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Small businesses are mostly happy with technology that has made accepting payments increasingly easier. But service levels from merchant service providers are leaving more to be desired.

This is according to the 2021 U.S. Merchant Services Satisfaction Study, released by J.D. Power last week.

Leading payments provider and payment facilitator Square led the satisfaction ranking of providers this year, with a score of 857 out of 1,000. Fellow PF PayPal ranked second with 852. Bank of America Merchant Services and PNC Merchant Services tied for third. Overall satisfaction was 836, down somewhat from 2020.

J.D. Power noted that small businesses experienced significant disruption this year. They were of course impacted by the pandemic, but changes among traditional merchant services providers had an impact as well. Some businesses found themselves with new providers because of industry mergers and acquisitions or partnership breakups.

Merchants feeling pressure from the pandemic apparently did not always receive the help they sought from their providers. According to the findings, businesses that said their revenue had declined due to COVID-19 reported lower satisfaction with their providers than those less affected.

“In recent years, merchant services providers have introduced technology innovations that make it easier than ever for small businesses to accept card and digital wallet payments,” said Paul McAdam, senior director of banking and payments intelligence at J.D. Power.

“This past year demonstrates that the technology is consistently meeting market needs, but achieving real, lasting customer satisfaction is as much about service levels as it is about technology. Payment processors should anticipate that many of the challenges and financial pressures small businesses faced in 2020 will continue to be a factor for the foreseeable future and tailor their customer-facing strategies to address those needs.”

Respondents indicated that their technology worked well, with functionality, reliability and ease of use receiving the highest satisfaction scores. However, experiences related to the service they received from their provider – including interactions with the contact center as well as underwriting and onboarding – have declined.

These are specific service areas that vertically focused payment facilitators have worked to address in recent years with solutions tailored to their industries.

As field services PF WorkWave told PaymentFacilitator last year, the ability to more effectively advocate on behalf of its customers and deliver better service were important factors behind the software provider’s decision to become a payment facilitator.

And while catering to the specific requirements of business customers has been a hallmark of the payment facilitator experience in general, that capability has been even more visible this year. As small businesses were forced to pivot in response to the pandemic, many PFs delivered support where it was needed.

Payment facilitator Toast reported last week that its efforts to help the badly hit restaurant community weather the pandemic paid off. The customers that adopted new digital technology solutions that it offered blunted the impact on their sales by 10 to 30 percentage points. Collectively, those that adopted its contactless QR code-based payment tool saw about a 20% increase in revenue in the month after they activated it.

“While 2020 was an incredibly challenging year for our restaurant community, we focused our efforts at Toast on providing restaurants with access to the technology, advice, and relief they needed to delight guests, do what they love, and survive a challenging year,” Chris Comparato, CEO at Toast, said.

And RunSignup, a payment facilitator that enables registration for races and other athletic events, said earlier this year that it responded to the pandemic’s impact on its customers with open and frequent communication about actions it was taking and ways other businesses in the vertical were adapting to the new reality.

Just this week, the company announced a new voucher system it had developed to help events manage the deferrals and credits from registrations that were impacted by the pandemic.