According to eMarketer, 66% of internet users in the U.S. believe that when making a purchase, their credit card security is up to the retailer with whom they’re doing business. Translation? Business owners large and small are being put on the spot to protect confidential customer information, whether you like it or not. That’s right, it’s not on the banks — the onus is on you as a local business owner to protect sensitive customer credit card information.

So if you already accept credit cards or plan to accept them in the future, putting the appropriate security measures in place should be priority number one. That involves finding a trustworthy payment processing provider and a similarly secure storage tool that protects customer payment data, among other things.

But I don’t mean to bum you out with a hefty new addition on your to-do list.

Here’s the good news: Once you have right tools in place to protect sensitive customer information, you’ll reap the rewards.

How a Security Breach Can Affect Customer Loyalty

If you remember one of the most noteworthy data breaches in the history of big-box retailers, you may remember 2013. It was smack-dab in the busiest season of the year for retail department stores, and Target fell victim to hackers who collected debit and credit card information for somewhere between 70 million and 110 million customers.

Wow. Do you remember what you did after you heard the news? If you’re like me, you did a mental check on whether or not you’d shopped there recently. If you hadn’t, you sighed a big sigh of relief. But if you had, you may be like many Americans who considered cancelling credit cards and even opting into identity protection services out of fear for the worst.

Not only did the Target data breach send customers into a tizzy, the retailer also took a big hit in sales. In fact, its revenue took a 46% nosedive in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to the prior year.

Thankfully for them, Target’s a massive company with a similarly massive customer base. So for them, even a catastrophic security breach was something they could come back from. Even losing nearly half their anticipated revenue during the busiest time of year couldn’t bring them down.

But how would a smaller, local business have fared? I can only imagine a data breach on any level would likely completely wipe out a business not benefiting from the same level of infrastructure as Target.

Putting the Systems in Place

I alluded earlier to the fact that for many business owners, putting data security measures in place sounds daunting. Heck, 55% of small businesses still don’t accept credit cards because it just seems like too big of an undertaking and because they understand the responsibilities associated.

5 Critical Steps to Ensuring Credit Card Security for Your Customers
  1. Protect your files, both hard and soft versions. For offline security, don’t underestimate the power of a secure file cabinet and a shredder. For online security, protect your computer and other devices with a cyber-security firm of your choice – one like McAfee or Symantec.
  2. Hire right. If your employees have any level of access to customer information, conduct background checks before making hiring decisions. Then, ensure you’re aware of exactly who has access to what systems, and when.
  3. Be smart with how you accept payments. These days, most local businesses are leaning toward new payment solutions like mobile pay to handle credit card processing. While there are countless options out there, not all of them take the appropriate security measures. Trust a system with a high level of authentication and encryption. PayPal is an industry leader in this space. (That’s why we trust them to power our own payment processing tool, Thryv.)
  4. Be smarter with storage. If you choose to store customer credit card information, stick with a private network or cloud solution. Be careful with whom you give access to these storage locations, even locking down the WiFi you use to access them.
  5. Check in with the PCI Security Standards Council. They help businesses and merchants of varying sizes understand best practices and compliance information.

Making Your Consumers Feel Safe

In a recent survey, 31% of people said they have experienced a data breach in the past. So it’s safe to say consumers are growing more and more wary of how businesses treat their most sensitive information and credit card security.

Once you have the systems above in place, tell the world! Make it clear to consumers that you’re trustworthy, reputable, and you care about their privacy and security. Place badges from software solutions you use on your website, on any printed or emailed collateral, around your storefront, or on your business cards. Use their social proof to earn trust and customer loyalty for your business. Then, reap the rewards.