Is your business prepared for a disaster?

I don’t know if the Mayan calendar (which appears to end abruptly later this year) indicates some impending disaster or not, but every business should have a detailed disaster plan in place in case something happens on 12/21/12 or any other time.

Super Storm Sandy, with the billions of dollars in destruction it has caused to homes and businesses, is the latest case in point.

But sometimes disasters don’t involve dramatic weather events or the fire department calling you at home in the middle of the night. Some disasters are more confined. For example, what if your credit card terminal was to fail in the middle of a weekend sale? Or maybe a customer or sales associate tripped on the cord and pulled the terminal to the ground, where it broke into pieces (this happens more often then you would think).

What would you do between that moment and the arrival of the UPS or Fed Ex delivery the next business day? As part of your overall disaster plan, do you have a plan laying out the specific steps you and your employees would take to continue to accept credit cards until your electronic terminal is operating again?

Most of today’s merchants don’t have any of the “old fashioned” tools that many of us used for years. Do you have an imprinter (affectionately referred to as a “knuckle buster”) that lets you accept credit cards in a non-electronic way? If you have an imprinter, do you have carbonless sales drafts for it? Do those sales drafts truncate the customer’s copy of the sales slip? Does your staff even know how to use an imprinter? If you still have one stored away somewhere, it might be older than they are.

Recently, a well-known national chain of sub shops had its POS system go down at 11:45 in the morning. Based on the amount of foot traffic I observed heading out the door with cards in hand instead of sandwiches and chips, I would suggest that at least one of their locations did not have a plan for this situation.

A couple of months ago, I was in a fast food restaurant and was told, before ordering, that the restaurant was not able to process cards. I had cash, so I sat and watched other customers simply turn and walk out of the building without food. I am guessing they went across the street to a competitor that could handle the transaction.

If you don’t have a plan, you should – and an imprinter is a simple way to start. If you don’t have an imprinter, you can still purchase one, and they aren’t expensive. If you have an imprinter but don’t have sales slips, your processor should be able to provide them.

I would suggest, as we approach the holiday season, that you take a minute to imagine a day (or two) without your electronic payments terminal. Then make a plan.

(Note: If you’re interested in getting more information about an imprinter or getting your hands on one, please contact Mr. Mayleben via email.)

John Mayleben CCP is Retailers Processing Network senior vice president, technology and product development, and a national expert on electronic payment processing. He is the first person in Michigan and among the first in the nation to receive the Certified Payments Professional designation from the Electronic Transactions Association.

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