It’s the age-old question: What the heck is that plucky telemarketer trying to sell me? He’s from a merchant services provider? What does that even mean?

Essentially, it’s credit card processing and the services that come with it, like member support, software support and training, etc. Especially if you don’t accept credit cards—or, even if you do accept cards but have very limited contact with your current provider—you might be in the dark about some of this, so allow me to break down what we do, exactly, as a merchant services provider.

Merchant services providers use a network and do Visa, MasterCard, and Discover’s legwork.

These three card issuers, with the addition of American Express, supply the overwhelming majority of credit cards in the US and Canada.  A merchant services provider acts as a liaison between merchants and card-issuers, using a network to process, oversee, and keep records of payments.

Merchant services providers charge a markup for their services.

Like any business, MSPs exist not only to provide a service, but also to make money. Along with an interchange (base) fee and an authorization fee, merchant services providers will also charge a discount rate (markup).

Merchant services providers offer support when you have a question or problem with your account.

Even as technology tends to automate and streamline parts of our lives, it also raises questions, and, like anything else, not everything works properly all the time. Your merchant services provider probably has a support team to help with software issues or just general processing questions. Support can be used and charged on a per-appointment basis, like a trip to the doctor’s office, but some MSPs (like Century Business Solutions, for example) offer their support for free. For general pricing concerns, you’ll probably have an account manager, someone who oversees your account’s pricing and keeps you informed of any updates, security concerns, and the like.