Windows XP, Not supported

WindowXP is Dead

On April 8, 2014 Microsoft ceased to support Windows XP operating system. Many business owners relied on Windows XP as a cheap operating system on which to run their Point of Sale Systems– since Microsoft has ended its support of XP what kind of issues will shopkeepers who haven’t upgraded face?

Looks like some steep risks.

After pulling Windows XP Microsoft, Microsoft released an unexpected up date to the operating system which had been off the market for a month. Users of the operating system became vulnerable to a bug in which computer hackers could gain access to the user’s computer. Microsoft informed that this was its last fix and that it no longer would be patching up for Windows XP. Now, people who have lagged behind, find themselves vulnerable and at risk of having consumer data stolen.

This of course, puts immense strain on the Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance status. The PCI Data Security Standard is essential for businesses that deal with cardholder information such as credit, debit, mobile wallet, ATM, etc.

The PCI Security Council states that a computer operating on a system that’s no longer supported violates the agreement through the risk of security breaches. This is bad news for retailers who continue to use their POS systems operation on Windows XP and who are no longer meeting PCI compliance. They could be fined as much as $100,000 per month! Also, business owners could end up paying non-compliance fees to their processor if they are unable to meet requirements.

Small business owners might hesitate because first and foremost upgrading a POS System costs money, takes time, and it’s a great task for a small business owner who may think they could not be effected by it. However the risk of becoming targeted for malware and viruses is greater.

So should you buy new hardware?

The answer is, YES!

We here at Alpha Card Services have made it easy for you. Last year we introduced the Alpha Card Services Select Pay POS system. Our POS provides you with affordable, feature-rich POS solutions, without sacrificing quality or service. You’ll have the freedom to select:

  • Payment- No Upfront Costs*, low monthly payments, and no hidden fees!
  • Your industry- Available with all Alpha Restaurant, Retail and Salon POS systems. Our leading POS features, include delivery driver dispatch and GPS delivery mapping.
  • Stations- Select from the Standard, Premier and iPad tablet POS packages.

*To qualified buyers

If you are interested in learning more about Select Pay visit us here.

With constant big name data breeches surfacing business owners are more alert than ever. The down side being that old equipment can seem expensive to replace and new computer hardware can seem dauntless if a store location is running more than one system at a single location. Then there is downtime for transition, installation, and software. But remember, if your business is running Windows XP, your likelihood of suffering a data breach is high. Now is the time to plan accordingly. Luckily we are here to help. To learn more about Alpha Card Services and PCI Compliance click here.

To learn about how Alpha Card can help your business through the transition connect with us at


Marketing to Millennials


In marketing, you need to instantly attract and engage the attention of your target audience. You have to truly understand them — how they think, react, act, and what drives them to influence or buy a particular product or service. Generation Y, otherwise known as ‘the selfie generation’ or millennials, are major targets in advertising and marketing efforts because they will be tomorrow’s future, representing over 50% of the country’s workforce by 2020.  However, businesses have to be careful how to advertise to millennials — since this generation is very different from any other in the past. Traditional marketing tactics might have them yawning, because let’s face it they’re doing 10 things at once.

There are 74 million so called millennials living in America today, and it’s projected that they will spend over $200 billion annually after 2017. They’re the only generation that has grown up in the media age and hasn’t had to adjust to groundbreaking technology.  They’ve learned to quickly process and adapt to new media advancements, particularly social media and apps.

So, how should companies approach marketing to millennials? How do you engage them to care about your brand?

Businesses should carefully listen to the conversations millennials are having. Social media has made it easy for millennials to document what they do, where they go, what they like and dislike.  Businesses should take note of other companies that are doing it ‘right’ with millenials and pick out aspects to mimic.

Mimicking can be tricky though, since millennials want the real deal and they can scope out a phony a mile away. They are in an everlasting search of authenticity. They want to connect with the brands they relate to on a personal level. At the same time, they are also attracted to brands whose images don’t ‘try too hard’. They prefer unscripted, integrated digital and social media campaigns which make them feel involved and allow them to connect with a feeling.

If you’ve got a good cause, you’ve got an in. Sometimes called the ‘optimistic generation’ — millennials are all about a conscience. Whether it is saving the planet, social rights, or animal rights, they’ve got an opinion and they identify with companies that share their viewpoint.  They’ll invest time and money in a company who shares like-minded values and who are committed to making a difference. Millennials are so concerned with being involved with issues they support, they will want to participate.

Millennials are often more responsive to businesses and brands that include them on a platform. They want to be heard, not talked down to. They are all about connecting and feeling like they are part of the process. They are passionate about companies that share their missions, and who ask for honest feedback. They are geared to want and try contests, take polls and be recognized on social media.

