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5 Ways to Cut Costs When Traveling for Business

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jul 29, 2015 1:14:20 PM

18227917006_a55104f2f3_mTravel is often expensive, even business travel, but it doesn’t have to be. Some costs are impossible to avoid, but others can be whittled down through smart thinking and practical efficiency.

The next time you travel, consider the following questions: Do you really need 5 suitcases for a weekend trip? Do you absolutely have to park your car at the airport? Do you really have to eat at a restaurant for every meal? Generally, you’ll find the answer is “no”.

As tempting as it can be to indulge when you’re traveling the country or the world, cutting costs sometimes means setting aside certain impulses. But, by sticking to the following 5 steps, you can cut enough costs to make space for a few special indulgences without breaking the bank.

Think Flexible. If you don’t have to arrive by any specific dates, you stand a better chance of getting cheap prices on flights and hotels. Every destination has a busy season and an off-season. Predictably, prices are much lower during off-season. If at all possible, planning your trip for the time of year when everyone else will be otherwise engaged is the wisest move. Flights are cheaper, hotels are cheaper, and overall pricing for your destination will likely be cheaper during off-season. If you have to be less flexible, you can at least use a search engine and keep the dates open for that particular month or timeframe. By allowing even that much flexibility, the search engines can find the best possible dates for the lowest possible prices. Additionally, your frequent flyer miles are generally limited by black-out dates for use. Even more, be open-minded about your airline. There are some airlines that others dislike but that offer cheaper rates than your more common airlines. When you’re hoping to cut costs, sometimes you’ve got to be open to less popular options. Be smart with those too though: read the fine print. Cheaper is sometimes a trap for the less savvy.

Be a Bargain Hunter. This means coupons, shopping around, and even starting a bidding war for the best hotel prices. There are several websites where consumers can pull coupons for various items tailored to the location you plan to visit. Travel books and other coupon guides can also be purchased that can reduce costs, little by little, during your journey. Do your homework on your business travel destination and shop around on how to find the best prices possible. Shopping the right hotel is certainly part of that, as well. Starting a bidding war can be pretty smart as well, which you can do by simply finding out pricing at one hotel, then calling another to ask if they can match or beat it. Simple questions can produce awesome results.

Stick with Carry-On Only. Airlines are feeling the effects of the flagging economy as much as the rest of us and one of their money quick fixes is charging for carry-ons beyond a certain weight. If you can’t escape bringing a carry-on, check your airline’s weight limitations and any associated charges before you arrive at the airport so you can plan accordingly. But, best case scenario: keep it to a carry-on. This way, you run no risk of losing your luggage to delays, switch overs, or separate flights. You will have your luggage with you the entire way and can access its contents as needed. A good trick with this too, especially for the ladies, but also for guys who may have shoulder bags, is to carry a very large purse or bag on that day. You can have a personal bag and a carry-on luggage item. Filling both with the essentials—making sure to exclude non-airport friendly items—can save you a bit of money and time on your journey.

Avoid restaurants. As fun as going out to eat can be, reserve it for the very special nights and be practical about filling your belly during the days. Go for the continental breakfast kind of hotel to ensure you have a free healthy, filling breakfast to start your day. From there, find the closest grocery store and stock up on all the basics that you might need for lunches and healthy snacks. Obviously most hotels do not have stoves, but refrigerators are not uncommon. Stock up on lunch meats, veggies, hummus—whatever suits your particular tastes—and feast on those instead of trekking out to a new restaurant every day. Those food bills can add up and even business travel budgets are limited, especially for small businesses. Don’t let food costs take away from your ability to save money or set money aside for special experiences while you’re away.

Rent Smart. If you want to cut costs for business travel, one easy way is being smart about your rental plan. If you can, try to bundle your rental car into an airfare or hotel package. This isn’t always the cheapest option, but often, you can get a pretty good deal. If you’re a frequent business traveler, then you probably have a credit card that provides rental car insurance. If you don’t have one of these, consider getting one. You can use it to pay for the rental car and decline the collision damage waiver coverage, which can save you about $20 per day. But, if you can avoid renting altogether, that would certainly be ideal. Booking a hotel with an airport shuttle and looking into Uber for taxis is one way. Carpooling or getting a hotel within walking distance to your final destination is also an option.

