not your company engages in e-commerce.

Use a Standard Terminal

Cash registers with accompanying credit card terminals are still the most recognizable way to accept credit card payments. If you operate a well-established brick-and-mortar location and handle a large number of credit card transactions every day, this is likely your best option.

Modern terminals should be equipped to handle swipe cards, EMV chip cards and near-field communication (NFC). This provides the greatest number of payment options for customers and expands your potential customer base to include those who prefer mobile payment methods. Keypads for entering PIN numbers are also necessary to accept debit cards and to process the “chip and pin” method put in place to improve payment security.

For smaller operations, a swipe machine provided by a card processor and connected to a phone or Ethernet line functions much the same way but doesn’t always include NFC or EMV-compliant technology.

Try a Mobile POS Option

Not all small businesses have the budget for complex credit card processing equipment. Fortunately, you can get a low-rate card reader from your merchant provider, which can be used to turn your phone or tablet into a mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) device.

Accept Payments Online

Adding e-commerce to your operation extends the reach of your business beyond local customers, but it requires a way to process credit card payments from your website. Choose a processing provider with the ability to handle all types of payments so that you don’t wind up trying to juggle data from two different providers.

During 2014, 48 percent of online shoppers paid with credit cards and 30 percent used debit cards. This represents a significant audience of potential customers, including a large number of mobile shoppers. Online payment options should make shopping and payment as easy as possible for this audience.

Go Mobile

Some of the same providers offering POS devices and online services can be used for taking credit card payments on the go. Using an mPOS device is a good option for companies in need of flexibility. If you attend festivals, trade shows and other events where you offer products for sale, having a mobile solution can increase the number of transactions you’re able to process.

Using a mobile reader or mPOS requires a compatible mobile device and a reliable connection to wireless internet or your cellular data provider. These readers allow you to accept electronic signatures and email receipts to your customers. All transactions are handled through the provider, and some can recall customer information to assist with future purchases or recurring billing.

Choosing the Best Credit Card Processor

Once you’ve decided on a credit card payment option, it’s time to find a provider with the capabilities your business needs. Providers operate in one of two ways:

  • A gateway processes online or mobile payments and transfers the funds to your account minus fees if the credit card is accepted.
  • Merchant accounts are dedicated bank accounts through which banks process credit card transactions before sending the money to your business bank account.

Depending on the size of your business and the types of sales you make most often, one option might be more beneficial than the other.

Make sure your merchant services provider offers the type of terminal you need and offers reliable customer support with consistent availability. If you need a solution for both your physical location and an e-commerce website, choose a company with cross-compatible processing services. Access to a mobile app from which you can manage and track payment information can help simplify accounting tasks.

Research each credit card processing option to find the right fit for your business and customer base. Compare rates, fees and features, including which major cards you can process. By choosing a convenient, low-cost option with the ability to integrate with e-commerce solutions, you can offer the best service to every customer who wants to pay using credit or debit.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was put into place to provide security provisions and data privacy to safeguard patients’ medical information. It sets standards for the exchange of medical data between providers, protects the privacy and security of health information and contains protocols for enforcement. For medical offices, it is also important to understand how to maintain HIPAA compliance when you accept your patients’ credit card payments.

The Case for Accepting Credit Card Payments

Although most of your patients probably have healthcare insurance coverage, the majority will still be expected to pay out-of-pocket costs such as copays. With fewer people carrying cash and checkbooks these days, credit and debit cards are becoming the standard. Accepting them can also give you a better chance of receiving the money you are owed.

Believe it or not, some credit cards such as American Express actually give healthcare businesses a break on associated fees. What’s more, having payment processing for doctor’s offices also allows you to honor patients’ health financing cards such as CareCredit, their health savings accounts or their health reimbursement accounts, all of which you can do if you have the correct classification with your payment processor. Once you have become properly set up, accepting patient credit and debit cards should be a breeze.