Your marketing should be creative, authentic, evoke a feeling in them; and then they want you to leave them alone.  Businesses should be able to capture the attention and interest of millennials in a snap, but not overdo it. They don’t want to be hounded with repeated ads either—they want to be impacted from the get-go.

Millennials accept difference and diversity. They want to hear people’s stories.  They want to connect with them and the more diverse they are, the better. Personal confidence and acceptance is extremely important to the millennial generation.

Millennials are an extremely important segment of the U.S. economy to engage and understand, as many of them will enter their peak earning years flush with disposable income.

How will you market to millenials?  Feel free to comment!

How to Market Your Small Business

retail marketing

To the outside world, your small business may seem miniscule to the vast sea of corporations and direct competitors. But to you, your small business is a very big deal, and part of a very big dream.  In today’s ever-expanding marketplace it’s imperative to know how to set your business apart. You need to attract customers and keep them coming back because of the goods and services you provide.  Businesses develop this by using key strategies in marketing and advertising and finding a balance that works for them. Maybe you’re completely new to the world of owning a business, or perhaps you need a refresher to help pick your business up out of a rut. We’re going to share some marketing tips on how to kick-start your marketing in order to flourish your small business.

A business starts with an identity. Are you a restaurant? An automotive shop? The best way to serve your customers and yourself is to know exactly what your product is, and how you can deliver. Developing a name, a logo, business card, and stationary is important.  Pamphlets, brochures, magnets, and anything that is relevant to your business should be uniform – consistent in design and compel prospective customers to seek you out.  Be sure to include current information on these items, such as the logo, addresses, phone number, email and website.

Build a website.  Everyone who is anyone has a web presence, and chances are that your customer is too. If you don’t have the tech skills to build your own website, or the means to hire someone, many companies provide template based tools to make it very easy to create a basic website. Be sure that the website represents the look and scheme of your business. Also, be sure that it is kept updated.

Before you go any further, you should know your audience.  You should determine who your customer is and what they want.  Get to know their habits, it will lead you to make smart and educated decisions based on their characteristics. Take notice of things such as where they live, work and spend their free time. Once you’ve found answers to these questions, you can infiltrate where your customers spend their time and snag their attention.  If you own a children’s book shop, and you find that there’s an elementary school nearby, consider purchasing bookmarks with your shop’s name on them and donating them.  Or, if you run a gym or athletic gear shop and live by a park find out when they have activities and consider branding water bottles with your businesses information printed on them.

Get listed. One of the most efficient ways to be found is on the internet. Millions of people find different businesses through search engines and directories. Set up a listing for your business on Google, Bing, Yelp, White Pages, and MapQuest. Customers will be able to view your information, services, and will be able to comment on your services with a rating.

After you’ve mastered the directories, conquer social media. Social media is an amazing tool to market your business. Create business profiles and pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Be sure that it is kept professional and up to date. Promote your business by announcing contests, deals, and create buzz about your business. Using social media gives your business a voice and a way for your customer to connect with you.

So you’ve gained virtual friends, now it’s time to gain some real ones.

Network.  Network.  Then network some more. Meet other local business owners, and other competitors. There are many things you can learn from them, pay attention to their marketing strategies, what works, and what doesn’t work. Once you’ve built a relationship you may even be able to endorse and build partnerships with other small businesses nearby.  Word of mouth is how many small businesses get the ball rolling.  You never know where you will get a referral from, so be sure to keep alert and don’t be afraid to share your business card and tell them about your services.

Once you’ve got regulars, keep them interested. Sign up for an email marketing service, and send promotional email blasts, newsletters and special offers. Emails will entice customers to come back in to your small business. They are also a powerful tool to use when you want to conduct surveys or ask for feedback. Listening to your audience and their suggestions/recommendations can be the ticket to better sales. If it’s relevant, learn that your business is worth gifting. Provide your customers with the chance to buy gift cards. Not only gift cards, but also reward cards. These build loyalty, increase sales, and also advertise your business!

Next, get involved in the community. Then tell everyone about it. Look for organizations and associates that go hand in hand with your business’s morals and priorities. Volunteering is a great way to advertise to new potential customers and to let your existing ones know there is substance behind the business.

Last but not least, offer discounts and great deals. Who doesn’t like a discount? Offering discounts, coupons, and deals are the one way to set you apart from the competition. Advertise your discounts and daily deals through your website, email blasts, social media, blog posts, and word of mouth.

