“Garbage In / Garbage Out” is an Old Cliché. But Today, It has a New Twist – and Far More Costly Consequences
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It’s still not “rocket science,” but the tasks assigned to fulfillment companies have 
grown increasingly complex and detailed.  What has not changed is the quality of 
information provided to do those tasks.  Judged by accuracy and completeness, 
it’s alarmingly poor, and because of the way things are structured today, this 
causes problems that ripple through the industry, increasing costs at every level.

We received an order for three terminals recently that I wish was unusual. Within 
the body of the PO, were line items for one overlay, and one Quick Reference Guide.  
Sounds simple, but even today, disagreement abounds.  We shipped according to 
the PO, and were lambasted – twice.

Dressing-down #1 was for not “knowing” that three terminals would “obviously” 
require three overlays (sorry, the mind-reading course must have been lost in the mail.)

Dressing-down #2 followed subsequent shipment of three each of the afore-mentioned 
items.  In this instance, we “should have realized” that because the terminals were 
“clearly” to be used in the same area, (sorry – x-ray vision device must have been 
lost along with the mind-reading course) only one QR guide was needed.

The internal disagreement on the client’s end is, unfortunately, the only thing 
unusual about this incident.  It is, otherwise, a typical example of what occurs 
when poor quality information is provided to fulfillment services.

No one can work efficiently under these conditions, yet the inevitable response to our
mentioning an instance such as this is inevitably along the lines of, “well, when you see
something that might not make sense, why not just call us?”

The answer is that we would be calling all day long.  You want a low price, and the 
industry has become lean and automated to allow that low price.  But that low price 
does not include chasing down purchasing agents by phone every time an order 
containing “something that might not make sense”  is received.

When issuing a PO, all of the necessary data must be gathered and entered correctly.   
It is no different than setting up a merchant on a processor – and every bit as important 
to achieving successful outcomes.

Car engines in the 60’s were simple mechanical devices that could be serviced by 
teenage boys.  Today they are complex systems that are far more electronic than 
mechanical.  And few teenage boys – or anyone else - can do anything beyond the 
most basic service procedures.

The business model today for boarding merchants is no less complex, involving the 
downloading of many files, and the creation of all that’s required to accommodate 
not only credit cards, but gift cards, check guarantees, time and attendance, 
age verification, and more.

We received an order recently to “build a file for a Hyper com model T7P.”  Well, 
there’s one application for thermal and one for dot matrix.  It’s one or the other, 
and multiple, different capabilities can be in either application.

Our industry has been structured to be lean, and for it to work, salespeople must 
resist making broad assumptions.  They, or their organizations, must be willing to 
invest the time to ferret out all of the information required.  The garbage-in / 
garbage-out scenario that often plays out must certainly lead to frustration on the 
part of merchants who wonder if anyone in the industry knows what they are doing.

Fulfillment houses, of course, make errors, too.  The better ones acknowledge their 
mistakes and make it right.  But if our actions are not what caused the problem, 
someone else must pay for the fix.  The only alternative is to pay us more on the 
front end for manual follow-up.  This is a foolish idea we do not recommend.  
Likewise, If the merchant provides inaccurate information, the resulting exception 
costs must become his responsibility.

The situation is bad, and getting worse.  But fortunately, the solution is clear.  
The salesperson needs to insure that data is accurate and complete before 
submitting it to the debit network, gateway, fulfillment house, or other entity 
with merchant interface.

Yes, this requires greater industry knowledge.  But low-tech cars are history, 
and so is low tech processing.  There’s zero chance either will return, and it’s 
incumbent upon the person or group who provides the data to fulfill their 
responsibility, so the rest of us can fulfill ours.

As third party administrators, we’re held to tight timelines, and must have 
accurate information to meet the expectations of the bank, salesperson or ISO 
who has contracted with us.  We can do a lot - but we cannot do your job, too.  
And we cannot change the structure we all work in that requires lean operation, 
with minimal human intervention.

As automation moves ahead, demands on the front end will intensify. Certain fields 
will be needed before submitting an order, or errors will occur, and flow through the 
system.  We can build certain fail safes, but, returning to the original example, 
with a PO specifying three terminals, one overlay and one QRG, that is what you’ll get.  
And when you don’t specify impact or thermal-based, you may not get anything.

Our customer service manager says 20% of orders we receive from ISOs and banks 
have critical data missing.  Of course, that also means that 80% of orders are correct 
and complete.  We catch many of the 20% that have the problems.  But in doing so, 
we are forced to make assumptions that demand those mind-reading and x-ray 
vision tools that are still missing.

Some fulfillment services have a policy of simply setting questionable orders aside.  
Volume and service expectations do not allow time for guessing, and the expectation 
is that, eventually, the customer will call.  This is neither good service, nor responsible, 
in our view.

If ISOs want an Exception Department, it can be created.  But it will not be free, and it 
will become less effective with each new automation step forward.   The solution really is 
careful, complete information at the outset.  It truly is that simple. And it truly is critical.

Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc, the parent company of 
CardWare International.  He is one of 12 founding members of the ETA, 
serving on its board, advisory board and committees.  (740) 522-2150.