Cornerstone Providing Merchant Services in Bloomington IL, from 2000 into the Future!

Cornerstone Business Solutions Ushers in New Payment SolutionsI began detailing my history in the evolution of merchant services in Bloomington Normal Illinois in a previous post.  Credit card processing was definitely a mature market in central Illinois when we opened our business, Cornerstone Card Processing, Inc. in March of 2000, on the corner of Empire and Towanda avenue in Bloomington, IL.  As the owner of the growing business, most of my time was spent in hiring, training, business management as well as networking events.  My role as a sales consultant had certainly changed, as I went from spending my days cold calling and doing presentations to interacting with merchants only on a referral basis.

At that time, one of the market trends having an impact was the growing popularity of debit cards.  Debit cards allowed access to customer funds only with the use of a Personal Identification Number (PIN).  Early versions were used primarily for ATMs, and had no Visa/MasterCard logos.  When a PIN key pad was added to a credit card terminal, merchants could accept these cards.  This enabled another payment option for the customer and had a side benefit of making less expensive transactions for the merchant.  Debit network fees were always less than Visa/MasterCard interchange fees until the Durbin Amendment.  When these check cards started working through the visa/mastercard network, the PIN and keypad was no longer required.  However, it was still functional and a savings to merchants when actually used, but most customers opted to ‘skip the pin’ out of convenience.  In just a few years we saw credit card usage soar in Bloomington IL.  Customers seldom carried checks anymore and the volume of offline (no PIN) credit card transactions grew until in 2008, check card transactions surpassed credit card transactions.

Prairie_Commercial_Park_BuildingThey say hindsight is 20/20 and I wish I’d foreseen the impact that the internet would have on the merchant services industry in central Illinois.  Our business continued to grow and in 2003, purchasing a building just east of Bloomington seemed like it would be great idea to house more staff and sales people to serve the local market.  What actually happened was my sales people had a more and more difficult time leasing terminals in the global market created by the internet.  Unfortunately, they usually didn’t have the relationships I had and couldn’t compete on price alone.  We found ourselves with huge overhead due to our commitment to local service and the leasing of terminals was an issue.  We hadn’t transitioned with the market and were less competitive.  The customer base no longer seemed to care that my cold calling representatives were local.  Furthermore, I missed the hands on relationships I had when I was a sales representative.

The solution was a complete overhaul of Cornerstone Card Processing, Inc., that allowed me the interaction I craved with my clients and a more competitive pricing model.  By eliminating Cornerstone’s local staff and moving out of the large building we drastically cut the expenses and were able to be competitive with any credit card processing company anywhere in the country.  Cornerstone was able to still maintain an incredible customer satisfaction level by outsourcing much of the administrative duties to our processing partners.  I also found that when I was personally responsible for the sales and the local customer service, there were far less issues.   I was also happy to get rid of leasing entirely and was able to deliver even more value to my payment card services clients by giving them terminals to use and waiving all start up costs. As for the sales staff, instead of spending endless hours recruiting, training and managing, I was able to jump back into that role I loved.  I found that I had much more time to know my customers and the referrals came pouring in.  Profits doubled within the first year under this new model.

As a result of the new nationally competitive rates, Cornerstone began getting more referrals for those wanting our merchant service from outside of Bloomington/Normal IL.  With new technology available, it was no longer imperative that business be done in person.  However, due to the relationships that I’ve built over the past 17 years in credit card processing, I still get many referrals from the local area and it’s still fun to get out and shake hands in person.

Cornerstone Business Solutions in NormalIn 2010, Cornerstone Card Processing, Inc. changed to it’s current location on Landmark Drive in Normal, IL.  At the same time, the dba Cornerstone Business Solution began being used to better reflect further changes in the industry.  Merchant payment processing is now more about overall solutions than just accepting credit cards.  We are now seeing more businesses looking at POS Solutions, Virtual Terminals, e-commerce solutions and mobile solutions.  We are also providers of gift card, loyalty card, check guarantee and even working capital with Merchant Cash Advance options.  The cross over into marketing has even graduated into the collection of customer data analytics that gives merchants more information than ever before on their customers.   And more than ever, a good payment professional is going to act as a consultant, especially with the impact that PCI Compliance and the Visa MasterCard Interchange Settlement have on merchants.

Moving into the future, we are seeing more changes than ever where mobile payments and Near Frequency Communication (NFC) are quickly changing the landscape of payments.  We’re also seeing more big players than ever breaking into this industry.  Some of the big names at a recent Money2020 show were Google, Amazon and Apple that are set on revolutionizing the next generation of payments.  It’s certain this evolution of payment solutions will be unlike any we’ve seen before.  Some of these changes will soon be seen in Bloomington, IL.  Next week, I’ll be upgrading a local long time client to a Euro MasterCard Visa (EMV) capable terminal for processing merchant services at J. Considine’s Hair Salon.  I’m looking forward to helping them and the rest of Bloomington usher in this new age of merchant payment processing, whatever it brings!

