A “Lifetime” of Customer Service

June 13, 2017

When I stepped up to the bulletin board in 1980 and put my name on the job bid-request to begin working in the Greyhound Bus Lines “customer service phone room,” I had no idea that I was choosing a career. And while I’ve touched on that decision many times, it hit home last week that I’ve lived a “lifetime” in customer service.

Over the past 37 years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best people in an industry that I grew to love early on. It all came together last week when the industry organization that I respect the most, ICMI, recognized me with a Lifetime Achievement Award at their Contact Center Expo Event in Orlando. It was a humbling experience, as one of my mentors, Brad Cleveland, shared details of my career and handed me the uniquely designed glass award.

The positive response from friends and colleagues - both in person and on social media - has been overwhelming. When talking to a friend earlier this week, I was asked, how did this happen?! That conversation led me to contemplate the keys to longevity and success. Here are some thoughts:

  • First and Foremost, Love People - Even though I now work for the world’s leading technology company, my work in the customer service industry will always be about people and relationships. The three to five minutes of a live conversation between an agent and a customer will continue to be the key differentiator in most organizations. Success will continue to hinge on the ability to recruit, hire, train and coach great people effectively. I truly believe that the job of the frontline agent is one of the toughest jobs in any company. I love what Sir Richard Branson says, “Train people well enough, so they can leave and treat them well enough so they don't want to!”
  • Build Strong Relationships At Work - As I mentioned, building strong relationships is a necessity. One of my greatest joys is helping others reach their goals. I have learned there are four ways to help others reach their success: Empower the pursuit of passions; Support professional growth through continuous learning opportunities; Coach improvement, instead of critiquing; Make it known that you appreciate their work.
  • Use Your Friendships For Good - The book by Keith Ferrazzi, “Never Eat Alone” had a profound effect on my success. Ferrazzi's form of connecting to the world around him is based on building strong relationships and then, generously helping friends connect with other friends. He said he learned early that success comes as much (if not more) from who you know versus what you know. The books taught me helping others ultimately helps me succeed also.
  • Be Thankful - We never reach our goals without the help of others. And thanking them for their support should be a part of our daily process. For me, it requires more than an email or a phone call. Yes, I still write old-school paper thank-you notes - and doing so makes the “thank you” a little more personal and special. The ICMI award is the result of hundreds of people who have mentored and molded me through the years. I can think of so many who took a chance on me when I was way too young and inexperienced - but gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons - and even fail - while providing me with effective coaching and feedback, to learn from mistakes and celebrate success. And to the publishers who helped me find my love for writing - and the editors who always made me appear smarter.
  • Find a Life/Work Balance - The service industry is a 24/7/365 business. It will pull you into late nights and long hours. It takes focus to know when to say “no” and when to close that laptop or put away that phone to focus on life. As I look back, I should have focused more on family, friends, and life. I think the appropriate quote is “no one late in life ever wished he or she had spent more time at the office.” While I am not at the end of my career, I can say that I have a much better balance today than I did at 25 or 35. If I could change one thing, it would be to work less and “live” more!

bob furniss.jpeg


I want to take a moment to thank ICMI for this honor, genuinely. I have said many times since winning - this award meant more to me because it came from an organization I respect so highly. Over the past 20+ years, ICMI has given me the opportunity to grow my personal brand through writing, training, consulting and speaking. They truly care about our service industry and from the early days of Gordon McPherson - to the current leadership provided by Brad Cleveland (who literally wrote the book on contact centers) - every person and every interaction with the organization has been an exceptional customer experience. Bottom-line, if you want to learn and grow in our industry, connect with ICMI.

Thanks also to Bluewolf - for giving me the platform to grow my career over the past five years. I could not be more excited about my “blue” future with IBM! And I find myself excited about what a colleague described as “rocket ship” growth in the area of helping service and support organizations transformation using the top application in the world - Service Cloud. And, with the recent partnership between IBM and Salesforce, we are now working on the future service and the contact center - AI (Artificial Intelligence). At Bluewolf, we believe that IBM’s Watson and Salesforce Einstein - teamed with Salesforce Service Cloud - will change the customer experience forever.

So, while the award was a recognition of a lifetime of work - I am looking forward to many more years - working with great people, working with the best applications in the world, helping companies improve customer experiences - and focusing on helping others pursue their goals.

“Success is not counted by how high you have climbed but how many people you brought with you.” ~ Wil Rose

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