How to be ready in the future if credit cards are down
Credit card outages are infrequent events but can be stressful so it's good to be prepared in advance. Outages can be caused by disruption of your internet connection, processor problems, or system failures that require you to use Stand-Alone mode until the problem can be fixed. It is important to prepare in advance so you have the right information and are familiar with the procedures - this will make all the difference in being able to function with a minimum of inconvenience while protecting yourself from losses due to declined cards.
Steps you should take to be ready in advance:
1. You have two options for capturing cards while offline - you will still slide the cards in the Micros but you need to capture the card information separately to protect yourself against chargebacks and to capture the whole credit card number. We are providing First Data's recommendations on these options in a file you can review - other processors may be similar and you can contact them to clarify the details.
Option 1 - Manual Imprinter
The most common option is the traditional imprinter or "knuckle buster" which most people are familiar with. If you use an imprinter make sure you have a current tag for your merchant account, and use the carbon copy slips provided by your processor. When using an imprinter and following proper procedures you will be protected against chargebacks but not declined cards. You will also likely incur higher fees for transactions processed this way. Additionally you must consider how to handle possible declines due to insufficient funds. Telephone authorizations these days are quick and easy (yes we have done them and they take 90 seconds even if it's your first time) provided you have the proper information on hand, but there is a charge for them. You should determine a threshold above which your employees must obtain a telephone authorization - it is not good enough to say that you don't have time to do this. If the charge is $100, $250, even $1000 or more, how much are you willing to risk? Please download the offline instructions and fill in this amount (and your Processor Merchant ID) and post this document so that your employees have guidance if and when they are faced with this situation. We feel that an Imprinter is adequate for most needs and since credit card outages are typically rare the additional fees are probably not the primary consideration. Remember in the old days all the credit cards were done this way, right?
Option 2 - Backup Terminal
The second option is to purchase or lease a backup terminal. This will be attractive to some customers due to the ability to use the terminal for other purposes such as a banquet, outside bar or other temporary processing need. A terminal offers lower fees (you would enjoy the same fees as your Micros typically) than an imprinter, and additionally no charges for telephone authorizations. Of course these terminals still needs an internet connection or phone line to work and this working depends on the processor themselves not being down. If opting for the backup terminal it may be wise to still have an imprinter as a backup in case of phone or internet outage.
2. Download and edit an instruction sheet you can edit and post in the office so you have instructions complete with phone numbers, merchant IDs, and specific guidelines for your employees. Having this ready to go is a huge help when you have customers that want to pay right now. You will need to edit the instructions to add your Processor Merchant ID (NOT your Visa/MC merchant account number but the number issued to you by your processor like First Data, Paymentech, Heartland, Suntrust, etc.) which you can usually get from the credit card statement you receive from your processor each month. Click on the links below to download the instructions.
First Data specific instructions (add merchant ID)
Generic Instructions (add merchant ID and phone number)
3. Optional: the Offline Credit key referenced in the downloadable instructions above ususally requires manager authorization. For servers to be able to use the Offline Credit key without a manager, you may need to change their employee privileges. To do this refer to the last part of the downloadable instructions. Please be sure to change the privileges back when the outage has been resolved.
1. Imprint every card using your imprinter and carbon slips. If you just don't have this available, at least WRITE DOWN the entire card number, expiration date, and customer name.
2. Call for authorizations if the amount is over a threshold that you determine. The number you call is specific to your processor, and you can find the number by looking at your credit card processing statement. Voice authorizations do have a fee ($0.75 or so) so please decide a dollar amount where you will require voice authorizations. Voice auth is quick these days and does not require waiting on hold for a representative - about 90 seconds if you've never done it before. You will need your Merchant ID (from your processor statement, NOT your Visa/MC merchant ID) and your processor's support phone number. If you use First Data, download the First Data instructions and add your Merchant ID. First Data's number already on it, and you can fill in your Merchant ID. If you're not using First Data, get the generic instructions and fill in your processor's phone number.
3. To perform an authorization on the Micros, refer to the instructions on the form you downloaded. You may want to post this in the server stations (with or without the Merchant ID at your discretion).