Alpha Card Services offers comprehensive business solutions for growing businesses nationwide. We offer merchant services, POS, Payroll Services, and Gift and Rewards cards. Be sure to check out our website, and find out how we can help get your business to take off!

How to Effectively Market Your Salon.

Promote your salon

Have you ever wondered what makes some salons more successful than others?

Is it that they have a large staff?  A better location?  Do they work harder?  Or, could it simply be their marketing strategy?  One of the biggest challenges for any small business owner, but specifically a salon owner, is getting the right mix of marketing. Developing consistent ways to win clients over and to keep them coming back is the main goal.  There is never a right answer on how to do this, but the following are a few basic principles that will help improve your salon operations.

First and foremost, develop a brand identity.

  • Who are you as a business?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • Who is your main client target?
  • What do you bring to the table?

Ask yourself these questions and begin to build an identity.  If your salon is located in a trendy spot in the city, take a look around at other successful businesses and salons—what attracts your clients?  Is it the color schemes, the décor, are other salon names long—are they a simple one word name like ‘posh’. Is their logo sleek or does it evoke a more earthy feel? Is the atmosphere laid back or more upscale? These are questions that really set an attitude and atmosphere. The last thing you want to do is confuse your customer.  Be sure to know how you want to be perceived and what mood you want to evoke. Everything from your logo, to the look of your salon, business cards, and pamphlets should match and be consistent!

After you’ve developed an identity, you’ve got to get found!

  1. Be sure to do this by building a website. Your website should be kept up to date, be visually appealing, easy-to-navigate and contain relevant information. Include prices, images, location, directions, contact information and anything else you think a client would need to know before coming in for a pleasant salon experience.  Be sure to link your website to your social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter) and blog.
  2. Maintain an effective online presence.  Clients are looking for a reason to come to you.  Maintain a well written blog and keep your social media fresh and relevant. Post pictures, updates, contests, and specials. Include your website address or QR codes on signs and flyers in your salon, so clients know where to find you on the web.
  3. Be sure to list your salon in online directories, such as Yelp, Yahoo, Bing, Yellow Pages, Google.  After your website is finalized, link these directories back to your site.  It will increase views and people can comment on their great experiences at your salon.
  4. Make friends with your neighbors.  Once you’ve got the website it’s time to step out of the virtual world and look to other businesses around you for referrals. Making friends or allies with nearby businesses to promote each other is a great marketing strategy.  Carry their business cards and or flyers at your salon and suggest they return the favor!
  5. Reel those customers in!  All of the campaigns you’ve created to acquire potential customers should involve a strong call-to-action.  Whether the call-to-action is on flyers, magnets, online banner ads or coupons, everything should engage your potential customer into wanting to know more – “Call us to see how you can get 20% off your next cut!” or “Visit our website for more information”.  Even offer a discount for a ‘like’ or a follow on social media. Small offers will set you apart from the competition and make your conversion rates soar!
  6. Incentives will keep your business booming. In order to keep customers interested, be sure to offer daily deals or run a contest/raffle.   Social media can be a huge help with communicating incentives.  Run a contest for your followers or friends to win some free goodies.  You’ll broaden your fan base and interact with your clients.  For an added bonus, get people sharing information about the contest by adding an extra incentive such as 20% off their next hair product purchase.

Keep your customers by staying fresh and on their minds.

  1. It’s important to focus on new as well as existing clients. Email marketing allows you to stay in constant contact with your clients.  Learn how to promote your salon with eye-catching email blasts that will get your customers in the door. Venture out into SMS marketing or text marketing. Offer coupons and offers by sending out text messages to existing and newer clients.
  2. Offer gift and loyalty cards.  There is no better way to keep promoting your salon than offering them the gift of your services. Remember to reward your existing clients by offering loyalty cards in order to rack up points or earn discounts.
  3. Last but not least, ask for feedback!  This can be a daunting task for anyone, but it’s an important one.  Your clients should be your focus.  In order to create a repeat customer and to have them refer others to you, they will need to have above and beyond experiences.  Ask them for their opinions.  You can do this through written surveys or polling them verbally.  Thank them for their insight and then put to good use their valuable suggestions.

Remember, salon marketing requires a detailed plan and only works with continuous efforts. Most businesses learn what works best for them through trial and error. It’s important to remember that the competition is always out there, and that your goal is to give potential clients and loyal customers a reason to keep coming back.

To learn more about our POS systems designed specifically for Salons, click here for more information.