How to Remain HIPAA Compliant

Protecting the privacy of patients’ sensitive health data is one of your top priorities; plus, it’s the law. Take the following steps to make data breaches as unlikely as possible:

  • When you process a patient’s card, do not provide any protected health information including details about treatment or care. Only furnish what is needed for the payment to be processed.
  • Do not send receipts to your patient via text or non-secured email, and don’t allow your processing company to do so.
  • Come right out and ask. Any payment processing company worth their salt will tell you if they are or not HIPAA compliant. Steer clear of them if they are not.
  • Secure all credit card data. If you have good reasons to store credit card authorizations or any other documents that contain patients’ credit card numbers, you are required by law to store them securely behind lock and key. You may also have the option to have this information secured by your payment processing company in an encrypted vault. If this option is available to you, it is in your best interest to invest in it.
  • sk your processor about signing a business associate agreement with them. You will definitely need this if you are using your payment processor for anything in addition to simply taking credit cards. Examples include accounting tools, reporting or marketing and customer loyalty features. If you fail to do this, you may be found to be Noncompliant with HIPAA standards.
  • If you have practice management software in place, consider a payment integration solution which will enable you to accept credit card transactions via a payment terminal while automatically getting a record of the transaction (minus encrypted data) into your patient records. This eliminates the need for double-data entry and greatly reduces the likelihood of staff leaving paper records with sensitive information unsecured around the office.

Safeguarding patient data must be one of your highest priorities. To ensure that you are doing all you can in this regard, contact your payment processing company. As is the case with you, it is also in their best interest to protect all sensitive data. Once you take all the necessary steps, you can rest easy knowing that your practice is in compliance with the law.

How long has it been since you upgraded your restaurant’s point-of-sale system? Modern diners are demanding more from their favorite eateries, and a robust POS solution can help you provide the services they expect. Consider these critical points as you shop around for a new payment system.

Available Services

Each sector of the restaurant business has different needs. Today’s POS systems provide a range of services to help you cater to your specific customer base and streamline operations:

  • Gift cards
  • Inventory management
  • Loyalty programs
  • Mobile accessibility
  • Online orders and reservations
  • Third-party integrations

Whether you need a few of these services or require something specific like a credit card slider, make sure the POS provider you choose has reliable customer care and includes software updates as part of its services.

Number and Size of Sales

Payment systems for restaurants may be localized or cloud-based, and the best option for your restaurant depends on how many orders you typically handle in a day and how much diners spend on their meals. Localized systems store software and information onsite. Cloud-based systems connect to remote servers and run on a software-as-a-service model.

Large restaurants do better when using local systems with the ability to handle high demand, greater complexity and larger numbers of diners. However, if your establishment is small and you don’t have the budget for an extensive in-house system, a cloud service can provide what you need.

Preferred Payment Methods

How do the customers at your restaurant typically pay for their orders? Your POS solution should be equipped to handle as many payment types as possible, thereby providing flexibility for customers. The balance of payment types varies between sectors, but it’s likely you’ve seen an increase in modern payment methods over the past year. If you serve a younger audience, it could be beneficial to invest in hardware that accepts NFC and mobile wallet payments.

Ease of Use

The wait staff at your restaurant should be able to input customer orders and print out checks as quickly as possible to prevent delays and ensure a good dining experience. Before upgrading your payment system, make sure the POS software you choose is easy to learn and simple to use. This ensures you won’t spend an eternity getting the system set up and minimizes training time for staff members.

Costs and Fees

Weigh the benefits and features of different POS systems against initial setup costs and associated monthly fees. The cheapest solution isn’t always the best, and some “budget-friendly” options may wind up being more expensive than they seem. The system you implement should include upgrades and have an understandable fee structure for processing credit card payments.

Modern POS devices and software can handle the complexity of restaurant orders and deliver the quick service to which today’s customers have become accustomed. Whether you own a fancy five-star establishment or a cozy down-home café, a POS system tailored to your needs and processes is essential to running a successful operation.

Seven billion: that’s the number of people across the globe who will be using at least one mobile device by the year 2020. As a business owner, you cannot afford to overlook the impact that this mobile revolution will have on your sales. Prepare yourself now by making your business marketing and payment systems compatible with tablets and smartphones.

Update and Upgrade Your Website

Although there may not be many of you out there, there may be a few merchants who still have not launched a website for their business. Establishing an online presence is critical, even if it means hiring someone to do it for you.

If you are already playing in the e-commerce field, make sure your site is optimized for mobile traffic. Simply use your own smartphone’s internet browser to go to your site. If you can’t access all of its features or you site is not responsive to the size of your screen, it’s time for some improvements. By making them, you will get more business from your established customers and rank better on search engines in order to attract new ones.

In addition, if you own a business with an e-commerce site or website that should make your products available for sale online, make sure your online payments capabilities are up-to-speed.

