Avoiding, and Gracefully Handling, Declined Credit Cards

Declined credit cards are awkward. They need to be avoided if possible, and handled gracefully otherwise to make the sale and keep the customer.

Avoiding, and Gracefully Handling, Declined Credit Cards

For many retailers, florists in particular, credit card sales are a vital part of their business. Unfortunately the inevitable errors and declines are fraught with peril. First they put the sale in jeopardy. At best declines can frustrate and annoy the customer and, at worst, they can offend and alienate the customer.



It's best to avoid errors if at all possible and that starts with entering the information carefully. Try to take the lead in the conversation and enter the many pieces of credit card information in the order that your POS system (or payment terminal) wants it.

If the customer starts reeling off information in the order they choose you're going to be bouncing around between fields. You are likely to get something wrong, and/or have to ask them to repeat it, and that is bad for everyone. It's much better to stay in front and ask the customer for specific pieces of information as your system requires it.

As you collect this information try and confirm as much of it as possible. If for example you can see that the card has already expired there is no point in continuing – either a mistake has been made, or the customer is using an expired card. Don't waste time trying to process it, get it fixed first.

FloristWare helps you in situations like these. You don't have to worry about entering the card type (let alone getting it right) as FloristWare will deduce it from the card number. If you enter an expired card it will alert you right then and there. And if you enter a card number that is obviously invalid you will again be alerted before you even try and proceed.


Post Processing

Once you try and process the payment one of two things will happen – it will either be accepted or declined. Declines fall into two broad categories – things you might be able to fix and things that you can't.


Things You Can Fix
There are situations in which you might be able to try again and get a different result. For example, some key piece of data may have been entered incorrectly – the card number, verification code, etc. In these situations the assumption is generally that you are attempting to process a legitimate purchase, and the credit card company will try and provide you with information that will help you. The error codes in these cases will often be helpful and descriptive, intended to help you fix any mistakes and process the transaction.

The best approach is to simply apologize to the customer and ask them to confirm the information that was entered incorrectly, making any corrections as needed.

Another thing that you can often fix, or at least try to overcome, are a technical issue known as a "timeout". If your transaction does not process in a certain amount of time it will fail with what is known as a timeout error.

Timeout errors are most often caused by slow speeds or outages anywhere in the chain from your location to the payment gateway to the authorizing bank. If for example you have a brief interruption in connectivity (your internet goes down, an Ethernet cable is unplugged, etc.) at your business you will encounter timeouts. Timeouts can also happen when gateways and authorizing banks are swamped and their servers overloaded – it's not uncommon to see timeouts during peak retail periods. In most cases the best solution is to try again.

Things You Can't Fix
There are many reasons why a credit card company might decline a transaction.

They may believe it is fraudulent. Whatever internal rules they use to determine fraud they keep to themselves, but most of us have encountered this. There may also be an issue with the cardholder, or that status of their account, but there is no reason to assume this is the case.



Dealing With Declines

All declines must be handled very tactfully. If they are not you are likely to lose not just the current sale but all future sales from that customer. If you offend them in any way (and there are few better ways to do that than suggesting they have a payment problem) they are very likely to start shopping elsewhere.

Good restaurants usually have a strict policy of never using the word "decline". Instead they will say something about "not going through", then mention that it is likely security related. The key is to establish that this is not something that you can fix – that it will have to be sorted out between the cardholder and their credit card company.

Placing the blame on your system or equipment is, unfortunately, a fairly common practice. It has the positive effect of taking the focus off the customer, but it also has a serious drawback: you are taking responsibility for something that you cannot fix. If the card is being declined because of concern over fraud, or because the balance is over the limit, there is nothing you can do.

If you have suggested that the problem is on your end the first suggestion is that you try it again, and again, and again. That is never going to change anything. All it does is take more time and frustrate the customer.

You need to establish that you can't solve the problem – that instead the customer needs to contact the credit card company – without ever "blaming" the customer. You can definitely blame the credit card company and their overzealous security measures, but never the customer.

Hopefully this tact has maintained your positive relationship with this customer. The next step is saving the sale. Knowing that the card they offered is not going to work what do you do next?

Ask if they have another card. Most people will. Stress the convenience of getting everything taken care of right now.

And if they don't have another credit card? Assure them that you will save all of the sale information and be waiting for the call back once things have been sorted out.

Remember – at this point the customer may, despite all of your tact, be feeling a little embarrassed. They might be inclined to call another shop in order to save face.

You need to make sure that they understand just how much time and energy they will save by dealing with you instead. Stress that you already have all of the order information, and just need a new credit card number.

And, just for good measure, apologize for the inconvenience. Once again you can commiserate over shared frustrations with credit card companies.



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