In this episode of Thoughtline, we consider the ways that alternative digital payment options can be implemented in the contact center. Especially in today’s contactless world, digital payment options like Venmo, Paypal, and others are suddenly the real MVPs. In this Thoughtline dispatch, Boris Grinshpun sat down with Jon Balon, VP of Product & innovation at Williams & Fudge, Inc, to take a look at the world of alternative payments & how these easy-to-use options can yield huge returns for the contact center.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:00:00] Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for joining us here today on our weekly series of the LiveVox podcast today. We’re lucky enough to have Jon Balon on the phone and via video with us, Jon. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Jon Balon: [00:00:28] Or it’s grabbing me. Thank you. Now,
Boris Grinshpun: [00:00:31] Jon, we’ve had a few very exciting topics to discuss and talk about today.Um, very specifically, we’ve been talking about the innovation happening within the contact center space. And within the payment space. And I know those topics are very near and dear to your heart, but before we get started talking about those, Jon, if you wouldn’t mind giving folks on the line with us today, a little bit of your background to get to know you as well as I do.,
Jon Balon: [00:00:57] I’m from the financial services industry. So, um, I, you know, when you start thinking of career planning and all that kind of stuff, I mean, I knew day one that I wanted to be in collections and that’s where I wanted to serve. And I knew that, that was the industry I wanted to be in. And that’s exactly how the career started.
[00:01:19] Um, I’d love to tell you that that was the plan, but it wasn’t, um, You know, I, I started with a passion in mathematics and, um, that was usually my strong suit. I loved math and I love problem solving. So I started to go down the path of software development and, um, I went to ball, state university. So go Cardinals, gotta give a shout out when, when I can, but, um, Started down the path of computer science.
[00:01:45] And I really liked the aspect of using math and using problem solving skills to take on a problem and put a cool solution together. So as I started going through, um, you know, school there, [00:02:00] uh, locally to Muncie, Indiana was Ontario systems. So Ontario systems build. The collections application that many agencies use and they use to run their business.
[00:02:11] Um, not only agencies, but you know, healthcare focus too. And, um, so I started an internship at the end of my junior year there and started doing software engineering in this group called Link’s. And the neat thing about The Link Group was. Um, it was working with external partners to help collection agencies and hospitals in their efforts.
[00:02:37] So The Link Group was connecting these agencies with letter vendors, with skip trace vendors, with, um, payment portal vendors with scoring providers. I mean, a whole degree of different, uh, service offerings. So I really got into liking and in seeing how that worked and I thought it was amazing to see that.
[00:02:59] You know, [00:03:00] we’re trying to find someone. So then we reach out to these different services to try to get information, to find that person. And then once we find that person, then we try to find them, we try to contact them via email or phone or whatever. And, um, then once you could get them on the phone and you start to work with them, you can help them.
[00:03:19] Um, In, you know, resolving whatever situation they’re in or whatever they’re trying to do to either resolve that debt or pay off that hospital bill or whatever it is. And it was really interesting, you know, seeing that angle of it. And then I really liked seeing how the partner side works. So. After about 10 years in Ontario, I went over to, um, red spring in rev spring does payment, portals and letter processing and email communications.
[00:03:49] So it was really neat to see that side of how now working on behalf of all these different agencies, how our services, how those services [00:04:00] helped them. In getting in communication and helping, um, people want to pay their accounts. So I was with Red Spring for about eight years, working on a lot of different things with them, primarily in the software and the product development side, and then an opportunity arose to join the team at Williams & Fudge.
[00:04:18] And I thought that was a. A really interesting fit and a pretty cool career fit to go from the software application side, to the vendor and data services side to now an agency side. And, um, it’s been, it’s been very interesting to step back and see how awesome it is to be involved in this industry and in the space.
Boris Grinshpun: Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like, uh, you know, that’s a very interesting background just from the standpoint that, you know, you always interact with people who may have come from the operations background. It’s also very interesting to get the other side of it, which is of course the software side, but where you come from.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:04:59] And, [00:05:00] um, we used to get an interesting perspective on your side of how potentially, um, problems could be. It could be solved in our industry, uh, from, from the technology side. And so probably over that time, Jon, I mean six to say that you’d see. Quite a few things involved, but the thing that, that we started to talk a little bit about ahead of this, uh, ahead of this podcast that I really gravitated to, I loved your story about it is what you guys are doing in the payment space.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:05:27] So I’d love to share, or I’d love you to share a little bit about what’s been your take or where do you see innovation heading in the payment space specifically for the asset management or recovery industry?
Jon Balon: [00:05:42] Yeah. So I think what’s been really, really interesting is, you know, over the years, watching through how payments are made.