Business travel, pleasure travel, or a combination of the two—all can break the bank if you’re not savvy about your day to day costs. The Starbucks coffee in the airport, the quick meals when traveling around your destination spot, etc., they all add up. But you can cut overall travel and living costs significantly if you’re careful, patient, and prepared.

Take a moment to apply the concepts above to your next business travel or vacation plan and you’ll see the difference a few extra minutes of planning and preparation can make.

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Bernal Saborio @ Flickr CC.

5 Gadgets to Keep You Active in the Office

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jul 21, 2015 11:21:00 AM

6923140300_9aba737726_o_dStaying active is essential to maintaining overall wellness. Physical activity promotes a high level of self-esteem, a more positive outlook, and, of course, a more toned physique. Most Americans are aware of the benefits of being active and agree that maintaining an active lifestyle is ideal—they just can’t figure out how to make it happen.

We have jobs, kids, homes, pets, sports, volunteering, etc. The list could go on and on, it seems. Fitting a regular workout into an already insanely busy schedule is a daunting task.

The solution: staying fit at work.

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but with the majority of companies today developing wellness programs and weight loss competitions in order to increase overall employee productivity and personal satisfaction, the idea of bringing fitness in to the workplace just makes sense. Even better, with some of the gadgets available today, you can actually work out while you work.

Below are 5 of the coolest gadgets on the market that will help you stay fit at work—in a way that lets you work out while you work. Trust me, your boss will love them—and so will you!

Balance ball chair – This awesome little gadget is actually a balance ball built into a chair frame. By balancing yourself in this chair as you work, you can build up your core strength and also improve your posture. The chair has low back support so those with back problems would likely find it difficult to use for extended periods, but those same individuals would definitely benefit from the muscle that would be built up around normally sore areas if this device is used for at least a few hours a day. The cost is under $100 and would be a pretty healthy addition to your regular office furniture. It even comes in several different colors!

Springflex UBThis product is actually two products—two arms that attach to your desktop and allow you to perform a range of upper body exercises. Obviously, these would need to be used judiciously, such as during teleconferences or longer phone calls, as typing wouldn’t be an option. But for those bits of downtime, these nifty devices allow for 120 different exercises that work the upper chest, lower chest, back, and arms. A good 20 minutes a day during your most dull phone calls and you’ll see and feel a difference quickly. This device runs close to $60-70, but seems to range a bit depending on the seller, so shop around.

Gamercise PC-Sport StepperReally, you could use just about any brand of small stair stepper, but this is one example of a very cool gadget that actually forces you to work out. In order to use your keyboard and mouse you have to be stepping. Of course, there’s an option you can switch it to in order to avoid the workout, but what a cool idea! The height is adjustable for comfort, and just one hour of use at a brisk pace can burn up to 400 calories. This gadget runs a little more on the pricey side (closer to $200) and also allows the option for personal trainer software, so the cost can add up. But if you need to lose weight and need motivation to do it, this might be a great option to make your workday work for you.

GymGym chair This lovely little gadget has to be one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. It’s a chair that is outfitted with several resistance bands. Each is adjustable and several have velcro bands that can be wrapped around your ankles, for instance, so they can be secured; by lifting them away from the chair, against the resistance of the bands located in that area, you are essentially completing the equivalent of weight training. The bands are located in areas where you can exercise your arms in various ways and your legs. The price is much steeper for this product (around $600) but the awesomeness of it is undeniable.

WalkstationThe proverbial hotrod of workout-while-you-work gadgets is none other than: the Walkstation. This machine allows you to actually walk on a regularly-sized treadmill while you work on your computer. Essentially, it’s a treadmill with a desk positioned at the right level for accessing everything you need to do your job. Several components are also adjustable, and since it’s not designed to go over 2.0 mph, it can also bear up to 360 lb. for those individuals who have struggled to find a higher weight-bearing machine. This gadget, of course, runs closer to $1500, but if you’re a home-based worker or have a very cool boss and really feel the need to lose some weight in a practical, everyday kind of way, this will certainly help you do it.

While some of these gadgets can be an investment, those who have struggled with weight or health issues might find one or more of these gadgets to be worth the time and money. A busy schedule doesn’t need to be a reason for an unhealthy lifestyle any longer, especially when staying fit at work is now a realistic option.

 

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Daniel Rothamel @ Flickr CC.