Make Your Payment Systems Cutting Edge

Mobile technology, including portable credit card scanners, is becoming a part of everyday purchase transactions. These innovations enable clerks and restaurant servers to accept payments anywhere on the sales floor as well as miles away from headquarters at farmer’s markets, fairs and expos.

These days, smartphone and tablet users have built-in access to digital wallets that can securely store their credit card information. This can make the payment process as easy as bringing their phone close to your near field communications (NFC)-equipped card reader for secure processing.

You might be surprised to learn that adopting mobile payment solutions is not as expensive or complicated as you fear. In fact, some processing companies make NFC-capable equipment available for free. What’s more, the benefits will soon become apparent in the form of happier customers, faster and more secure transactions and less harried staff.

The Evolution of Computers and Phones

Not so long ago, many of us had several computer devices: a desktop, laptop, tablet and a smartphone. These days, the desktop is quickly being phased out in favor of tablets that also function as laptops. In addition, the smartphone has become so widely adopted throughout the world that it is increasingly being used in lieu of cash for many payment and business transactions. This trend is sure to continue and even accelerate, making the acceptance of mobile wallet payments especially important for business owners who want to remain competitive.

Among several others, you have two huge priorities as a business owner. You must attract new customers while keeping your loyal ones. By riding the crest of the mobile phone and tablet trend, you can accomplish both goals.

Between the constant influx of junk mail and the steady stream of literature from credit card processing companies, it’s no wonder that you and most other small business owners feel like you are drowning in a sea of paper. Add to that the ever-growing pile of customer receipts you know you should be saving, and it brings you to the inevitable question: Is there a protocol to be followed when it comes to managing these receipts?

A Necessary Inconvenience

There is an old saying, “If it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” This adage definitely applies to the business world, and that’s where receipts are invaluable. They are tangible, mutually understood documents that show when and where a purchase was made as well as its monetary amount. Customers can use them as proof of purchase should problems arise with a product or service, and merchants constantly depend on receipts to balance their books and prepare for tax time.

When Chargebacks Occur

While you will definitely need to peruse your receipts as you prepare your business taxes, this is not the only situation in which they will come in handy. From time to time, all business owners encounter instances when customers request to reverse a credit card transaction for any number of reasons.

One particular example in which a chargeback can be requested occurs when the customer claims that she never made the purchase in question. In this case, your receipt can provide strong verification that her allegation is false. On the other hand, you might be required to pay the customer’s credit card company the full price of the product in question if you are unable to produce a copy of the receipt.

Strategies for Managing Your Receipts

It is vitally important that customer receipts are kept organized and stored securely. Dedicating time every week to keeping your financial house in order will be invaluable as you balance your books and budget for future needs. Most tax experts recommend that you hold onto your receipts for at least three years in case you need to produce them for an audit. If they contain sensitive customer credit card information, be sure to lock them in a location to which only you and one or two other trusted employees have access. If they have been digitally scanned, password protect the electronic file. When the time comes to destroy the receipts from a past year, be sure you do so using a high-quality shredder.

Don’t let your customer receipts become just another chaotic mountain of paper shoved into file drawers. Take the time to organize and manage these documents, and they can prove to be invaluable tools as you balance this year’s budget and plan for the future.

When and how you get paid for your products and services is one of your most crucial considerations as a business owner. Therefore, it is important to understand the differences between getting your payments processed over the internet via your e-commerce site vs. offline in your brick-and-mortar store.

Common Considerations for Brick-and-Mortar Processing

When it’s time for your customer to check out, there are several things you must consider. How will they pay – by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, debit, gift card, check, etc? As a business owner, you may privately ask yourself how convenient it will be to accept a particular form of payment as well as how quickly you will see the customer’s actual money. Finally, you cannot avoid wondering how much the process will cost.

Common Considerations for Payment Processing Online

When your customer is not present and is making the purchase over the internet, you will ask all of the above questions as well as some additional ones. Will there be a way to make the payment using your ecommerce site’s shopping cart? Can it be integrated with your accounting software? How much will it cost? Finally, are you in a position to accept more costly non-credit card payments?