The Rise of Big Data

big data

The internet has transformed how we live, function, operate businesses and even how governments function. The web has been and is changing dramatically the way we communicate, share information, collect it and comprehend it.  It’s safe to say in this day and age, there is much more information floating around than ever before. This information called, big data, is revolutionizing the way we transmit ideas through the trends of social media and mobile technology. Big data is being generated from virtually everywhere in which you engage through a digital transaction, including social media posts, videos, purchase transactions, online applications, digital images and much more. Big data is accumulating at an increasingly rapid rate according to the velocity, volume and variety of the data.  Data analysts are using this information to predict and determine everything from the exact way you shop to the methodology you use to make purchasing decisions.

Big data is so vast, that there are many ways of defining what is qualified as big data. There are two major differences in the type of data which is collected.  Unstructured data comes from information which can’t be organized or studied in a traditional matter. This includes social media posts/comments and Twitter tweets.  Multi-structured data on the other hand refers to data formats collected through websites, applications, and transactional data, such as point-of-sale or customer purchase history.  These data gateways take information and transform the way we communicate in order to answer key questions, such as:

  • How we are marketed to on a regular basis?
  • What are our purchasing preferences?
  • How to improve customer satisfaction?

The three V’s – velocity, volume and variety, are commonly used to characterize the different aspects of big data and how it is analyzed.  Volume represents how growing data streams are stored, and how much of it is filtered and considered ‘big data’. Due to massive amounts of data being collected, it’s becoming quite difficult to search through data which can be deemed as ‘useful’, especially at the speed at which it comes in.

The next aspect of collecting data is velocity. Velocity measures the increasing rate at which the data is dispersed and then analyzed. The internet and mobile technology have made it easy for consumers to acquire goods. Data velocity is helping businesses thrive, in that online retailers are able to gather quite a bit of information about their customers, study their every click, purchase, and interaction. This enables businesses to act faster and make intelligent recommendations to consumers, or even cater better to their customer’s growing preferences or demands. However, the uncontrollable velocity at which data is shared has also become an increasingly difficult factor of analyzing it properly.

Variety is the last way by which data is classified. Data streams come in all types of formats. Structured, as we mentioned above and unstructured. It comes in many forms, such as text, web, email, video, etc. It can be messy to sort and with big data growing at its current rate, it’s becoming difficult to control and manage all of the data which is received at once. The variety of the data flow is also largely based on mass opinion, which makes for pretty inconsistent data. Items like trending topics and world events can trigger and influence the variety of information.

So what exactly are data analysts and companies doing with this data? The goal is for organizations to be able to harness information from any source in order to improve cost, time, and new product development and to improve decision making. Companies can now better predict a specific customer’s likes and dislikes a build an accurate profile, and retailers can project what products will sell.  Big data isn’t only making a stir in retail, but also healthcare, law enforcement, government, sports, and much more. The applications of big data are endless and we are surely only at the beginning of a fast moving transformation.

Some people however are hesitant about allowing companies, governments, and social media networks access to analyze personal data for the sake of studying human behavior patterns and trends. The words big data have often become synonymous with ‘big brother’.  The reality is that after global adoption of smart phones and mobile gadgets have come into play, personal data footprints are becoming tracked, recorded, and studied. Everything from who you email, text, websites you browse, where you shop and eat, has been monitored and analyzed. There is a delicate line between privacy risks and big data. It is a choice which will have to be faced and weighed out. Will people’s rights to privacy, fairness, and freedom of speech be comprised by the opportunity to cure disease, advance scientific research, and improve in decision making for the masses?

The True Value of Merchant Stickiness

stickiness blog

Customer retention is on the minds of all businesses across the world. Businesses need to be innovative and proactive when retaining customers. After all, it is more expensive to look for a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Did you know that…

  •    68% customers leave because they are unhappy with the service they receive.
  •    9% decide to use a direct competitor.

How do you prevent merchant attrition?

This is where “stickiness” comes in. Stickiness might not sound like your usual marketing term. However, it’s a successful marketing and sales strategy that is greatly beneficial to businesses but can be difficult to obtain. So what is merchant stickiness, and how do you create it?

No matter what industry you’re in creating customer stickiness is the ability to retain your customers by providing products or services that encourage continued long-term use as opposed to that of a competitor. There are many factors that contribute to increasing customer loyalty. We like to keep it simple at Alpha Card Services— so we’ve laid out some of our own suggestions on increasing merchant stickiness.

