Making Painful Chargebacks a Thing of the Past
By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
In a socially distanced world, one thing we are already seeing is far fewer in-person credit card transactions because people aren't out and about nearly as much. A lot of that traffic has moved online while some of it has shifted towards other types of less secure, card-not-present dealings like taking down a guest's information over the phone.
As an asset manager for an independent property, there have been numerous instances when I've had to sit down with the accounting office to review invoice discrepancies and all the other nuisances that can jumble the recording of revenues or expenses. Dealing with chargebacks or fraud cases has always been a major pain point that trickles out to impact nearly every outlet where credit cards are accepted.
Not only does someone on the accounting team lose a ton of time in locating the records of the transaction but the property also incurs an agonizing 'retrieval request fee'. Most of these disputes arise from card-not-present transactions where there's always a degree of doubt in the hotel's case and, given the present circumstances, it's important we double-down on card-not-present security measures.
In today's security-everywhere environment with pin codes, CCV (card code verification), AVS (address verification service) and other fraud prevention measures, you would think chargebacks would already be a thing of the past.
The problem is that most card-not-present transactions still require some form of paper authorization form or manual posting to the correct ledger within the PMS, thereby breaking the chain of evidence that's all electronically collected.
To gather some more perspective on the issue, I reached out to Saar Fabrikant, CEO of b4, a hospitality tech provider specializing in automated credit card payment solutions, where he said, "Chargebacks have become a problem we tolerate as the cost of doing business. Whether it's a guest folio, a group master, spa, golf, restaurant or any other merchant terminal, taken together this is a ton of work for accounting to handle. What a hotel really needs is a PCI-compliant payment portal akin to something like PayPal but without the need for a separate accounting ledger."
Indeed, there are now digital platforms that can replace the paper-based verification of transactions while also passing information right into the proper PMS ledger. I've seen these in action and all that's really required from the hotel is the customer's email address to then send a private hyperlink that contains a payment form.
For these types of processes, the reservationist, front desk agent, or any other hotel employee never sees or hears the guest's credit card information; it's all done online. Meanwhile, the accounting office is saving time in having to post all these transactions, especially when you are dealing with complex situations like those that require recurrent installments from multiple payees for a big event.
This is what has really inspired me to write about this lingering pain point in the first place. Enhancing electronic payments not only means winning far more credit card disputes - that is, reduced chargeback costs - but also less time needed to post the myriad of countless authorization forms.
At the small hotel level, the top benefit comes from seeing your controller smile because posting and aligning the various ledgers at the end of each month is a monotonous task that these hoteliers no longer have to worry about, allowing them to focus on more important issues.
Of course, once you get to larger properties, the number of merchant terminals multiplies threefold to fivefold because of all the in-house amenities. With each outlet comes the possibility of chargebacks, making that task a horror show to manage, especially in lean times such as now when you need to be hyper-efficient with your labor.
Online payments don't have to be a chore to set up either as the best platforms have open APIs and seamless bolt-on capabilities so that you don't have to worry about software conflicts. For just about any property, the advantages are clear, making this one big project you should seriously consider resolving while we are all toiling through this coronavirus travel hiatus.