Businesses Feel the Pressure from Chip Cards

Posted by Rachida Essadiq on Jul 15, 2015 1:42:00 PM

images-7So many businesses, so little time… As U.S. businesses stare down the barrel of the EMV deadline (October 1st), it is safe to say, many will not make the transition to accepting chip cards in time to avoid liability for credit card fraud.

Liability?! Yes, liability. If you hadn’t already heard, come October – any business accepting credit cards using a non EMV (read about EMV here) enabled credit card reader will be liable for any fraud that occurs during that transaction. Here are a few scenarios:

1) If fraud occurs during a transaction where the business is using an EMV enabled credit card reader, but the customer is not using a chip card – the liability falls on the customer’s card issuing bank (for not using the most secure technology).

2)  If fraud occurs during a transaction where a business is not using an EMV enabled credit card reader and the customer is using a chip card – the liability falls entirely on to the business.

According to a recent report from Javelin Strategy Research, almost 75% of businesses are not prepared for this shift – now only 80 days out.

“The majority of small merchants are not only not ready for EMV, they are not even aware of EMV,” said Javelin Payments representative Nick Holland. Holland expects that the majority of preparations will happen under large retailers.

Educating Businesses

It’s pretty clear that the widespread unpreparedness is a direct result of an overwhelming unawareness amongst small to midsize businesses about the implications of EMV. A few organizations have launched educational initiatives in an effort to promote adoption of the technology and help business owners stay up to date on their liabilities.

  • The Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) announced the creation of EMV Central – a website designed to provide educational resources to retailers on the topic of EMV.
  • Visa is providing a webinar series in conjunction with a 20 city US tour to educate small business owners on chip card technology and the EMV migration. Learn more here at http://usa.visa.com/personal/security/chip-technology/index.jsp.

Will Online Fraud Explode With Rollout of EMV?

A major debate, currently taking place in the world of “payment geeks”: Once EMV technology is active and thriving in the U.S., will card present fraudsters turn to the internet to launch a virtual card fraud offensive?

An absolutely relevant question, particularly to business owners and retailers selling products online -Holland, openly participates in this debate – chiming in with a brief, yet bold response to the question (or myth as he defines it) saying, “Pile of @ss.”

Holland debunks this myth in his blog on the subject with three different explanations. The surge of online fraud in Europe during it’s time of EMV adoption was a result of the “newness” of e-commerce at the time (2004-2005). Holland claims that e-commerce practitioners today are much more savvy and better aware of the types of fraud to look for.

Secondly, card present fraud is a global operation – not just limited to the US. Holland cites the idea of a U.S. shift in technology restricting the entire global operation as “ludicrous” at best. Finally, U.S. EMV adoption will not happen with the flip of a switch, causing some kind of drastic shock to the fraudster system. As EMV adoption gradually increases, so will the transition to different types of credit card crimes.

One thing is for sure. Whether you like it or not, it’s coming – EMV or fraud. If you are a business accepting credit cards in person – do yourself a favor and get educated, develop a plan, and get moving on updating your equipment to the most secure technology. For more information on secure EMV technology, CLICK HERE

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About the Author - Rachida Arteaga, Director of Marketing at NTC Texas is a successful five year marketing veteran, running events and campaigns for large to small enterprises and non-profits.  She specializes in blogging, social media, branding/ identity and search engine optimization, striving to provide NTC Texas customers and fans with entertaining and valuable educational resources to find success in all areas of their businesses. 

Top Photo Courtesy of Ben Watts @ Flickr CC.

Tags: EMV

NFIB Reports: 2015 High Growth Industries

Posted by Megan Flanagan on Jul 8, 2015 12:47:00 PM

11286659155_bf61ce1e8f_mWe are within a modern day, bright, spankin’ new industrial revolution. And it’s super shiny. History often repeats itself. We’re about 200 years from the first noted industrial revolution where folks were introduced to wonders like the steam engine, cement, water wheels, and gas lighting. We’re right up there with our ancestors as we marvel over new advances in technology and business. This is indicative in the National Federation of Businesses’ (NFIB) video report on High Growth Industries You Can’t Ignore in 2015.