  1. Deliver Big. The only way you can deliver big, is to know what you are capable of and what you are not capable of. At Alpha Card Services, our philosophy of deep industry knowledge, cutting edge technology, awesome customer service and support, and being a trusted source, has set us apart from our competition. A business must be able to deliver on its promises on a consistent basis. Clients are more prone to remember negative experiences, so consistency is a huge key. Providing your customers with great products and good customer service support will gain your trust, and your customer is less likely to seek out your competition. But there are other factors to consider; which include product/service pricing, how much interaction the company has with its customers, and the overall perception of the company. Perhaps one of the most important factors in merchant stickiness is the simplicity factor. How easy do you make it for your customers to gain information about your products? How easy are the products to obtain?
  1. Know your stuff. Businesses should know their industries, inside and out. A customer should feel secure and confident with your business’s solutions and knowledge. However, it’s a two-way street. To ensure that customers keep investing in your products or services, you need to know what matters to them, how to provide them with a solution to their problem, and how to do it efficiently. Ask the right questions in order to meet their needs as best as possible—and remember to exceed their expectations. Listening may provide you with the chance to help your customers in ways they didn’t know they needed, and could benefit your business greatly.

For example, if a small retail business approached Alpha Card Services in need of a POS system – a representative here could easily convey the reliability and affordability of our product. Asking simple questions and really engaging with the customer could take the transaction the extra mile and will let the customer know that their specific needs are being addressed. Maybe, with the help of a knowledgeable representative, the customer will come to the realization that what they also need is a reward card program to keep their customer’s repeated business. This ends up being great for the customer, because they initially receive a solution to their problem, but also great for Alpha Card Services because:

  • We’ve gone the extra mile to provide great service and products
  • Developed a business relationship
  • Provided the customer with an additional Alpha Card solution.

By committing your customer to 3 or more products or services, your customer has an 87% likelihood of never leaving you. To put it simply, a customer is more liable to seek a competitor if they are only ‘engaged’ in one aspect of your business. But as long as your company continues to deliver efficiently and your customer is committed to various services or products they are literally locked in with you.

  1. Gain their trust. So, you’ve made sales, gained repeated customers, now what? Go the extra mile once again. Trust is a huge factor in keeping your customers on board. Studies show that as trust increases, commitment tends to grow. Trust is built through shared values. Be proactive. Take interest in your customer’s business by researching their industry. Check up on them—make courtesy calls and provide them with updates, changes, and thoughtful recommendations. The goal is to make your customer feel focused on and to make your business their one stop place for everything they need. They can’t do this if they don’t know what new things you are offering. By increasing the awareness of product offerings and promotions you further strengthen relationships, resulting in long-term customer retention.
  1. Your customers are online. Whether it’s at home, on a computer or a hand-held device; why not reach out to them where they spend most of their time. Focus on social platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. The majority of your clients will be active on at least one of these. Emails and blogs are also a great way to make your customer feel connected.

To learn more about our comprehensive business solutions,  please visit here:

Stay tuned for our next blog entry, where we discuss Data Breaches and Online Fraud.

How to Market your Restaurant – both Online and Offline!

Running a restaurant can be a life-long-dream come true. You know that you have the best food, hired fantastic employees, found the greatest location with an outdoor patio, but for some reason, you still don’t have enough customers’ walking into your establishment to obtain your monthly goals. So, why isn’t your picture-perfect business doing as well as you thought it would?

Perhaps it’s time to look at your marketing strategy. Maybe you don’t have a marketing strategy because you think it’s too expensive? In that case, it’s important to take advantage of all of the free ways you can promote your business. Marketing your business doesn’t need to cost anything when you use free marketing tools such as Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare.

Host an event such as a Kid’s-Eat-for-Free Santa Claus lunch, Quizzo with branded prizes, or a “Beat-the-Clock” contest. A “Beat-the-Clock” contest allows you to offer specific drinks at the bar for twenty-five cents and increase the price every hour until midnight. This will allow you to bring in more customers and possibly their friends or coworkers.

• Facebook allows you to post up-and-coming events, contests and specials. It gives you the opportunity to promote when that hot new band is going to be playing at your restaurant. You can upload menus, a calendar with future events, photos of your food, and coupons for customers to print and bring in for redemption. It’s a virtual billboard that allows your business to directly target all possible customers for multiple reasons.

• Instagram enables you to share photographs of your food. Nothing gives a person more incentive to patronize your restaurant than the offer of free food! Just post a photo of a delicious food item with a tagline which says: “The first 20 people to walk in before 6 p.m. will receive a free appetizer!” It’s that simple! You have to entice and give potential customers a reason to visit your restaurant.

• Foursquare allows you to promote your restaurant to more than 100 million possible customers. When someone downloads the free mobile app to their smartphone, it allows them to find any restaurant in the area. Once a customer has tried your restaurant, they can say what they liked about their experience and conversely, what they didn’t like. Don’t get discouraged by negative reviews. A review is a good thing whether it’s negative or positive. A positive review gives you the chance to promote the encouraging things customers are saying online about your business. A negative review gives you the chance to evaluate feedback and change perceptions about your restaurant. You have to let your customers know you are listening and that you appreciate their candid feedback!

