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For businesses of all sizes, credit card payments are essential. And when credit card processing outages occur, the revenue loss can be huge. Causes of payment processing breakdowns often stem from widespread power outages (often due to weather), internet service disruptions, and technology failures.

In August 2021 TSYS, a major credit card processing company serving over 80,000 retailers in the US, had an outage that caused quite a stir.

The Saturday night outage made the news when several businesses reported they were unable to process credit and debit card transactions. Though the outage only lasted for about 30 minutes, it took approximately three hours for affected businesses to announce they were fully operational again.

Payment processor outages are not only disruptive, but their cause also is not always easily understood or clearly communicated to the public. A Fiserv outage in February 2021 was reportedly caused by a power outage from a winter storm, but the TSYS blackout still leaves questions unanswered.

Using outdated payment terminals and systems can also lead to issues, which is why it’s essential to choose the best payment terminals and ensure that they are supported by your processor. Though rare, these outages could happen at any time, and reliance on outdated hardware and software puts businesses at risk of lost revenue.

In an increasingly cashless world, it is a huge problem for businesses when credit card processing outages occur. All businesses must be aware of the possibility of an outage and have a plan in place to maintain business continuity and transaction processing capabilities in such an event.

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What to Do During Credit Card Processing Outages

Disruptions in card processing are stressful for everyone involved. When an outage takes place, there are a few crucial steps the business should take to troubleshoot and communicate the issue.

Determine the cause

Since payment processing outages are infrequent, the first step for any business experiencing issues with processing payment should be determining the root cause. Checking to see if there is an issue with the internet service provider is a good first step to diagnose the disruption.

Wireless internet outages cause connectivity issues and can be easily remedied with a backup solution such as a DSL or hard-wired internet connection. Since most businesses use WiFi to operate their point-of-sale terminals, this is the best place to start when an issue occurs.

If the issue is simply the WiFi connection causing card processing errors, the problem can be easily solved and card payments can resume fairly quickly. In this case, it is important for management and staff on duty to understand how to remedy WiFi connectivity problems and to have information readily available to reconnect point-of-sale terminals to the internet. It’s worth providing your staff instructions on WiFI router troubleshooting so they can check that immediately when they cannot process credit card transactions at the card reader.

In some cases, the internet service providers experience disruption and the problem goes beyond the WiFi. Some mobile POS systems, including those offered by Stax, are able to connect to cellular data instead of WiFi. With a variety of technology available for businesses, it is important to know what type of connectivity devices have, because not all mobile devices are enabled with the ability to connect to cellular data.

If the internet is not the issue, the next thing businesses should do is check the physical terminals to ensure they are functional. Malfunctioning payment terminals are dealt with by working with the payment processor, and assuming there is a backup method or additional terminal in place to accept payments, there should be little disruption to the business.

Monitor down detector

Down Detector is a helpful resource with real-time notifications that report if an issue is widespread with an internet service provider, payment processing company, or even specific credit card companies such as Visa or Mastercard. Checking to see if the problem is isolated to ISPs, financial institutions, payment processors, or card issuers is an important part of the process when experiencing a credit card outage.

Accept alternative payment methods

Explore accepting alternative forms of payment, such as mobile payment apps (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay), PayPal. You can also consider peer-to-peer payments like Zelle and Venmo.

Just note that these options may require a functioning internet or mobile connection, so ensure you have a reliable network available.

Consider manual processing

They’re not ideal, but if you have access to manual credit card imprinters, consider using them to process transactions. Make sure you follow the necessary steps to imprint the card details and obtain a signature from the customer. 

If you do decide to implement manual processing, keep a log of all affected transactions during the outage, including the date, time, customer details, and transaction amounts. This record will help reconcile the transactions once the credit card processor is functioning again.

Communication is key

If the card processing issue is not caused by internet connectivity, power supply, or physical terminals, it is likely an issue with the card processing company. When this is the case, the first call should be to customer support to determine the cause and expected time for a fix.

It is also crucial for businesses to communicate with their customers when there is an outage. For this, social media announcements are a key way to reach customers.

Though businesses may be reluctant to turn to social media to announce something as unpleasant as their inability to process debit and credit card payments, proactive and transparent communication can resolve many of the customer service complaints.

Providing updates and communicating with customers during an outage goes a long way in ensuring the company is not to blame. Frustrated customers often share their experience on social media before news reports come out.

Providing transparent communication as soon as an issue is known will help alleviate some of the concern, and shows a commitment to resolving it.

Double-up on exceptional customer service

While great customer service should be present in all circumstances, it’s doubly important to provide exceptional customer support during the outage.

So, prioritize customer service and handle any inconveniences with empathy. Offer assistance, answer questions, and address concerns promptly. Keeping your customers informed and satisfied can help mitigate the impact of the outage on your business reputation.

Credit Card Alternatives–In-Store and Online

The most obvious alternative to a payment card is a cash transaction, but when that is not an option for the customer there are some options.

Provide multiple payment gateways online

Nowadays it is increasingly common to offer multiple payment gateways for eCommerce transactions. Many retailers offer multiple payment options such as PayPal, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and more.

Doing so gives options to the customer and allows them to select the method they feel is more convenient. The added benefit of offering multiple payment gateways is if one experiences an outage, there are alternative options for a customer to choose from.

The Benefits of Backup Processing for In-Person Transactions

Stax offers the ability to process transactions offline with the use of a mobile app, which can be accessed through tablets and mobile devices, even when power or internet goes down. When power and/or the internet isn’t functional, Stax has credit card machines that can connect to cellular data, allowing transactions to process normally, collecting credit card information with no interruption.

Mobile devices not only provide an option to support offline transactions, but they can also be a huge customer service enhancement during busy shopping seasons. Mobile POS systems are a great solution for large and small businesses and can easily be deployed across multiple locations.

Between the convenient checkout experience and backup processing abilities available with mobile POS, this solution is worth considering. Stax’s mobile payment solutions are easily integrated with online and stationary POS systems.

Further, integrations between POS systems and eCommerce sites allow customers to place an order online if there are issues at a physical location (and vice versa). In the event of an outage, having multiple options available may just save the day and provide a more seamless customer experience.

Choosing a payment provider that has backup processing, multiple payment options and integrations, reliable technology, and exceptional customer service allows your business to function smoothly, even when things go awry.

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FAQs about Credit Card Processing Outages

Q: What are the common causes of credit card processing outages?

Credit card processing outages can stem from widespread power outages, internet service disruptions, technology failures, and outdated payment terminals and systems.

Q: How can businesses identify the cause of a payment processing outage?

Businesses should check their internet service provider, ensure the functionality of physical terminals, and monitor Down Detector for widespread issues with ISPs, payment processors, or credit card companies.

Q: What can businesses do to maintain business continuity during credit card outages?

Businesses should have backup solutions like DSL or hard-wired internet connections, mobile POS systems with cellular data connectivity, and multiple payment gateways online.

Q: How should businesses communicate with customers during a credit card processing outage?

Businesses can use social media to provide transparent updates, reach out to customer support to determine cause and expected resolution times, and provide alternative payment solutions during the outage.

Q: What are some alternative payment methods for businesses to consider during processing outages?

Businesses can use multiple payment gateways such as PayPal, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, or Apple Pay, and deploy solutions like Stax’s mobile app for processing transactions offline using tablets and mobile devices with cellular data connectivity.