Let’s take a look at the stats on these dazzling, growing industries…

Software as a Service
Software as a Service, or SaaS, is a way for consumers to, basically, rent programs and online software. The most common example is Microsoft Word. SaaS is used within a larger idea called Cloud Computing. Internet basics expert, Paul Gil, explains it well: Instead of selling you a copy of Microsoft Word for $300, a cloud computing model would "rent" word processing software to you through the Internet for perhaps $5 a month. You would not install any special software, nor would you be confined to your home machine to use this rented online product.” Paying for what you need! People like that. SaaS saw a total revenue increase of over 13% from 2012-2013.

Construction
Construction is a classic, basic, timeless industry that has an incredible impact on those involved. No matter how far we get, no matter how modern and fancy we get, no matter how out of this world we get, we will always need someone to build our “it”. Whatever “it” may be! We will always need someone to finance, and design, and sell, and decorate it. According to the NFIB, construction starts are expected to increase by $48 billion this year. That’s a whopping 15%!  

Online Retail and Mobile Payments
So it’s no secret our friends in the 18th-19th centuries had it rough. Even shopping was a pain in the Quaker. We’ve gone from having to travel miles away from home into town to shop once a week/month, to shopping in bed in our pajamas whilst sipping wine and watching Jimmy Fallon. Online retailing is such an incredible achievement, one that we often overlook and take for granted. This is a huge step in signifying our retail independence. You can (almost) literally shop wherever you want and with smartphones, you don’t even need a computer. Ready for these stats? This is huge. Online retail sales are expected to increase by over 40% from 2014 to 2018! Even larger is comparing the volume of mobile payment transactions. We’re looking at an increase of just under 350% from 2012 to 2017. Why? Because sometimes you need to buy a ukulele at 1 am.

Does your business intersect with any of these industries? If so, this is all great news for you! The great news is, regardless of your business type or industry, most any business can break into some form of either online retail or mobile payments. Whether you host a shopping cart on your website to sell a product, or accept mobile payments for a particular service – this piece of the pie is applicable across the board.

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MeganMegan Flanagan has been in the customer service business for over ten years hand in hand with several companies, large and local. She is a native of Syracuse, New York where she lives with her fiancé, step daughter, and new addition, baby Eloise. New to the business blogging world, she has always had a passion for writing, communications, and the art of entertainment.

 Top photo courtesy of AK Rockefeller @ Flickr CC.

Three Reasons to Implement Automated Sales Reporting

Posted by Megan Flanagan on Jul 1, 2015 9:06:29 AM

home_ipad_3Running a business without the ability to conduct sales reporting is like driving a car with no gas gauge. Exciting! Care free! Aaaaand super irresponsible, likely resulting in some kind of misfortune. The presence of automated sales reports are imperative to a smart, successful business. It’s yet, another simple, thing you can do to keep your business on the road for miles and miles without any road blocks.
Here’s why…

Learn As You Grow
A great way for your business to succeed is to learn from past mistakes and successes. Sales reports are a great tool to use to catch trends and see what your customers respond to. Once you hit a full year of reporting, you’ll have an iron grip on your numbers and gain some great control. You can then react, plan, and prep your business for peaks, and get creative during the down times to keep your business plentiful and blooming.

Keep Goals on Track
Setting goals can really drive your team in the right direction. Seeing the direct results of business initiatives is a great motivator for constantly pushing the bar and striving for improvement. Who doesn’t like a little friendly competition now and again, am I right? By tracking sales, promotions and campaigns, managers are able to set goals and keep employees or sales rep on track.  Boosting the bottom line is great for everyone. And… everyone works a little harder when catering is involved.

Budgeting and Planning
How can a business set up and forecast budgets without an accurate picture of sales? In order for managers to do a good job at budgeting and planning, they need the most accurate sales forecasts that have been well-supported by data to budget appropriately and set realistic goals.

This is huge, right? The ability to set up automated reporting is getting easier and more affordable everyday with apps and iPad POS technology. These new apps allow business owners to combine their front end point of sale systems with marketing and reporting capabilities – kind of a one stop shop – for very little cost. To learn more about automated sales reporting and iPad POS software with talech, Contact Us for more information.

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MeganMegan Flanagan has been in the customer service business for over ten years hand in hand with several companies, large and local. She is a native of Syracuse, New York where she lives with her fiancé, step daughter, and new addition, baby Eloise. New to the business blogging world, she has always had a passion for writing, communications, and the art of entertainment.

