If not for a chance conversation in a bar one Thanksgiving weekend, John Viggiano may well be following the Dave Matthews Band in an RV instead of working in the credit and collection industry. And, despite the freedom of following your favorite rock band around the world, if push came to shove, John might even say that everything worked out for the best. Read on to learn more about John and why he wears the badge “jack of all trades” with honor.
Name: John Viggiano
Company: Simon’s Agency, Inc.
Length of time at current company: Well, on my current stint, I’m coming up on 5 years, but I had previously worked for Simon’s during and after college for a total of about 3 years. I also counted Simon’s as a client for the ten or so years in between.
Length of time in industry: I’ve got about 15 years total between my work directly for Simon’s as well as being a vendor for Simon’s.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Well on a fateful Thanksgiving break a few years back, I was home visiting my friends at my buddy’s father’s bar and his brother, Phil, who owns Simon’s, had just purchased the business and we got talking about collections in general and how it was a lot like sales in the way communications worked and although it was a little off my track (I was an Electronic Media and Communications major), I thought it was fascinating, especially as everything was moving from paper rolodexes to databases and computers which I obviously had quite a bit of experience with. So, a few drinks later I had lined up a summer gig, and to Phil’s surprise, I called him that spring and began working for Simon’s later that summer.
What is your career highlight so far?
I’m very proud of creating our image identity and website, launching several blogs and our newsletters while supporting our sales team, and helping Simon’s to expand from a regional agency to one that works throughout the United States. Two years ago, this grassroots effort culminated in a great team achievement in getting our collection services Peer Reviewed by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and added to their Short List. Recently, I helped to put together a letter in support of ACA International’s submitted changes to the CFPB. While the results are not in yet, and I’m not holding my breath, it would be nice to at least gain a little traction with that because the regulations for our industry are so out-of-date and frankly out-of-whack with modern communications, not to mention litigious attorneys.
When or how are you most productive?
I’ve always been a night owl, and that’s when I seem to have my best ideas. I think it has to do with not only being in a quiet house at that hour, but the world outside seems to quiet down as well, and people are mostly in dreamland which in my mind always added a certain quality of peace and tranquility to it. I used to sit on the stoop at the house I lived in at college into the early morning hours and in those quiet moments I would have my best ideas. Nowadays, while it’s nearly impossible to stay up that late, I still have my best ideas late at night. During working hours, the ideas come as well, but usually when I’m pressed with a short deadline. For whatever reason, I guess my brain either likes oblivion or stress to get the synapses firing. Once I have a project to do and once I actually get started, the productivity finds itself (and perhaps a bit of obsession on my part as well).
Which industry professional do you admire most?
I’m going to stay with Team Simon’s on this one. From top to bottom, I have an infinite respect for every agent that works the phones – as anyone in this industry knows, the job of a collector is not an easy one and it requires an abundance of patience, grace and mental fortitude to go at it day after day. Having sat in that chair at the beginning of my career in the collections industry, I know very well what it takes, and I respect every one of our agents for the jobs that they do. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge all of the people who support this mission as well, from sales to client services to IT/IS and tech support to human resources, operations, admin and our leadership, in particular our COO, Tim Buckles who does an unbelievable job conducting this orchestra and Phil Bova, who for decades has agilely navigated the constantly changing patterns within the industry and challenges his employees while keeping the office fun and on its toes. It is truly a team effort to make an agency perform consistently and I admire everyone here who contributes to our team’s success.
What is one thing you do better than everyone else?
A long time ago, a gentleman who became something of a mentor to me said, “John, you’re a Jack of all trades and a master of none.” Being a young hotshot at the time, that really ticked me off, but I’ve kind of come to embrace that sentiment over the years. When it comes to marketing, I am a bit of a “Jack of all trades” – I am an experienced graphic designer, videographer, and writer, but I also have developed expertise in many other critical areas of marketing. I am a “Jack of all trades” in that I possess the skillset to do the job of an entire design and marketing team. But I have also realized that I am not nearly a master of anything and with this self-assessment came the realization that I am capable of producing even better work when I am able to collaborate with people who have more experience or knowledge than I do in a particular area or can contribute in ways that I may have been blind to or even in areas where I know I may not be proficient. I am able to produce a better product and continue to learn from others simply because I have put away any notion of being a master of anything at this point. I’m not sure this is what my mentor had in mind when he said that, but in this day and age, I think it gives me an agility in my field that is needed today compared to 20 or 30 years ago.