Give your employees kudos! When you acknowledge how great your employees are and you promote that online, your customers will know that you appreciate your employees. Happy and motivated employees will generate great service for your restaurant. Your customers will recognize and appreciate that you are putting your heart and soul into the food, drinks and ambiance you are selling.

If you aren’t very tech-savvy and you happen to have some money to spend, there are multitudes of ways to promote your business.

Along with menus, you can have an entire selection of printed marketing collateral available to market your restaurant. Effective printed marketing tools include the following:

• Table tents for displaying monthly specials
• Coupon sheets to advertise discounts
• Postcards to canvass your geographic area for new customers
• Flyers to hand-out to office buildings, apartments and even dormitories
• Rack cards for communicating how long you’ve been in business and what your restaurant is known best for.

Once your restaurant starts to thrive with more customers, you can begin to expand your marketing with t-shirts, branded glasses and gift & reward cards. Before you know it, your restaurant will need to expand to accommodate all of your customers.

Alpha Card Services can help you market your restaurant with our gift and reward card program. Stay tuned for more exciting news in the near term from Alpha Card Services on how we can help market your restaurant, both online and offline, with our team of graphic designers and Marketing specialists.

Why should you customize your loyalty program?

Customer loyalty programs come in two varieties: punchcard and points-based. The punchcard model works well for businesses that offer specialized products or services such as coffee shops, pizza parlors, bars and ice cream stores, where the average transaction value is relatively low and the goal is increase purchase frequency.

However, for hair salons, day spas and high-end retailers, their goal is less about increasing purchase frequency, as a customer will only use their services every so often, and more about encouraging customers to spend more. A points-based loyalty program rewards customers equitably to the dollars they spend.

There are many ways to customize your approach, which gives a merchant a competitive advantage and additional brand awareness.

For example, using a simple points system is the most common loyalty program method. Frequent customers earn points, which convert into some type of reward. Whether it’s a discount, a free item, or special customer treatment, customers work toward a certain amount of points to redeem their reward. If you opt for a points-based loyalty program, keep the conversions simple and intuitive.

One example of a company using a points-based loyalty program well is Boloco. They relate to their audience by measuring points in dollars, and rewards in food items. Consumers swipe their customized Boloco card at every purchase and the card tracks the amount of money spent. Every $50 spent earns the customer a free item. Whether they choose a super large burrito or an extra small smoothie – it’s free after $50. This is an example of a company simplifying points with an accessible customer reward system.

Although a points system is perhaps the most common form of loyalty programs, it isn’t applicable to all business types — this type of loyalty program is most appropriate for businesses that encourage frequent, short-term purchases.

Finding a balance between realistic and desirable rewards is a challenge for most companies designing loyalty programs. One way to overcome this is to implement a tiered system. Offer small rewards as a base offering for being a part of the program, and encourage repeat customers by increasing the value of the rewards as the customer moves up the loyalty hierarchy. This helps solve the problem of members forgetting about their points and never redeeming them because the time between purchase and gratification is too long.

Virgin Airlines’ Flying Club inducts members at the Club Red tier, then moves them up through Club Silver and Club Gold. Club Red members earn miles on flights and get discounts on rental cars and hotels. Club Silver members earn 50% more points on flights, accelerated check-in, and priority stand-by seating. Club Gold members get double miles, priority boarding, and access to exclusive clubhouses where they can grab a drink or get a massage before their flight. The key is to offer benefits in the early stages to hook the customer into coming back. Once they do, they’ll realize that “gold” status isn’t unachievable, and offers awesome benefits.

The difference between points and tiered systems is that customers extract short-term versus long-term gratification from the rewards program. You may find tiered programs work better for high commitment, more expensive point businesses like airlines, hospitality businesses, or insurance companies.

Loyalty programs are meant to bring your customers closer to your business. In some circumstances, a one-time (or annual) fee that lets customers bypass common purchase blockers is very beneficial for business and customer alike. By identifying the factors that may cause customers to leave, you can customize a fee-based loyalty program to address those specific factors.

In 2011, eCommerce shopping cart abandonment hit a whopping 72%, and is still rising. This abandonment is often caused by customer shock after tax and shipping prices have been applied. However, E-Commerce giant Amazon, found a way to overcome this issue in their loyalty program called Prime. For $79 annually, Prime users get free 2-day shipping on millions of products with no minimum purchase, among other benefits.