Types of Merchant Accounts

Two things to consider are the type of merchant account you get and the payment processing capabilities you want your customers to have. You can choose to have a traditional merchant account with an in-store terminal and/or POS system, or you could have an online payments account to accept “card not present” payments from your website, via emailed invoices, over the phone or by mail. These days, many businesses with a professional website or who are frequently on the road choose to have both offline and online payment acceptance capabilities. Adding online payment acceptance is an easy and cost-effective way to ensure your customers can pay however they want, so you don’t miss out on any potential business.

In most all cases, traditional, in-store payments will have lower processing fees than those payments accepted online or over the phone. The reason for this is that the risk for fraud increases in online and other card not present transactions. Your credit card processing company will explain all rates and fees when you sign up for a merchant account.

If your business accepts payments in various locations including in-store, online and via mobile payments, it makes sense to choose your merchant account provider carefully. There are companies that are experts in each type as well as providers that can process payments in all of them.

While it is important to take fees into consideration, don’t let them totally rule your decision. Choose a provider that offers reporting that will work well with your accounting methods and delivers outstanding service. If either your in-store or online payment system has an issue, you will want someone to call.

Regardless of what kind of business you own, the recommendations of satisfied customers are a commodity more valuable than gold. Whether you prepare taxes or take photographs, whether you sell food or handicrafts, getting the good word out about your business must be one of your top priorities. Of all the ways to make this happen, online reviews may be one of the most powerful.

The Changing Face of Marketing

Not so long ago, businesses of all kinds primarily used local print and media advertisements to inform potential customers about what they had to offer. However, the omnipresence of the internet has changed the business landscape dramatically.

Like it or not, most entrepreneurs have come to terms with the fact that they must establish themselves online through a website and via social media. Taking time to design and maintain a slick, information-packed website is hugely important, but these days you really cannot succeed without paying an equal amount of attention to your online social media identity. Fortunately, you don’t need to do this all by yourself.

The Great Equalizer

Not so long ago, consumers had no choice but to rely on the opinions of self-appointed experts when it came to impressions of the products they were looking to buy. Today, the internet has changed that. It is just as easy for an everyday person to send out a tweet, snap a photo for Instagram or review a product or service on Facebook as it is for an industry expert to do so.

Often, it is the everyday experiences and impressions of ordinary consumers that other people respect the most. Considering that researchers estimate that 88 percent of consumers trust the reviews they see online, you can definitely harness this tool in your favor for your business.

The Power of Positive Reviews

You could scarcely argue that positive online reviews would be anything but excellent for your business. Obviously, potential customers could come upon such a review on Yelp or your local Google directory, become interested because of the affirmative slant of the reviewer’s message, and find themselves clicking on your website or driving to your physical storefront. If they also fall in love with your business, chances are good that they will let their opinion about your store be known to their social network and the greater cyber community.

This desirable possibility is even more likely if you encourage all of your customers to write reviews of your business on their favorite sites. While you cannot control what they say, you can use these sites as sources of valuable feedback that you can use to grow and improve.

The Power of Negative Feedback

Believe it or not, even the most scathing of customer reviews can become vital tools as you work to expand and improve your business. Imagine, for instance, that you own a restaurant. One of your customers writes a withering indictment of one of his meals as well as the service provided by your wait staff. Your first impulse upon reading this review may be to call the customer and give him a piece of your mind.

Upon reflection, however, you will recognize that his words have a certain redeeming value. Slowly and painstakingly, you separate the customer’s emotions from the objective facts of the evening that he had a bad experience: the food took 45 minutes to come out, the steak was overcooked and your staff member greeted the customer’s request for a better prepared entrée with a huge sigh and eye roll.

In response to this admittedly upsetting review, you implement positive changes around the workplace, including coming up with ways to increase efficiency in the kitchen. After a talk with your wait staff in which you role-play a more constructive way to deal with a disgruntled customer, you feel satisfied that a future diner faced with the same situation will not be treated the same way.

Finally, you respond to the customer in two ways. Publicly, you express your regret at his negative experience, inviting him to come back for a free meal. Privately, you obtain his contact information from your customer database and call him to apologize in person. The majority of customers will respond positively to your sincere efforts to remedy the situation.