 

How To App Your Business

Posted by Megan Flanagan on Jun 24, 2015 11:52:00 AM

2909483129_fc38488202_mCould your business use an app? Let me just go ahead and answer that question for you. YES! YES of course your business needs an app! People love apps! Apps are in! We are used to convenience. Every single one of your customers has a million things to do today, a million places to be, a million things to buy, a million people to avoid, a million things on their to-do list! But you know what else most of your customers have? A smartphone. What do you put on a smartphone? Apps. Of course!

This generation has been dubbed as “The Millennials”. We (they) are a busy people. Coupon cutting is out as we want to go green and stuff, but we still like our money to last. If you want the next generation of customer to become YOUR customer your business needs to suit their needs. It’s time to learn some quick and easy ways to build a mobile app. (If you build it…. They will come…. And they won’t understand this reference.)

There are several ways to go about this App building thing.  There are websites out there ranging from 100% do it yourself, to 100% please do this for me because app building was not an elective at my college and I want an app for my business to survive in this land of tech saavy moustaches! Stick with me and we’ll find something perfect for you, your business, your customers, and your continued success.

Appy Pie
First of all, I love this one the best because of the clever name. Kudos. I’m not alone in my favoritism, however! Appy pie is one of the highest rated app building sites out there. It’s super user friendly and has a nice blend of helpful do it yourself customizations where it can still be your own. It’s as simple as drag and drop! With the Appy Pie App Maker, users can add push notifications (“Hey! There’s a new thing you might be interested in at this place you like that created an app to tell you such things!”), social media (Like us on Spaceface, or Instatweet!) and, most importantly: blog integration. There’s also a business aspect including but not limited to appointment scheduler; restaurant tools, and menu builders. Users may begin Appy Pie for free! When you get to publishing, plans start as low as $7 a month. Two delicious thumbs up!

AppMachine
AppMachine is focused more on the professional side of things. This site allows you to build, and design your app on your own, or with the help of designers and yet it’s still completely customizable.  As you build you are able to see the cost of your creation. As you add features your cost increases so you are able to keep tabs on yourself and not blow your budget. You can add the same as before, plus analytics and an online store. This one is a bit more costly at $499 per app. There is the perk of preview! So you can watch your app come together and see how fabulous is looks from your smartphone as your build.

Appery.io
This one is perfect for my Mac-only fiancé! This site allows you to work right in your own little cloud space. Here you are able to drag and drop right from your cloud. No downloading and no installing. You have everything you need and can get right down to business! Appery is simple enough for most anyone to navigate with a very literal and visual drag and drop. A where you put it is where it’ll be mentality. However there are also advanced options for any developers out there. This one has a pretty great deal as it’s free for one project and starts at $15 a month for three projects.

No matter which program you choose or how you go about it, an app is a pretty great step in promoting your business, keeping it current and providing more opportunities for prospects to interact with you. The most difficult part about it all may be the deciding factors in what you want to include and how you want your app to look. You can keep your customers in the know while providing great service and convenience. That’s a super win. Come on, get Appy!

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MeganMegan Flanagan has been in the customer service business for over ten years hand in hand with several companies, large and local. She is a native of Syracuse, New York where she lives with her fiancé, step daughter, and new addition, baby Eloise. New to the business blogging world, she has always had a passion for writing, communications, and the art of entertainment.

Top photo courtesy of Cristiano Betta via Google CC @ Flickr CC.

5 Ways to Prevent Fraud on Your Website

Posted by Megan Flanagan on Jun 17, 2015 11:42:00 PM

448665548_b4537c7c0d_bFraud is one of the most frustrating and critical issues plaguing The Internet. It’s a significant danger that is simple and sudden to occur, yet incredibly difficult to fix. There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who avoid fraud (like the plague), and those who welcome fraud with open arms, by doing nothing to prevent it. Don’t be the second guy. Don’t let your BUSINESS be the second guy either. The Internet is a feast for hackers but luckily there are ways to avoid, deter, and protect your business from these cybercriminals.

If your business is managing sales or orders through a website or shopping cart – there are a few variables to pay close attention to in an attempt to avoid fraud.

1) Do research on customer orders
Sometimes things just don’t match up. Addresses are often a big indicator in detecting fraud. For example: If the billing address doesn’t match the shipping address. Of course, there are situations of honest people who won’t be home during typical delivery times, or they’ve purchased a gift for someone, or they live in Seattle and don’t have a front porch, or they ordered something embarrassing to show up at their ex’s house…. But a difference in addresses can be a big red flag. You can also check to see if an address is even real by using sites like Google maps or Zillow! This way you can even see what kinds of flowers they like. That’s right. You can creep right back.