What do you like most about this industry?
This may come across as cliché, but I remember working those phones and I was always honored to have those conversations with consumers who just needed someone to listen to them and help them get through their trouble spot. The people who really want to do the right thing and end up feeling embarrassed to be in a collections situation – those are the people I loved to help and that is one of the great parts of what we do. The people who really want to do right and just need a little help to get through a tough time is the reason I love the heart of the collections industry. Plus, being raised Catholic, it never hurt to have an Apostle who was a tax collector, you know? Now that I’m on the sales and marketing side it allows me to really help organizations that desperately need to recover money that is owed to them. These organizations employ people, pay taxes, and support industries of their own. In order for some organizations to stay in business, the collections industry is a critical tool they can use. So, on both sides of the industry there are people who we help, whether they know it or not. It’s those who know it that can make any day a special day.
What is one thing you wish you could change about this industry?
Well, I could give you a list, from allowing defendants to collect attorney fees from plaintiffs to having a fool-proof and government approved demand letter, but everyone reading this knows what that list of things is and by the time this publishes that list will only grow longer. I really wish we could change the perception of collections in general. So, I’m going to quote a blog I wrote, but could never get past our legal team who thought it would be a bit too much to publish in the current industry climate: “Since when did someone who borrows money and refuses to pay it back get so much more respect than the people who are trying to collect for the organization that was ditched by the consumer in the first place? When did blowing off a debt cease to exist as the cousin of stealing? … at the end of the day, debt collectors are the last line of defense for every single person who takes pride in paying their debts; people who work their tails off to be able to pay those who fronted them the product or service in the first place. In fact, collectors exist not only to make these creditors whole but also to protect the very consumers who accept, use and need credit to make purchases, buy services or receive emergency medical care.” At the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re in this business to do? Level the field and reward those who do it the right way?
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
I’d be on that stoop figuring out my next move! But if I didn’t have to make a move, I’d be driving cross country in an R/V with my boo!
Describe a typical work day
What’s a typical day? Honestly no day is really the same but there’s plenty I try to get done in the course of a week from designing and updating the graphics and statistics on our wallboards for our collections team and help designing and implementing contests for the team each month to writing at least one blog article each month, curating content for and publishing two newsletters, pushing to social media, managing social media and reviews, updating the design and customization of each piece of marketing collateral to planning and preparing for each conference, sponsorship, and tradeshow we attend, researching, designing and making sure we have a sufficient stock of tchotchkes to hand out, meetings for sales, marketing and management, helping sales with the CRM, updating and managing the CRM, working on marketing emails and mail campaigns, analyzing web traffic, updating and tweaking the website with new information and optimizing, managing our payment portal sites, managing all sponsorships and our volunteer day, staying up-to-date on the industry, national news, SEO, everything Google, marketing and sales techniques and CRM updates, writing, producing, shooting and editing video when necessary, preparing graphics for presentations and speaking engagements, vendor relationships, support for sales and client services for key clients and the random curveball – perhaps polishing up a letter or writing a proposal or working on an internal document … I’m guessing I’m missing a thing or two here, but I think this gives you an idea that there’s not much typical about a day, but there’s plenty of work to get done throughout the course of one!
What is your guilty pleasure?
The Great New York State Fair and the Dave Matthews Band. I’m a sucker and perhaps a bit of a fiend for both. Lately, I can’t get enough of the Twitter feed of @CaptAndrewLuck and I do enjoy letting my mind wander through a bingeworthy series.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Probably to stop letting my emotions dictate my actions. I obviously disagreed and then slowly heeded this advice and began to realize they were wise words. While that fire still burns, I channel it much better than I used to. There’s a certain amount of Zen in that and it has yielded positive results for me.
What are you currently reading?
Why AccountsRecovery.net of course!
What is one fact you’d like everyone in the industry to know about you?
While we may all be competing for business in the collections industry, there’s plenty of work to go around and as a marketing professional our interests are aligned in that all of us are fighting the misconceptions of the general public as well as the currently misguided and outdated rules set forth by the federal and state governments. So, remember that we are allies in the fact that we are all working toward clarifying and informing the public perception of what a collection agency should be and the benefits we offer both our clients and consumers. We all need to write our respective congressional representatives and ask them to consider the suggestions set forth by the ACA (https://www.acainternational.org/news/aca-requests-quick-fixes-to-parts-of-the-fdcpa).
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Todd Winsor, Collections Manager, Simon’s Agency, Inc.