[00:05:51] I mean, I remember, um, you know, growing up as a kid, your parents would pay with cash only, or they’d pay with a check and, [00:06:00] you know, for years, you know, it was checker cash and that was it. But we’ve all evolved, you know, as a society and how we decide to manage our money. And most people don’t even go to a bank anymore.
[00:06:13] What’s been interesting is, you know, taking a step back and saying, we need to. More or less changed the model and changed the way that we think and put ourselves in the account holders’ shoes. So really taking and stepping back and having this consumer centric strategy and thought process. To where we want to be able to accept payment methods that the consumer or the account holder they don’t want to use.
[00:06:41] So if someone’s like,” Hey, I’d love to pay you today. But all I have is let’s say, PayPal, can you take that?” Well, I think it’s in our best interest to be able to have a platform or different ways that we can say, yes, we can do it that way, because that’s the way that you want it [00:07:00] done. And. It’s just, it’s interesting because I think of myself and I think of like, say, you know, someone’s birthday’s coming up or this has happened or that’s happening.
[00:07:11] And I’m like, Oh no, I forgot to do that. I’m jumping on Amazon. Or I’m trying to find something that I could use PayPal for because I’m too lazy to get out of bed and grab my credit card or go in, grab a checkbook or whatever. But I think at the end of the day, Putting ourselves from a business standpoint, in the same shoes and the same life that account holders are in.
[00:07:36] If, if we treat each other that same way of how you would want to do something, the more flexible that we, we believe the more flexible we can be. With payment arrangements, payment options, payment strategies. It’s just going to be in the, um, the account holders best interests because we’re there for them.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:07:53] Yeah. And Jon, what you’re saying makes total sense, right. You know, sort of during your strategy around the consumer to deliver services the way they wait, they expect them through others, you know, with other providers. Now, the question that I have for you is really that, that. That seems to make sense. I mean, that’s so obvious we’re talking about here and I don’t think anybody here in the audience would disagree with you, but making the investments to move in that direction. I think there’s a little, there’s a little bit of hard to do. So the question really, I think, comes from me and also comes from the audience. Uh, like the boss, the why? Like it, it is a view thing. It’s the, um, it’s the, the consumer population that you’re talking to today that demanded that from you? Or was it, or is it something larger economically that’s causing you guys to move in this particular direction?
Jon Balon: [00:08:48] No, that’s good. That’s a great prompt. So. You know, I think back so not a half hour ago, um, one of our neighbors was they’ve. They have a honey [00:09:00] business and they had jars of honey that they were selling and she sent out a message on our Facebook messenger group and said, Hey, who wants to buy this?
[00:09:08] You know, who would like some. So I respond in the Facebook chat or the comments and say, Hey, we’d love one. And she goes, well, I can do PayPal, Venmo, or check, or cash. Whatever’s easiest for you. And I’m like, Oh, you take Venmo. Boom done. And she just dropped it off at our porch. Easy, quick, just that’s. That was easy for me.
[00:09:31] So what we found is with examples like that. Yeah. Almost. Everybody. I talked to, if let’s say we go out to dinner, Hey, let’s split it. 50 50. You have Venmo. I’ll shoot you that half you gear up, you pick it up and I’ll shoot you my hat over. Right. We’re seeing more and more people use channels like that, like Venmo, Square, PayPal, et cetera.
[00:09:55] Because what I see, what we’ve kind of seen is [00:10:00] more or less a transition of. A lot of people nowadays don’t just have one job or they might have a side business or have an Etsy store. They work completely out of their home. So I think our workforce in the world today is everybody, um, might not have the traditional, I go to an, uh, a nine to five, eight to five job and I get paid direct deposit and I put it in here.
[00:10:27] So we believe that. If say the person’s working a part time job and their goal is to use that money towards say, paying off, off a debt that they owe. Well, why don’t we offer those same types of options so that once he has money, that square account, he can make a phone call to one of our agents and say, Hey.
[00:10:47] You know, I just picked up 200 bucks from last night, you know, driving people around with my Lyft job and I’d love to put $200 down or $200 towards my debt to try to help get this thing gone. [00:11:00] We just feel like it’s a good, flexible way to see how the world’s changing and utilizing all these different options.
[00:11:09] Um, You know, I, I know that there’s going to be investments that people will have to make, but the more creative and the more flexible you can be to your, the account holders, you’re going to be more successful in the long run. I mean, there is the whole, you know, what’s the ROI and what’s this and what’s that.