Provide Incentives to Your Customers to Post Online Reviews

While there are some people who regularly take the time to share their experiences with others, many of us need an extra push. Certainly, you cannot dictate the content or tone of the reviews that your customers write. However, you can definitely come up with creative ways to engage them. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Sponsor a photo contest, requiring that your business must figure into both the picture and the caption. Let customers know where they need to upload their submissions, and offer a gift card to the winner.
  • Set up multiple profiles on several review sites such as Google Local, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, Yelp and CitySearch.
  • Make it as simple as possible for your customers to leave reviews. Include direct links to your review profiles on your newsletter, on your website and with every email blast you send.
  • Encourage your employees to get reviews from their satisfied customers. You could even run a monthly contest in which the top review-getter wins a monetary reward.
  • Publicly thank all customers who review your business regardless of whether the feedback was glowing or mediocre.

When you are thinking of ways to build your business, many possibilities come to mind: deliver innovative products and services that meet a need; find a venue that matches the mood and scope of your fledgling business; choose a merchant account provider that can make your payment transactions and point-of-sale systems as inexpensive and seamless as possible; and finally, cultivate and grow your customer base via an innovative marketing plan that includes social media and other online tools.

In today’s online social environment, you don’t have to be a rugged individualist trying to carve out a path for your business through the wilderness. With online reviews, you can leverage your loyal customers to help grow the business you are working so hard to build.

The staff who operate your cash registers are on the front lines of your battle for success. More than anyone else, a well-trained cashier can make or break a customer’s experience in your store. Learn the top tips for optimal training, and you and your patrons will see positive results.

More Efficient Checkouts

When payments are processed accurately and quickly, lines move faster, customers are happier and your receipts are balanced at the end of the day. Incorporate the following ideas into your business model to bring about maximum cash register staff efficiency:

  • Make sure your point-of-sale system (POS) is modern, easy to use and able to receive mobile payments from all devices. It’s easy to teach your staff about the ins and outs of such a solution, and customers can use the payment option of their choice. You may even want to change to a POS system that provides digital receipts to save on the time and trouble of loading new receipt rolls.
  • If you haven’t already done so, upgrade your POS to one that accepts mobile payments. Thanks to technology called near field communication (NFC), customers can now put their mobile device near your NFC-enabled reader to initiate a secure, encrypted transaction that only takes seconds to process. Since an increasing number of customers are no longer carrying cash but almost always have their phones close at hand, upgrading to mobile payment acceptance can enable your cashiers to serve customers who would otherwise be unable to make purchases in your store.
  • Train your staff on the layout of the register’s keyboard or screen. There is a steep learning curve for new cashiers, especially when it comes to becoming accustomed to where each item of merchandise is located on the screen or keyboard. With each added item, the amount of icons grows, and the task of remembering where everything is becomes harder. To combat the stress, provide your staff members with screen shots or printouts of the layout. Encourage them to take these home and study them for a day or two. Learning can happen better if stress levels are low.
  • Use resources such as YouTube videos or webinars from your payment processing company. These training tools can be invaluable for everyone involved.

Combatting Fraud

The busier your cash registers become, the more susceptible you are to fraud. Teach your staff best practices to minimize the chances of a hacker breaking through:

  • Go over some of the warning signs that a customer is up to no good with your staff. The customer might seem uptight or nervous. They may not have a wallet or purse and may instead carry their credit card in their hand. They may be buying a very expensive item, all the while trying to rush the transaction or distract the cashier. Often, fraudsters make multiple purchases in a short period of time and prefer to do their buying during a retailer’s busiest season or time of the day.
  • Instruct cashiers to also be on the lookout for messages such as “lost or stolen card” that may show up on the POS system after the card is swiped. Another red flag is if the signature on the back of the customer’s card does not match the one on the transaction receipt.
  • Put a protocol in place should a cashier spot a potential criminal. Some businesses come up with code words so as not to spook the customer or other shoppers. Have a senior staff member available at all times to address these issues immediately when they arise. That person can then contact the secure merchant services company and alert them to your suspicion that the transaction is fraudulent. Specify that you have a “code 10 authorization request,” and the customer service representative will take you or your senior staff member through the process of determining whether fraud occurred.

Dealing with Angry Customers

Like it or not, unhappy patrons are a part of every business. Since you can’t avoid them no matter how hard you try, prepare your staff in advance for the inevitable with these tips:

  • Develop a protocol that addresses the most frequent complaints and customer scenarios as well as the proper strategies for dealing with them. Be sure that every staff member has been trained on all aspects of this document, understands them and has the opportunity to ask any questions they may have.
  • During your training session, use videos or skits to show your staff the most common negative customer interactions as well as the best ways to resolve the situations. Afterwards, conduct role-playing sessions to give employees a chance to practice positive listening and problem-solving strategies in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
  • Make sure your staff understands what solutions they are authorized to offer. For example, can they issue refunds, or must they obtain a supervisor’s approval?