This program is groundbreaking because it charges loyal customers while providing enough in return for frequent shoppers to realize the benefits. Amazon actually loses about $11 annually for each Prime subscriber, but makes up for it in increased transaction frequency that would not have happened without their elite benefits.

This type of loyalty program is most applicable to businesses that prosper on regular, repeat purchases. For an upfront fee, your customers are relieved of inconveniences that could impede future purchases.

Depending on your business type, your customers may find more value in non-monetary or discounted rewards. Any company can offer promotional coupons and discounts, but businesses that can offer value to the customer in ways other than dollars have an opportunity to connect with their audience by connecting with the needs of their audience.

Patagonia, an eco-friendly outdoor attire enterprise, profited from a loyalty program that discarded the points and discounts. The company employed its Common Threads Initiative, where they partnered with eBay to help customers resell their durable Patagonia clothing online through the company website.

This program builds on their brand of sustainability and creating a high-quality product, and it blends seamlessly with the company’s customer persona by providing a value that they really care about. Before implementing a loyalty program of this kind, be sure you’ve researched and understood your customer identity.

Strategic partnerships for customer loyalty, also known as coalition programs, can also be highly effective for customer retention and company growth. Again, fully understanding your customers and their purchase process will help determine which company is a good fit as a partner.

American Express has a huge partner base with multiple companies across the country. Their recent Twitter Sync campaign rewards customers for tweeting about them by syncing discounts and deals with Twitter #hashtags. Their cardholders have redeemed over $2,000,000 in rewards. Participating companies that are benefiting from their coalition with Amex include Whole Foods, Staples, and Zappos.

Fortunately, one doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollar credit card company to apply a partnership plan. This method is applicable on a much smaller scale, as long as you understand how individual customers experience your product or service, and what is a best fit for them.

For example, if you’re a dog food company, partner with a veterinary office or pet grooming business to offer co-branded deals for mutual benefits for your company and your customer. The objective audience owns a dog, thus any services that dog requires offers added value from your company. Providing customers with value beyond even what your company can offer will show that you understand them, and will enhance your network to reach your partners’ customers, as well.

Turning your loyalty program into a game is also an entertaining way to encourage repeat customers and, depending on the type of game you choose, help solidify your brand’s image.

GrubHub, an online food ordering and delivery website, uses Yummy Rummy in this way. Once customers place three unique orders through GrubHub, regardless of price, they get to play a game for a chance of winning free items. Players choose one of four cards and have a 25% chance of winning a free dessert, drink, gift card or other unique prizes.

This type of loyalty program has potential to backfire, however, if customers feel like your company’s pulling a fast one on them to win business. Executed appropriately, this type of program/game could work for almost any type of company.

Customer loyalty programs offer unique ways to obtain and retain customers. The business can create and encourage repeat visits from customers as well as capture and maintain an important customer database. In the end, this program shows your appreciation for your customers’ continued business. Alpha Card’s Gift and Reward Card Program, which we design and produce completely in-house, offers a customized approach and gives each merchant a competitive advantage and additional brand awareness. To find unique, customized ways to attain and preserve the business of customers, get more information about our gift and reward card program at today! You won’t regret it!


Are Customer Service Complaints Justified?

Merchant Services and Financial Services companies market its services with three main strategies: telemarketing, outside sales agents, and partnerships with independent sales organizations. However, many merchants consider the face of these companies to be their customer service departments. With questions ranging from rate adjustments to terminal issues, merchants rely on customer service representatives to have in-depth knowledge of the issue. However, what many merchants do not realize is that customer service representatives are trained on certain aspects of the company, and must rely on other departments to answer questions they have not be trained to answer. When a merchant needs to be transferred because customer service does not know the answer, or if customer service answers a question incorrectly, many merchants consider this an indication of deceptive sales tactics.

Background of the issue:

The overwhelming theme among merchant complaints of customer service departments is reports of unexpected and “hidden fees”, non-disclosure of the service auto-renewal clause, and surprise over the cancellation fee, especially from merchants reporting several years of service beyond the three year agreement. However, with credit card rules and regulations changing often monthly, such as increase in transaction fees, it is difficult for many customer service employees to stay on top of these changes and report them to merchants who call in. Further, many merchants do not understand industry talk, often getting “lost in translation” when a customer service representative tries to explain new fees or terms of the contract. This merchant confusion often leads to misunderstandings in their services and contract, and discontent in the customer service representative.