[00:11:27] And the stance that I kind of look at is time is money. Yeah. In one aspect of it, and two, I want to put the ball in the consumer’s court. We want the account holder to do what they want to do and be able to do that. So I could either sacrifice getting paid for 10 days a week, or even ever, or I could offer multiple channels that allow them to pay me when they want to pay me or pay us when they want.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:11:56] Yeah, that makes so no, that makes total sense. [00:12:00] And, uh, I love how you brought up the, the, the channels piece, because you know, some channels of course lend themselves to easier methods of exchanging payment. Like you just talked a little bit about Jon as well, and I know you guys have been very innovative in this particular, um, space as we’ve had a discussion, um, specifically the innovation that you’ve done in a non-voice space, um, through combination of, you know, social media and other messaging channels, um, what sort of, what prompted that if you will. So what prompted that investment for your organization and what prompted even that thought process within your organization?
Jon Balon: [00:12:37] Especially with, with the business that we run. You know, we’re trying to help students and we’re trying to help different account holders that have a debt.
[00:12:48] And the main goal that we’re trying to do is we’re trying to help them get in touch with them, explain the balance, explain what they owe, and try to do the best we can to help them in understanding what that is. What that [00:13:00] debt is because we’ve been able to communicate with them using the channel they want to be communicated with.
[00:13:06] And then we’ve also provided them the payment abilities that they want to use to make the payment. So really at the end of the day, the more. We can help our consumers throughout the entire process. Um, we, we believe, are the best way to go. It’s almost like instead of being a collector, we’re almost like your coach, you’re your debt management coach or something like that.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:13:31] Yeah. Yeah. It makes, uh, makes absolute sense. Also just from both whatever it’s worth. I mean, my comment around coordinating a lot of this has really been thought not only from a technology perspective, but a strategy perspective for how you operate all of these channels. A lot of people struggle with that, with that port portion, right? The coordination of all of this kind of communication and all of the sort of various varieties of payment types that you’ve maybe taken. How did you guys handle that challenge? Or how are you handling that? Because I know that’s a journey. It’s not like there’s some sort of, you know, one stop thing that that’s going to solve this.
Jon Balon: [00:14:15] Yeah, so it’s tricky, but, um, I think like you mentioned a little bit earlier, there’s a little bit of a common sense approach to it. So we know that there’s, um, regulatory, uh, re regulatory rules and things that we have to follow. Um, when we do work on a debt and things like that. So there are certain ways that we have to communicate certain messages that we have to, to explain and certain things that we have to say, um, to make sure that we’re following various collection laws and rules that have been set forth by, um, you know, the FTC PA the TCPA, when we’re talking about, you know, different messaging channel and then, um, The CFPB and [00:15:00] their recommendations.
[00:15:01] So what we try to do is take all of that. Make sure that we’re following the rules. We’re making sure that we’re yeah. Getting the appropriate messages out to, to the consumer, to the account holder. But what we’re also trying to do is within that framework, not necessarily, really be limited to only sending say it.
[00:15:20] A physical letter, more only sending an email or only sending a text. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to show that in what we do a lot with everything is, you know, all calls are recorded, everything, all of our consent and things like that. We capture that. So, you know, at the end of the day, if I ask you and I say, Hey, Boris, how would you like me to communicate with you?
[00:15:44] The options that I have are I could email you. I can just call you on the phone. I can send you this information with a physical letter. I could, um, send it through with an SMS text message to you, or, you know, we’ve got some channels with say, [00:16:00] Twitter, private messaging or Facebook messaging. Or different platforms.
[00:16:04] How would you like me to communicate with you going forward? And at the end of the day, you know, some of the rules and regulations that we have to conform to they’ve been written in the seventies. Well, the Japanese didn’t even know what Twitter was. Right. You know, like none of, none of those, none of these messaging channels were really around.
[00:16:25] But at the end of the day, we believe that. If we follow the guidelines and the purpose for that type of message. But then I put that communication ability in your hands as the account holder to tell me what your preferences are. We believe that that’s the best long term strategy and you know, there’s a lot of stuff you have to work with with different attorneys and get different guidance on the best ways to do that.
[00:16:53] But at the end of the day, what we want to try to do is what we want to try to communicate, the [00:17:00] payment methods. Put those things out there in front of our account holders that they want to use. And then what we like to do is work with groups, for example, like ACA international and insight, and the CFPB and proactively share.
[00:17:16] The things that we’re trying and the things that we’re wanting to do, get their guidance early. Talk to us, talk to attorneys early and say, you know what? We’ve had, um, account holders that go to different universities. We have one university that when the student comes on campus, they strongly recommend that that student use.