From the time you open your doors in the morning until the last customer leaves, your cashiers are often the only representatives of your business with whom customers interact. Although checking out should only take a minute or two, patrons will walk out with a lasting memory of the friendly, helpful and efficient cashier who guided them effortlessly through the payment process. Make sure your loyal customers receive this top-of-the-line care by preparing your cashiers in advance with thorough training. Provide this instruction during a time when the store is quiet and distractions are at a minimum. When you do, you will have staff who are less stressed and more equipped to deal with virtually any situation as well as satisfied customers who feel respected and taken seriously.

Even the most inexperienced entrepreneur soon learns that there are many aspects of payment processing companies and their associated fees that are confusing. Even the method by which the credit card information is communicated to the financial institution makes a difference.

Believe it or not, whether your customer swipes their card or you key in the numbers manually can lead to very different results.

What Is a Swipe Transaction?

The term “swipe” refers to the act by which a customer inserts their card in a reader or credit card machine for the purpose of making a payment for a product or service. The process can also occur via a mobile payment (or digital wallet); in this situation, the customer simply places their smartphone near the merchant’s near field communication-enabled reader.

In both of these cases, the card – or the electronic information relevant to a physical card that is now stored in a customer’s digital wallet – is present at the time of purchase.

What Is a Keyed-In Transaction?

By contrast, information about a customer’s credit card is sometimes manually keyed in by the merchant. For example, a handyman might make repairs in a person’s home, take down the person’s card information and enter it manually once he returns to the office.

Another common use of manually entered credit card information occurs when customers buy products online. It almost goes without saying that this form of making a payment poses numerous security risks.

The Advantages of Swipe Transactions

As stated above, swipe transactions occur when the customer is present. This single fact makes the process more secure than if the information were manually entered. In addition, the sheer act of keying in data carries with it the very real risk of human error.

While certainly not infallible, credit card terminals are highly unlikely to misread the numbers and expiration dates found on the customer’s card. Finally, because swipe transactions carry less risk, they are not burdened with the higher fees you would find with manually entered payments.

If you wonder why the charges for keyed-in transactions are consistently higher, remember that the payment processing company is in the business of making money. When a transaction is inherently riskier, the merchant is expected to compensate the processor for that added level of uncertainty. In short, it amounts to the price of doing business under adverse conditions.

How to Reduce the Fees You Pay

If you run a mobile business that currently involves keying in many of your credit card payments manually, there’s good news. Sure, you can look around for the lowest credit card processing fees in the industry and possibly save a few dollars here and there, but why not also upgrade your system to accept payments while you’re on the road?

With some easy-to-use software and an extremely portable reader that attaches to, or works with, your smartphone, you can safely and securely accept your customers’ “swiped” payments in person while on site with them. Never again will you be a prisoner to higher fees just because you needed to key in payments later in order to keep your loyal customers.

Accepting customers’ credit cards is a fact of life for today’s entrepreneurs. Whether you have been in business for years or are just starting out, it makes sense to do all you can to keep your costs down. By limiting manually entered transactions, you can increase your and your customers’ security while simultaneously lowering your costs.

Today’s EMV chip cards still give a bow to the past by containing the old-school magnetic strip that allows customers to swipe the card as they always have. By circumventing the more lengthy “dipping” process that was introduced when these cards came to the fore, customers are bringing unintended consequences upon themselves and the merchant they are patronizing.

As you will see, there are good reasons to insist that your customers use the chip reader.

The Security Nightmare of Magnetic Strip Cards

After a seemingly endless parade of data breaches and fraud on a massive scale, financial institutions in the U.S. finally got the message that their counterparts in Europe and Asia already knew: The magnetic strip on credit cards represented a shining beacon for criminals. There were numerous ways that the numbers on the strip as well as the expiration date and 3-digit security code could be quickly copied. It was then a simple matter to make purchases or sell the stolen data on the black market.

The Advantages of EMV Chip Cards

In October 2015, financial institutions began rolling out their EMV chip cards that no longer relied on the strip – although most cards still contained it. With the new system, customers never relinquished their card to the merchant, and all personal data was encrypted and sent on securely to the processing company.