Solutions to the issue:

When agents sign on their merchants, to avoid confusion they can help direct the merchant on whom they should call with certain issues. When it comes to understanding their monthly statements or changing bank information, merchants should call customer service. When the merchant is interested in ordering another terminal or is having terminal problems, contact Technical Support, or when they are interested in cancelling their contract contact the Cancellation Department, etc. The merchant needs to understand that customer service makes up a part of the company, and does not represent the whole company. Further, customer service represents a processor’s ability to communicate effectively with their customers. Positive attitude, ability to console disgruntled merchants, and ability to listen to and understand the merchant’s issues before responding to the question are important traits of a customer service representative.

Moving Forward:

Merchant Services and Financial Services can improve its ratings in customer service by improving policies in the common areas of merchant complaints and eliminating future grievances. For example, numerous merchants report that agents fail to disclose important fees and service agreement provisions when signing them up. By having the merchant review the contract, understand the terms and conditions, and negotiate with the agent, it prevents confusion and dissatisfaction on the part of the merchant. The company can further improve its ratings by eliminating unfavorable conditions in its service agreement and solving merchant issues before they become public criticisms. Merchants are strongly encouraged to fully read and understand the terms of their merchant account agreement before signing as the terms may vary widely based on the agent and/or ISO partner setting up the account.

Alpha Card Service is completely equipped to perform the proper due diligence with merchants. Our Underwriting team analyzes each new application carefully, confirming every rate and fee with the merchant.  Alpha Card’s customer service department continually exceeds expectations in ensuring a positive merchant experience.  For more information on how our customer service department can help you, please click here.


Preventing a Security Breach: Best Practices

For the fifth year in a row, the costs of breaches in data systems and fraud have risen. And even more scary, forty-three percent of customers who are the victims of fraud stop doing business with the merchant location where the problem occurred. Ask yourself, can you afford to lose 43% of your business? And can your merchant reputation survive the scandal of a data breach? Beyond a data breach, let’s say you don’t have a criminal taking credit card numbers, but just a bored hacker, taking down websites, or corrupting them. This too, is problem you need to be concerned about.

So what’s the solution? How can you protect yourself from hackers and fraudsters? Well, the only sure fix is to get off the internet – but who can do that in this day and ago? So let’s discuss some real solutions for you and your business.

We’ve already touched on some methods to secure your data storage systems. These can be compulsory when they deal with account information, like tokenization and PCI DSS. Not complying with these simple and effective ways to secure your system can result in you being charged fines and losing face with your customers. We’ve also talked about tap to pay, which helps keep customers secure by not actually storing their information. These are basic things we can help you to implement, so you can begin the trek to a secure site. Finally, consider trying some kind of one tie use account numbers, to ensure that customer’s permanent information is not accessible.

But there’s more, a lot more you can do to keep information secure. One thing you have to be careful of is interception of customer information over your website. Is the line from your website to the payment processor secure?  Consider a method like the Alpha Card Gateway system, which can be integrated into your website for a more secure check out process.  Additionally, Alpha Card Services works with some of the merchant processing industry’s most up-to-date technology providers, like ISpyFraud protection and MasterCard SecureCode support, which will help you keep fraud at bay. These advanced fraud protection tools will ensure your customers can feel secure and keep coming back.

Alright, so you’ve (hopefully) started taking steps to keep your card transactions secure, and when you partner with Alpha Card Services, you can feel even more confident about the process. But have you thought about your website? You can’t just rely on card processing security – what if your website itself gets hacked. You could be the victim of a cyber criminal who can take down your website, or simply have the misfortune of data corruption errors, or a multitude of other problems.

You can prepare for this with the right web hosting service.  A good web host will provide a method and storage area for a website backup.  Of course, you already know you aren’t storing crucial customer information on your site, but there is still information you need to keep. You should get a web host service who will provide you with options to store multiple versions of your website. Consider whether you feel safer with these backups stored on a host’s server, a separate location with remote access, or as a disk image. You should also consider having at least one back-up file of your own, just in case. Website backup files are great for restoring content which has been lost, corrupted, or tampered with by unauthorized users.

Staying one step ahead of cyber criminals is the only way to save your customers from fraud and save yourself a lot of trouble. You must implement certain programs to ensure customer swipe card protection, and you should implement methods to protect other aspects of their identity. With Alpha Card Services you’ll get our already secure and virtually worry free processing, and you can supplement it with some of the advanced fraud protection tools we offer.  Finally, you should ensure that your actual website is not just secure from those trying to steal identities, but also from loss of the website itself. You should find a web host with backup programs available, and use them; backup your site every time you update it. Using these best practices will help you to ensure customers are secure, and will help you avoid having customers who are victims of the nearly $10 billion dollar per year internet fraud scams. Contact us to talk more about these problems and how we can help you fix them, today!