By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
NEW YORK (Reuters)pan - In an era of social distancing, businesses must be snappy in responding to customers or fall behind, a lesson Jeff Sloan, chief executive of Global Payments, quickly learned.
"You've got to be more responsive and more flexible than before" or come across as not caring, said Sloan, whose company processes payments for companies in over 100 countries.
Contactless payment transactions grew by 34% in 2020, with the seismic shift speeding up as much as five years because of the pandemic, he estimated.
"Consumer habits are hard to change in payment," said Sloan, whose Atlanta-based company has almost 24,000 employees worldwide. "It took a long time for ATMs and debit cards to take off but once they did, it stuck."
Sloan talked to Reuters about the future of contactless commerce. Edited excerpts are below.
Q. How has the pandemic changed the focus of your business?
A. We're fundamentally a tech company. Over the last seven years, predating this pandemic, we already had strategies on tech-focused payments - where instead of taking your wallet out, sticking your card in a machine or paying in cash, you're now just taking your phone and tapping a terminal with it. It's safe commerce.
When we saw the shutdown starting in March in the United States, we announced partnerships with Amazon and Google to put our businesses in the cloud and allow our customers to move more quickly online.
Prior to the pandemic, it was nice to have a website, but after the pandemic it was a requirement to have a website or you're not going to be in business.
Q. What is an example of an area that boomed in the past year?
A. Healthcare. Pre-pandemic, we had very small numbers in the Teledoc business (which involved patients seeing their doctors virtually).
Last year, we had 15,000 Teledoc transactions in January and February. By the middle of the year that just exploded.
In 2020, we did 1.4 million Teledoc visits. We had to move quickly to provide better networks, better customer service to support those kinds of volumes that we'd never seen before.
Also, we service tens of thousands of quick-service restaurants around the world, every Burger King, Popeyes, Taco Bell.
We do business with 26 of the top 40 quick-service restaurants in the United States. We had to move pretty quickly on additional software and support to make sure that your experience in getting delivery from Doordash or Uber Eats was seamless.
We facilitated $1.5 billion sales from quick-service restaurants in 2020 (compared to the $271 million the company did in 2019). That's astronomical growth.
Q. How has your life changed in the past year?
A. Pre-pandemic, probably five to 10 days a month, I was on the road.
The businesses we have are 70% in the United States, but we also have a billion in revenue and a third of our staff outside of the United States.
Seeing customers and partners in the field, where they live and work, that's really the best way to do it.
During COVID, that pendulum (of travel) has swung in the other direction. I spend a lot more time now with my family, which is fantastic, but there really is no substitute for seeing firsthand how someone is doing or what we should be doing differently somewhere.
Q. Have you developed any new work habits?
A. I've always been a big believer in returning emails quickly and being available on cellphone, text or Zoom.
But in this environment, when we have less face-to-face interaction, we've got to make sure we really engage with customers, partners and team members, to be even more accessible digitally when you're separated physically.
When someone sends you something, you've got to get on it right away, because that's the substitute in this environment for a business trip or a face to face.
You've got to be more responsive and more flexible than before. If you're not, people are just going to think you just don't care.
(Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)