Any fraudulent transaction that took place using a chip reader would be paid for by the financial institution, but the responsibility was on merchants if the transaction was an old-school swipe. If you have upgraded your POS card swipers to now accept chip cards through dipping, make sure your customers always use this option. If you don’t, the financial burden of fraud could be squarely on your shoulders.

Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Business

Of course, the most important way to safeguard yourself against credit card fraud is to upgrade your POS card swipers if you have not already done so. You might be pleasantly surprised at the relatively low cost of making the switch. What’s more, you might find that your new system has additional features that can take your business to the next level, including customer relationship management capabilities and automated features.

Once your system is in place, it is vital to train your staff on the use of chip cards. Be sure they understand the importance of steering customers toward dipping, not swiping, their card. If customers are reluctant to do so, a clear and brief explanation of how their security and privacy will be enhanced is usually sufficient motivation.

In time, chip cards are sure to become the dominant plastic on the block, with magnetic strips going the way of the 8-track tape. But until that happens, take steps to ensure that you and your customers are reaping the enhanced security benefits that chip cards can offer. It could save your business from bearing the burden of fraud or data breaches.

Whether you own a busy restaurant or a popular retail establishment, you can learn a great deal from the robust features found in your point-of-sale system. Not just a way to accept customer payments anymore, your POS can be your partner and guide as you assess strengths and weaknesses, keep up on inventory, and encourage your loyal customers to continue coming back. You might be surprised at just how many tools are right at your fingertips.

1. Top Selling Items

You probably went into business for numerous reasons, but one of the main ones was certainly to make a profit. Your POS can generate sales reports that will help you track what items are generating the most customer purchases as well as those that may not be doing as well as expected. Once you are armed with this information, you can gain insights into future plans for growth as well as get a very good idea of how much inventory to order.

2. Inventory Management

Put away your notebook and the slips of paper where you have been jotting down notes to yourself about what items you need to order and which ones should be scrapped. Your POS is already seamlessly tracking this information. All you need to do is generate a report.

No longer will you be at the mercy of your own memory or that of your staff. Your POS keeps a running total of all items in real time. You can even input a threshold number that generates a “reorder” command once quantities of goods fall below it. Never again will you lose a sale because the item in question is out of stock.

3. Monitor Your Cash Drawer

Your POS has the capability of generating two important types of reports that will help you understand what is going on in your cash drawer at all times. Pulling up this information doesn’t mean you don’t trust your employees; it is simply a way to ensure that everything matches up when the shift is over and you close for the night.

An ‘X’ report is a cumulative measure that gives you a running total of your cash drawer balance at any point. When you pull it up, it does not reset to zero. At the end of the day when you want a final tally of the cash register balance, you can generate a ‘Z’ report. Since it resets your drawer to zero, you should only run this type of report at the end of the day or the shift. Regularly obtaining both of these reports can enable you to find discrepancies and, in the worst case scenario, catch unscrupulous employees in the act of theft.

4. Sales Activity by Date

Understanding what specific items in your inventory are selling and which are not is important, but it is not the only factor you should consider. In addition, you should generate reports that track the times of the day and of the year when you sell specific items. The more information you have on this subject, the better you can adjust your inventory and staffing to accommodate the ebbs and flows in customer demand.

5. Customer Relationship Management

Your customers represent the lifeblood of your business. Therefore, it makes sense to do everything you can to keep them interested in what you have to offer, happy with your business and motivated to return and recommend you to friends.

Many small business merchant services providers have POS solutions that contain the ability to generate customer reports. With them, you can track who your best customers are in terms of purchase amounts and visits as well as all of the new customers who have come in during a specified period of time. Once you have this information in hand, you can employ any number of marketing strategies to keep in touch with your valuable customers and reward their loyalty with promotions and discounts.

Think of your POS system as a reliable companion that is always at your side to help you run your small business. The reports described are just the tip of the iceberg of what a POS can do for you. In the end, you will find you POS can help you become more organized, efficient and forward-thinking in running your establishment.

You’ve worked hard to establish your company as a fixture in the community. Your brick-and-mortar store enjoys a decent amount of traffic, but you feel you could be doing more to reach a wider audience. Is it time to add e-commerce to your selling strategy?