Also take note if the IP address is from overseas but doesn’t match the country issuing the credit card being used as payment. IP addresses are able to be researched at websites like IP-Lookup.net. If you really want to get savvy you can use certain e-commerce software programs containing the proper settings and block offending IP addresses as well.

2) The email, The email, The email
Sometimes cybercriminals are simple and lazy and hope that you’re lazy too. Check the email addresses! They won’t be as obvious as: fraudulentemailaddress@fraudworld.com, or websitefraudsoccermom@onlinefraudparty.com, but they’re easy enough to detect. If you receive an email that looks like an auto generated order number you might be in trouble. Keep your eyes out for the jgi8675309@yahoo.com. Odds are? It’s a phony!

3) Code: Security
A really simple and common method is to simply require the security code from the card being used. This is different from a PIN, this is the little 3-4 digit code on the back of a credit card typically at the end of the signature space. Consumers physically need to have the card to access this number which makes it difficult if they are an internet ghost on the prowl. The lack of this code will deter those who don’t possess the actual card.

4) Decline the declined
Cybercriminals work hand in hand with luck. They don’t often have all of the information needed to complete a transaction. There are devices that can ‘predict’ credit card information. So they go to town on websites, run what they can run and hope for the best. Lucky for you, online business owner, you can put a limit on how many times someone can input incorrect information before being prompted to contact customer service. NONE SHALL PASS!

5) John Hancock
Requiring a signature upon delivery is a pretty simple way to ensure your product goes to an actual customer who ordered merchandise from your business and paid for it with their own credit card. Throw a tracking number on there too, that way you can protect yourself! You’ll know when your product arrived, where it went, and who signed for it.

Another thing worth mentioning - is pay attention to PCI! As confusing as it may sound, it’s not just some obnoxious acronym designed for the tech department – PCI (or payment card industry compliance) is an important set of rules and standards that are necessary to protect your business. If the credit card processor handling your payments is thorough and diligent, this should not be the first time you are hearing about PCI. They should be working with you to stay compliant and ensure your website is not vulnerable. Contact NTC Texas to learn more about PCI compliance standards.

We all take a risk when we go online. A customer can have their identity stolen and their good credit ruined. An e-commerce business owner can lose credibility and in turn have to dish out added fees for being an easy target. Protection, security, and smarts go a long way when it comes to prevention. Beware! The Internet is scary, and full of hackers.

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MeganMegan Flanagan has been in the customer service business for over ten years hand in hand with several companies, large and local. She is a native of Syracuse New York where she lives with her fiancé, step daughter, and new addition, baby Eloise. New to the business blogging world, she has always had a passion for writing, communications, and the art of entertainment.

Top photo courtesy of star5112 via Google CC @ Flickr CC.

138 Small to Midsize Businesses Breached in 2015

Posted by Megan Flanagan on Jun 10, 2015 2:34:44 PM

7175133946_26ef268d47_mHaving so much available to us online makes things a lot easier for consumers, and far more convenient than ever before for businesses. You can literally sit in your underwear with your own coffee, and talk to your cat while you do your black Friday shopping on your home computer. June Cleaver is losing her mind right now. Not only is shopping simpler, we can also pay bills, network, keep in touch with those people we kinda knew from that one time we played Frisbee golf on the quad during college, keep up on the latest in business technology, and breach the security of corporations large and small.

Wait, WHAT?! Yes, you read correctly. While we’ve been livin’ it up in the year 2015 for the last six months, 348 entities have already been hit by cybercriminals. That may not sound terribly overwhelming until I tell you it’s entities like the I.R.S, and the Beacon Health system that have somehow been breached. Entities that you would have otherwise thought are impenetrable. That’s some bad breach.

Everyone is a Target
According to the June 9th Data Breach Report, published by IDtheftcenter.org, of the hundreds of breaches this year, 30 struck the financial industry, 29 struck educational institutions, 25 struck  government agencies, 126 struck the healthcare industry and a whopping 138 struck small to medium size businesses, like yours…but those aren’t the ones you hear about in the news. Check them out here.

On a scale of epic proportions, a data breach is pretty epically epic. Defined as, " …a security incident in which sensitive, protected or confidential data is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen or used by an individual unauthorized to do so."

