With contractors facing such rapidly changing technologies, another facet of business that is quickly evolving is the way businesses accept credit cards.

Gone are the days when companies exclusively relied on a service technician calling in numbers and filling out a multitude of forms. Today, technicians are capable of swiping credit cards on the spot with minimal paperwork involved, keeping sensitive information safe and secure along the way.

“We used to write it on our invoice with the credit card number and the office would process it,” said Jerry Unruh, president of ABC Heating & Cooling, Hayward, Calif. “In the last few years, we have completely eliminated that. No credit card numbers get written down and we don’t enter them into our dispatch system. Everything is run from the field, in the home, and we don’t maintain those records. We’ve stepped out of having any of that.”

In changing economic times, many contractors are looking to be as flexible as possible, not only by offering a broader array of services, but by how they accept payment.

When Caleb Rutledge, president of Lapeer Heating & Cooling, Lapeer, Mich., had a customer ask if he accepted American Express, he begrudgingly told the customer, no. Shortly thereafter, he visited a local Walgreens and purchased a Square — a product that plugs directly into a smart device and allows users to swipe credit cards on the spot. Square charges 2.75 percent per transaction or a flat fee of $275 per month.

“It’s easy,” Rutledge said. “It’s actually an easier app to use on our phones than our previous system was. We enter the amount, slide the card, have them sign, and the transaction is complete. As far as that goes, it’s a very easy process for us and the customer.”

Butch Welsch, president of Welsch Heating & Cooling, St. Louis, also utilizes the Square.

“We do 16,000 to 17,000 service calls each year and when we think of the time it takes to compute these figures, and the security risk, it just made sense. This method saves us time from having to write it all down, call it in, and punch it into the machine,” Welsch said. “Plus, using the Square, the money goes into our account right away, so that’s a bonus.”

Having the money immediately available is a big deal to Welsch, who said he’s always been taught, “the sooner you get the money, the more the money is worth,” which is why he looks at the monthly fee as a necessary cost of doing business, because it helps prevent many other potential headaches down the road.

“When considering the fee, we look at the fees associated with other forms of invoicing, such as the man-hour cost of invoicing, the cost of waiting for our money, and potential future collection costs,” he said. “All of those factors have to be taken into consideration. We’ll pay the fee because it helps prevent us from other potential headaches.”

PayPal also recently released a similar device, PayPal Here, which offers a similar function as the Square, at a rate of 2.7 percent per transaction. PayPal Here allows users to accept credit and debit cards as well as PayPal account payments, and deposits utilizing a checking account. The service claims that payment funds are usually available within minutes through the receiver’s PayPal account.

Devices like Square and PayPal Here aren’t the only way today’s contractors are accepting payments. Unruh is in the process of moving his system to Android tablets with special software to take payment.

“We are in the process of going to tablets, but we have so many people,” Unruh said. “Our dispatch system is all Web-based, and we’re in the process of adding that piece where they will get a signature on a tablet that they carry in. The software is all written and we intend to roll that out this year.”

While Unruh said he did consider using the Square, noting it is a good option, he went with adding tablets instead because of the additional features they can offer.

“(The Square) would be a piece that would solve that issue, but if I go to something more like a tablet, I solve four or five additional technology issues in the same process,” he said.

Rutledge is on board, noting the Square can be a great device for small operations that need an easy way to accept credit card payments.

“You can’t beat this,” Rutledge said. “This is the best way to accept credit cards, small-time, that I’ve ever seen.”

Publication date: 4/8/2013