Credit Card Machine Not Working?

broken credit card terminalA credit card machine that isn’t working can be frustrating and could lead to missed sales and revenue.  Every merchant services provider will promise the best customer service, but can they quickly and efficiently make sure your terminal is working in your time of need?  My belief is that the most important function of a bank card representative and their processing office is to ensure that if there is ever a technical interruption of service, that a merchant is able to start accepting cards again as quickly and easily as possible.  I know that if a credit card machine is broken, a business is counting on a swift and effective response from tech support.

Alert Edit, October 2015:  If you have a terminal issue with a Hypercom/Equinox T4200 series credit card machine, please click here for information on a known issue causing outages.

Signature Service AwardsOf the many reasons that I’m proud to represent Signature Card Services is their incredible tech support team and the lengths they go to in order to help merchants with any tech support issues.  Their team is led by a duo of the most experienced, efficient and caring merchant services technicians that I’ve EVER dealt with in this industry.  Arin Yarian, is the manager of their department and I’ve worked with him for years and his professionalism and customer focused attitude continues to amaze me.

Since they help hundreds of merchants every week, I asked them some of the most common technical support issues they’ve seen with our most popular terminal, the Hypercom/Equinox brand.  Within an hour they shared with me a list of the most common issues and a quick fix guide that I’m passing along.

  • T7Plus & T4200 series: Transactions FAILED – CE (communication error); this means that something is interrupting the terminal from calling out such as not being plugged in direct to the wall jack.  It could be digital voice mail on phone line because it gives a stutter tone to alert a voice mail has been received.  It could be a bad splitter or using a filter. It could be that toll dialing is not working or that a digital phone line is being used.
  • T7Plus & T4200 series: Transactions FAILED – TO (time out); this means that something is delaying the terminal communication and then communication is dropped. Reasons might be not being plugged in direct to the wall jack.  Also it could be digital voice mail on phone line because it gives a stutter tone to alert a voice mail has been received or it could be a bad splitter or using a filter or even a very long extension cord.  Possibly a digital phone line is being used.
  • T7Plus & T4200 series: Please wait line busy; this means that something is interrupting the terminal from calling out such as not being plugged in direct to the wall jack.  It could be digital voice mail on phone line because it gives a stutter tone to alert a voice mail has been received.  Or it could be a bad splitter or using a filter.  It could be that a prefix is needed to dial out such as 0 or 9 or it could also be that a voice over IP phone line is being used.
  • T4200 series: Terminal stuck on SPOS32; this means that either the home button was pressed or the power was removed from terminal and all you have to do is press the button next to SPOS32.
  • T4200 series: Terminal keeps rebooting; this could be because initially when the terminal power was plugged in the shape on the cord and the shape on the port was not aligned and so power cord was damaged and cannot lock in place now.  If every time it is moved it shuts down, then using the wire clip to hold the cords in place can help by placing terminal so that power cord doesn’t move.
  • T4200 series: Invalid Terminal Keys; this is not fixable and terminal needs to be replaced because there was a power outage or power surge that removed the OS from the terminal or the terminal could have been dropped.
  • T4200 series: No paper even though paper is in terminal; this could be fixable or if persistent terminal needs to be replaced.  It usually means that the paper sensor in the terminal needs to be cleaned.  It can be cleaned with wet wipe nonabrasive chemical.  Alternately it may be that the OS was damaged and is not recognizing printer properly.
  • All terminals: terminal not printing; merchant just changed paper roll and still not printing means that thermal paper is not being used or that the thermal paper with the thermal chemical side is not pointing towards the terminal. There is a glossy side on thermal paper and if that side is not facing the inside of a terminal it will not print.

 

As you can see from the list, the first three potential issues have nothing to do with the terminal and everything to do with the communication lines.  Without a doubt, the vast majority of technical support issues are due to a terminal no longer able to utilize the telephone line and in many cases it’s actually a local phone provider issue.  And yes, a merchant may be able to utilize the phone line for making a call and yet have it suddenly unable to work for processing credit card transactions.

My customers supported by Signature Card Services can reach their award winning tech support by calling them directly at (888)334-2284.  Hours of availability are 10 am – 8pm M-F.  24/7 back up support is also available at 800-228- 0210.

Most terminal support issues are rather mundane and the worst case scenario consists of an overnight replacement of a terminal.  However, some might wonder what the most extreme issue I’ve ever run into.  Well, if you promise not tell anybody, I’ll share my most shocking story that was shared with me from an Independent Sales Office (ISO) that I worked with before I started Cornerstone.

This ISO I was working with had won a contract to provide merchant services for a fast food chain.  This chain served particularly greasy food and most of the locations were urban.  The ISO was receiving numerous calls of the terminals not functioning and were having problems locating the issues.  Upon onsite investigation, they discovered that the grease from the fryers was splattering the telephone lines and since they were coated in grease, rats were gnawing on the lines, resulting in communication issues!

burning terminalMost merchants will never have issues with their terminal because of rats or a terminal being set on fire, but if processing long enough, every piece of electronics will eventually experience a break down.  When it happens, it’s important to feel secure with a solid merchant support department that can help with a speedy and hassle free resolution to the issue.