Some larger organizations which have had to deal with a data breach already this year:

Bank of America, for example fell victim to a breach early this year by a third party Merchant. Bank of America has not released exactly how many customers were affected by this breach, but select BoA customers  received an explanatory letter, and a new bank card.

Aetna Health Insurance is also in a breach position (ha!). Just a few weeks ago, Aetna disclosed the breach, and temporarily shut down their website to get a handle on the situation. 450,000 employees and hopeful prospects had email addresses and other personal information copied. 65,000 Social Security numbers were also listed on the site. Letters were sent to those customers whose information had been compromised. Aetna has yet to reveal how the breach occurred.

One of the scariest breaches thus far, however, is the IRS. The cool part is we all have to continue sending them all of our information! (Of course I’m speaking ironically). The IRS’ system was hacked through an application called Get Transcript which allows taxpayers to keep an eye on their account transactions, tax return information and reported income to the IRS. The agency has temporarily shut down the application.

What to Do
Clearly this is quite the problem. Not only are the business moguls and government agencies getting hit, small businesses are as well. A breach like the ones mentioned above can annihilate a small to midsize business, if not by the cost of litigation, but the bad reputation and loss in customers. Bad news travels quickly. So what can you do? You can start by downloading our eBook below to learn more about how you can protect your business.

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MeganMegan Flanagan has been in the customer service business for over ten years hand in hand with several companies, large and local. She is a native of Syracuse New York where she lives with her fiancé, step daughter, and new addition, baby Eloise. New to the business blogging world, she has always had a passion for writing, communications, and the art of entertainment.

Top photo courtesy of Bryan Mills @ Flickr CC.






Should Your Business Accept Apple Pay?

Posted by Megan Flanagan on May 27, 2015 12:01:01 PM

Apple_Pay_logo.svgIt seems as if Steve Jobs were destined to get us to a place every 1970’s sci-fi film was hoping for. A world of computers, technology, devices, doo dads, and whirly things. A world of talking into some electronic device and seeing someone looking back. And now? Here we are. Forty years later, and we’ve made it! The future. Only smaller, less bulky, less olive green, more yoga pants, and far less tesla coils than any one of us ever could have prepared for. The future is now. And not only are checks a dying method of payment, Apple Pay is upon us. And get this! You don’t even need your wallet!

What is Apple Pay?

Apple Pay is a mobile payment service that lets consumers use newer Apple mobile devices make payments at retail and online checkout systems. Basically, Apple devices now have the ability to communicate with a retailers P.O.S system (Point Of Sale! Not the first acronym you thought) via Near Field Communication (N.F.C.) technology. An app on the Apple device has the customer’s payment information securely encrypted inside a microchip.

Combine that information with Apple’s Touch ID feature and you’ve officially made Agent 99 very jealous. You can use NFC technology to touch a device and make a transaction happen.

No more swiping the customer’s card six times because the magnetic strip has lost its connectivity, no more covering cards with a plastic bag to make them process (why does that work?!), no more waiting for customers to fiddle for the right card in their wallet/pocket/purse/stroller/husband, no more searching for the pen that WAS at the register before you went on break but is now gone because that other girl always takes the pen off of your register, no signing, no ‘cancel for credit’… And for the love of Tim Cook, no more credit card imprinters!

Currently, Apple Pay is only available for customer use with iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and that new beautiful Apple Watch. However! Customers with an iPhone 5, 5s, or 5c are still able to use Apple Pay through their Apple Watches. The watch does not have the same touch security you’d get with your iPhone, but it sure does have its own security bells and whistles. When using Apple Pay on an Apple Watch users have to use a security code and believe it or not, the watch knows if it’s not its owner’s wrist it’s upon. The owner is the only one who will be able to use Apple Pay on their Apple Watch. Yup. We live in a time where our watches know their owners. How far we’ve come. I used to get excited when my watch played a song at noon. Now my watch shows me more loyalty than my cats.  Jerks.

What’s in it for the businesses?

With identity theft on the rise, people are becoming more hesitant to use their credit cards online, or even out and about at traditionally trusted retailers. In 2013, up to 70 million Target customers were shocked to find their credit card information had been stolen. They sent out new bank cards and credit cards, and debit cards… had to activate the new ones, change all of their bill information… What a mess. Apple Pay is super secure. Like I said earlier, you may as well name your watch “Cheers”, because it knows more about you than anyone at any bar ever could, and can hold onto your deepest secrets better than Norm. And it won’t even eat your snacks.