Starting an online branch of your business has the potential to put your products in front of many more consumers than you can reach with a single physical location. E-commerce increases opportunities for engagement and sales, but you need to be sure you’re ready before establishing an online presence. Ask yourself these questions before diving into the world of internet sales.

How Much Time Can I Devote?

Running your physical store can be more than a full-time job, and adding e-commerce will increase the necessary commitment. Operating an online business requires a big investment of time, especially at the start. Just to get off the ground, you need to:

  • Build a website
  • Create an online inventory database with product images
  • Set up tools to process and fulfill orders
  • Establish a reliable customer management system
  • Some of these tasks can be outsourced, but others may fall to you and your employees. If you have a large enough staff, it may be possible to delegate responsibilities to make the launch of your e-commerce site go faster.

What’s My Budget Like?

Opening a second brick-and-mortar location would require a new building with all the associated rent, utility and maintenance costs. Even though these expenses aren’t part of launching an e-commerce store, there are other necessary investments:

  • Purchasing a domain name
  • Securing a hosting service
  • Setting up and maintaining a website
  • Paying a reliable webmaster

It may also be necessary to increase the amount of inventory on hand or make changes in your production schedule to keep up with online orders. Unless you can be certain e-commerce sales will be enough to cover these costs, you may want to think twice about online expansion.

Is My Brand Well-Established?

If you’re thinking about starting an e-commerce branch of your business, it’s likely your brand is already a trusted name in your community and the surrounding area. People come to your store for everything this name has to offer, from quality merchandise to an inviting atmosphere. Translating these characteristics into an online presence can engage a much larger group of consumers, but you have to be sure your brand image is strong enough to attract people who may have only heard of your company in passing.

Consider whether you’ve had demand for your products from people who live too far away to travel to your physical location. Such demand can give you a head start with your e-commerce venture by providing these consumers an alternative way to buy from you.

Is My Target Audience Tech-Savvy?

Demand for access to your products doesn’t always translate to demand for an online presence. You need to be reasonably certain your target audience wants to start interacting with you online before you invest in an e-commerce venture.

A customer base made up of teens and young adults who never enter your store without smartphones in their hands is more likely to follow you online than an older audience used to doing the majority of their shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Pay attention to shopping habits, and listen to feedback to determine the viability of an internet presence.

Do I Have Enough Resources?

Offering your products online requires a lot of work behind the scenes. You need a large enough staff to handle:

  • Website building and maintenance
  • Inventory tracking and management
  • Order processing, fulfillment and shipping
  • Customer service
  • Marketing, including interpreting customer data

It may be necessary to outsource some of these tasks, hire new staff members or purchase specialized software. Calculate the costs, including the increased burden on current employees, before making the move to e-commerce.

Can I Handle Multiple Pricing Strategies?

The differences in costs associated with overhead, fulfillment, marketing and distribution for products sold online compared to those in your brick-and-mortar store means you have to re-work prices if you decide to get started with e-commerce. An online store also requires a pricing strategy for shipping so that you don’t lose money when fulfilling orders for large or heavy items.

Your goal should be to make the same amount of profit across all channels. This involves establishing a structure allowing you to offer competitive prices both online and in your store. You should also be able to provide occasional discounts as incentives to customers regardless of how they choose to shop. Careful monitoring of profit margins and calculation of differing costs can help you establish a viable pricing plan.

How Do I Process Payments?

Today’s consumers are using more diverse payment methods than they were even just a few years ago. Paying with cash or plastic has begun to give way to mobile payments, and some businesses are doing away with cash registers in favor of simpler forms of merchant credit card processing.

Whichever form of POS you’re currently using, establishing an online presence is easier if you can employ the same gateway to process e-commerce payments. Taking payments online requires an option with reliable security and the ability to integrate with shopping cart software to streamline the purchasing process. Using a third-party option is an easy way to ensure compliance and compatibility, but it adds another step to checkout and can be a turnoff to busy consumers.

Assessing the current state of your business according to these factors will show you if you’re ready to expand into the world of e-commerce. With the right resources, a solid budget and a determined mindset, you can transition smoothly into the world of online selling and bring your products and services to a whole new audience.

It may be a lot of work at the start, but e-commerce has the potential to expand your brand and increase sales. Be diligent in monitoring the market and the online behavior of your customers, and listen to feedback so that you understand how best to serve this unique sector. The modern consumer appreciates being able to find their favorite brands online, so if your company is ready for e-commerce, don’t hesitate to get started.