[00:17:35] Twitter because their professors are using private messaging back and forth with the student. So they can explain assignments and explain this and explain that. So if we know that that person went to that school and maybe that school then passes us that account, we might know that Jon Smith. Prefers to communicate back and forth through social media messaging.
[00:17:58] And who am I to tell him, [00:18:00] sorry, that’s not a good communication way that you should not use. You need to communicate with me this way. That’s going to be a confrontational conversation right out of the gate if you approach it that way, because that’s not the way he wants to communicate. So we’ve, we’ve taken more or less that stance of.
[00:18:20] Let’s try to adopt channels that people actually want to use, but then navigate the financial aspect of how much that service costs along with the regulatory rules that we need to follow and try to do the best we can with, um, guidance from those different regulations, guidance from attorneys, guidance, from anyone that’s involved in, do our part in trying to offer, um, These are account holders, these options in the safest possible way where it’s safe for them, it’s safe for us.
[00:18:52] And it’s safe for the creditors that we represent. So that’s what we try to do. Yeah,
Boris Grinshpun: [00:18:57] That’s pretty, it’s pretty interesting that you’re talking [00:19:00] about some of these, uh, some of the social media channels specific. Okay. As you mentioned, Twitter and Facebook, and I can sort of see the link very naturally for a student that, um, that used to go to classes are still going to classes now, starting to take care of and have a financial obligation.And in that transition, I know you guys have been sort of a little bit early on, well, you’ve been an early on from an agency perspective, but early on. Yeah. In, in your, in your programs, how are you, what will success look like?
Jon Balon: [00:19:43] No, that’s a great question. So the tricky part is, um, you know, you’ve got to figure out like, When, when analyzing stuff like this, right.
And thinking through how we want to measure success, you know, we could simply say, you know, look at the bottom line and say, Hey, did we bring in more revenue? That’s great. And all, but one of the things that we started doing in, um, you know, our marketing team has done an [00:20:00] excellent job in creating some different channels for, for these things.
[00:20:06] We measure success. Um, multiple ways we measure it off of, you know, the revenue being brought in. We measure it, um, how much revenue and how much money we can get back to. The creditors that we serve service. So that those in universities and banks and credit unions get more money back to them. That was from debt that they can loan more.
[00:20:29] So, you know, we look at, Hey, if we can keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep interest rates low. So, you know, from a financial metric standpoint, that’s what usually, almost everyone goes to, but where I was going on the marketing side and what we’ve done is we’ve done different things to open up and have contact forms for our consumers and account holders that they could give us feedback on how we’re doing. So we use feedback from them. Where they’ll tell us what we’re doing right. And what we’re doing wrong. And we have a whole group that takes that information in processes. It attaches it to the account, and then we share that amongst the entire company. So we’ve got measurements in there for keywords of, you know, Whether someone said Venmo, whether someone said PayPal, whether someone said different things.
[00:21:21] And what we try to do is use that information that we’ve collected from conversations that have occurred with account holders and use that to help us know what direction we need to go. So if more, um, If people, if we see an uptick in account holders saying that they want to pay through Venmo or want to pay through PayPal, or maybe they say, Hey, I want to pay through square, or I want to pay through Zelie or who knows what the next one is tomorrow.
[00:21:50] Um, We’re using those kinds of analytics to help us with our strategy and what we would do.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:21:56] Yeah. I love that notion of like the customer centric, if you will, or customer service centric approach that you guys have really are sort of undertaking as part of that and it creating those feedback loops. Back from your own consumers, even in an unfortunate situation, as you know, sometimes people can be in order really to perfect your perfect, your service. And I also loved the story around it. Innovation, right? Innovation in the space to say, “Hey, we’re going to try this.” Yeah, it may work. Maybe it doesn’t, maybe doesn’t work. Uh, but we’re going to try and we’re going to give it a go and see if there’s value at the end of it. Stop. Thank you very much for, uh, coming on the show with us today. I think the wealth of information you’ve provided will be extremely valuable. So Jon, from everybody here at LiveVox, thank you very much to you and your organization Williams & Fudge, Inc.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:22:50] Thank you for coming on the show today.
Jon Balon: [00:22:53] Thank you for, uh, giving me the time to, uh, kind of share our story and I just encourage any business out there. Um, you know, think about your consumer, thinking about your, your clients. Think about your account holder, whatever you call them, think about them first in, in your decisions and what you did decide to do and what you decide to implement. And if you think of them first and you put them at the forefront of your decision making, you’re going to be successful. So that’s the last thing I’d like to leave out Roman.
Boris Grinshpun: [00:23:22] Perfect. That’s great advice, Jon. Thank you everybody.
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