Think about this. 90% of Americans have cell phones. People nowadays know where their phone is before they know where their wallet/license/credit cards/children are. Phones are their lifelines. You can do pretty much anything on your phone now and people do! Slowly it’s becoming an expectation. Is there an app for that? Most likely. If it’s easier and more convenient for your customers, more people will be game to shop from you.

What do businesses have to do to feature Apple Pay?

For what it is, not much! It seems like you would have a lot of prep work, a lot of added fees, and a lot of space. Actually it’s fairly simple. Any business currently accepting credit cards looking to take on Apple Pay will really only need to make sure they have an N.F.C credit card Reader, which may also be referred to as a contactless reader. One of these will run a small business $300-$500. After that, there are no added fees on top of the standard merchant processing fees from say Visa, Mastercard, or American Express for using Apple Pay.

Currently, less than 10% of businesses are using Apple Pay. However larger retailers such as Walgreens, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and McDonald’s seem to be jumping at the chance to get ahead and were ready for the launch of Apple Pay In October 2014. For more information on Apple Pay please visit: https://www.apple.com/apple-pay/

 

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MeganMegan Flanagan has been in the customer service business for over ten years hand in hand with several companies, large and local. She is a native of Syracuse New York where she lives with her fiancé, step daughter, and new addition, baby Eloise. New to the business blogging world, she has always had a passion for writing, communications, and the art of entertainment.

Top photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

Tags: payment processing

Why Your Business Should be Accepting Online Payments

Posted by Rachida Essadiq on May 26, 2015 3:49:21 PM

pay-onlineCould you afford to lose 11% of your sales? InternetRetailer, an e-commerce information site, forecasts that online payments will make a jump from 8% to 11% of total retail sales between 2013 and 2018. Ecommerce and “mcommerce” (buying items via mobile phones) are on the rise. Accepting payments or selling products on your website will not only keep your business up to date, but it’s a cost effective practice that will increase cash flow. Ecommerce also has added benefits like opportunities for affiliate marketing, reduced costs for traditional billing, and easier and more accurate bookkeeping.

You Don’t Accept What?

When shopping online, most customers expect to find a web payment option. Having a sleek, sophisticated website is an extension of your company’s brand that gives the customer confidence in your products. Having no option for online payment may ruin that image.

Increase the Impulse Buy

Writing a check and waiting for your business to process a mailed-in payment adds unnecessary difficulty for consumers and may halt the purchase altogether. Online buyers are already 15% less likely to impulse buy online than in-store, so why add more time for them to rethink by having them write a check? Customers may even go to a competitor that offers an easier check out option.

Ability to Use Credit Over Debit

Another huge benefit to accepting online payments: the ability to accept credit cards. Having to mail in orders limits a customers options, usually to a check, and if they don’t have enough in their checking account to pay the total amount, they may rethink the purchase. About 2/3 of businesses and consumers used credit cards for payments in 2012; being able to accept credit cards removes another road block to a customer immediately buying a product.

Credit card companies offer fraud protection for users, who know they can make a claim to the card company if fraud does takes place, adding another level of trust for consumers.

Automated Accounting

The same user friendly experience that online payments provides to consumers is also translated to the backend for bookkeepers and administrators. By picking an online payment provider and/or shopping cart wisely, businesses can develop a very efficient process for recording and tracking payments. The money will be directly deposited into a checking account, without worrying about annoyances such as trips to the bank.

Expand Your Affiliates

With web payments, your company could also launch an affiliate program. Affiliate programs let other online retailers or sites refer customers in exchange for a small commission. The fee is minimal in comparison to the increased sales, and with a commission system you could add as many affiliates as necessary.

All businesses need to have all possible revenue streams open, including those in the growing ecommerce industry. There should also be as few road blocks to a customer contributing to those revenue streams as possible. With the right online payments program businesses can start the process of accepting web payments and create an excellence experience for their customers and business.

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About The Author
Jordan_HooverJordan Hoover is a Dallas native returned home. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. from Loyola Marymount University. He of course loves writing, reading, playing music, and learning new things everyday. Connect with him over LinkedIn, at www.linkedin.com/in/jordanhoover

 

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