Many times I’ve talked to business owners experiencing persistent and frustrating terminal issues.  They’ve shared horror stories of their tech support being difficult to reach with long hold times and then dealing with incompetent tech support personnel unable or unwilling to resolve their issues.  I’ve seen where agents and tech support have often tried to sell new equipment at a hefty mark up to take advantage of the merchant’s unfortunate situation.  Actually, in most cases the original bank card representative cannot even be reached!

For business owners that have a terminal down, there are alternatives.  A quick call to Cornerstone Business Solutions, backed by the tech savy Signature Card Services, and we can advise the best course of action.  Sometimes a more service oriented company IS the solution.  And with Signature’s free terminal program with guarantee, we can have a brand new free terminal with low cost processing in record time.  Call Cornerstone Business Solutions at 309-820-0076.

If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, please sign up to receive future posts directly to your inbox by entering your email address below.  As a special bonus, you won’t want to miss the “Crazy story behind the video!”

Robert McBeath is a Certified Payment Professional and President of Cornerstone Business Solutions.  Robert has extensive experience offering merchant services and cash advances to business owners. Visit www.CornerstoneBusinessSolutions.net or call him at 888.979.4731.

Why Pick Me?

Grade School Humiliation!

I was always picked nearly last when teams were chosen for grade school kickball or dodge ball games.  Out of 30 kids, I’d be left standing there next to the ‘larger target’ while a captain debated between the last two of us left.  As much as I cringed inside while standing there trying to act casual, I knew why I was the reluctant pick while classmate Bobby Knight was always chosen first.  He had mad athletic skills and everyone knew it, while I had a reputation for dropping the ball.

What’s interesting is that now I’m in an even more competitive environment, competing against tens of thousands of bank card agents and companies nationwide.   The difference is I know I’m the top choice now.  Just like Bobby Knight, success breeds confidence.  It wasn’t bragging or arrogance when he would explain why he was picked first. He could simply perform better on the field than anyone else.  Likewise, I know I can outperform anyone in my field of business. Allow me to explain why I’m the first pick as a merchant services provider.

When looking for a professional, experience and expertise are important.  A business needs to know the individual and company, responsible for approximately half their cash flow, is capable and dependable.  In an industry where the average career lifespan is less than a month, I have over seventeen years of hard earned experience.  I challenge you to find a more experienced agent to personally service your account.  It’s this level of experience that helps me to listen, assess, recommend, implement and maintain the right payment solution for an individual businesses needs.  And just like Bobby had his ‘Punt, Pass and Kick’ trophies to prove he was the best, I’ve also got the credentials to back me up, as I’ve earned the designation of Certified Payment Professional.

If there had been free agency on the play ground, the other kids would have probably willingly given up their lunch money just to have Bobby on their team.  We all know that the best command the highest fees.  Interestingly, it’s just the opposite when a business works with me.  Because I’m established and have solid relationships with the best processing banks, I’ve been able to negotiate the best rates and get many standard fees waived.  Here’s a partial list of my pricing advantages:

  • No Annual Fees!  Most competitors charge $95 or more!
  • No Application Fees or Start Up Costs!
  • Free Online Reporting!  Savings of $6 a month or more!
  • Month End Billing at no charge!  Many competitors will remove the discount rate (fees) daily, causing an accounting nightmare!
  • No IRS TIN Reporting Fees.  IRS reporting (6050W) is mandatory and many payment processors will pass associated costs on to the merchant. (Except with Signature Card Services.  $1.95 mo. fee applies.)
  • Free Unlimited Live Customer Service Calls!
  • Free Quarterly Account Analysis.  We are always happy to analyze your account for savings and efficiency and possibly lower your rate!
  • Free Credit Card Terminal with Processing!  Most competitors will sell, or worse, lease a terminal to get an upfront profit at your expense!  Beyond a $25 monthly minimum, THERE IS NO ADDITIONAL COSTS OR HOOKS! (Except with Signature Card Services, as of October 2013, a monthly fee of $3 a month will apply.)
  • Free Overnight Replacements!  If your terminal fails with our free terminal program, you will have a replacement overnighted for absolutely no cost!  (Except with Signature Card Services.  As of October 2013, overnight replacement is $55.  However, ground shipping is still free.)
  • The Best Pricing Structure!  We will find the best pricing strategy for your business and as your business grows and changes, we can alter your plan to continue to save you money.

Although I do earn a very comfortable income, it’s not at the expense of a few merchants, but rather due to my success of giving hundreds of merchants a home for their payment processing.  So you can save your lunch money and still get the best on your team!

The other thing I noticed about Bobby was that he wanted his whole team to win above everything.  Many times he would selflessly throw himself in front of a bullet of a dodge ball, sacrificing himself for a teammate.  I really think that kind of team focused customer attitude is what really separates me from the rest of the competition.  I sincerely want the best solution and value for my clients above all.  I care for each and every potential client and treat them as if they were an old friend in helping them out.  Long term client friendships are my passion for my business.

Thankfully, I never needed therapy over being picked last, but Bobby Knight and the lessons I learned on that playground will never be forgotten.  I appreciate what I was shown about the importance of picking a winner.  Today, I can confidently say, “Pick me.  I promise I won’t drop the ball!”

 

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