Payments in Focus Insight that keeps you ahead of change

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Focusing on Customers and Culture in the Payments Space With Allen Pettis

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

After spending more than three decades in the payments industry, Allen Pettis can sum up everything he learned about customers in two sentences. "Number one, they're always right," he explains. "Number two, the quality of your service and your product is what the customer says it is, not what you say it is."

Lessons and insights like these have been abundant during his 32-year payments industry career. Today, Pettis now has responsibility for all global account management and sales at TSYS, a Global Payments Company. There he manages all of the business functions and client-facing functions worldwide as part of the issuing business.

Recently, Pettis sat down to discuss a range of topics on his radar, including the value of a winning culture, the power of a great mentor and just how far we've come since the age of the fax machine.

Here are five highlights from the conversation, which has been edited for clarity.

01 on the voice of the customer

When it comes to doing business in the payments space, the more things change, the more they stay the same, says Pettis.

"Really, the nature of the problems might change, but the problems are really the same. It's always down to either cost, service or reliability. It can vary with product, it can vary with technology, but it always kind of comes back to those things," he says.

One priority he and his team are largely focused on is staying ahead of these problems proactively and putting himself in the customers' shoes.

"I've always tried to [say] 'Okay, what if this was me sitting over there? How would I feel about this? What would I be saying? What would I be doing?'" he explains. That level of empathy and self-awareness makes his team ready to tackle any problem – whatever its nature may be.

02 on the power of a great mentor

During his three-plus-decade career, Pettis has seen many leaders come and go. One who especially informed his own leadership style was former group executive of cards and statement production at TSYS, Walter Miller.

"He was one of my favorite not only bosses, but people," he said. "Truly, really people-centered. He walked up to me one day and said 'You know what? You're ready for the next stop. I'm going to retire.'" Two weeks later, Miller made good on his word and packed up his desk, leaving Pettis with his job.

But even after his departure, Miller's legacy persisted with Pettis. "The biggest thing with me [that I learned about my leadership style] was that I like to give the advice, give the direction and get out of the way," he said. "Otherwise I'm going to trust that you're doing what you need to be doing. As long as we end up with the same result, and it's pleasing the customer and it's doing the right thing, I'm happy with that."

Miller also taught him that sometimes gaining the next opportunity at work is as simple as asking if you can help. "It's learning as you go. It's stepping outside your box and doing things that are not necessarily your responsibility. That's really kind of how I built my career. I just always tried to look for additional things I could do and learn things that aren't necessarily in my realm, but they're valuable as you go down the road," he says.

03 on changing customer expectations

Pettis has many predictions for the future – self-checkout, self-service bank branches and more. Yet, sometimes the most telling signs have come from looking back. In his case, that's reflecting on the first 'innovative technology' he used in his career – a fax machine – to realize how far things have really come.

"Now you could ask a lot of people and they don't even know what a fax machine is anymore," he says. "The technology is always exciting and always changing. You're always learning. You can't really get relaxed, because what's around the corner?"

Another related dynamic Pettis observes regularly is his customers' evolving sense of competition. Banks aren't comparing themselves to other banks anymore, he notes, but customer-experience leaders like Apple and Amazon.

"It's a very different mindset, being in a financial industry, and now having to be compared to an online retailer that not very long ago was just selling books on the internet."

04 on digesting an abundance of information

These days, says Pettis, there's information coming at a volume that can overwhelm just about anyone. One of his favorite ways to stay up to date on the latest trends is by attending conferences and, most importantly, making client visits a regular part of his routine.

"I visit three to four clients a month, and then we have at least that many that come here," he says. "You learn so much when you get out there and talk with clients [personally]."

While he does stay current with industry blogs and the news, surrounding himself with hard-working, driven people means he's keeping up with the right information. "You don't have to be the smartest guy in the room, or even in the room all the time," he says. "The good news is, I have a lot of good folks around me that pump information to me."

05 on harnessing a winning culture

When choosing between a winning culture and the best technology, ideally you'd have both. But if forced to pick only one, Pettis would side with culture any day.

"The thing I talk about most is a caring culture, looking out for customers, team members [and] doing the right thing. It's been drilled into me my entire [career]," says Pettis.

In fact, whenever his company is considering a new acquisition, one of the first questions asked is whether the cultures can coexist. "I've spoken a lot to our leadership development teams. I've spoken at a lot of orientations," he says. "I think that's what you've got to do is drill it into everyone, so that they're really engaged, and everyone is pulling in the right direction. At the end of the day, the reason you're here is the customer – there's really no other reason to be here."