Originally posted at Bluewolf.com
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:
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
As you know, our sweet daughter, Keesha, stepped into heaven on November 28th. She asked that we not have a traditional funeral, but to have a celebration of life. I think we accomplished that request.
The service was at Harvest Church, where our son Kevin is the Children's Pastor. The service included a wonderful video, highlighting her short life. Her cousin Kandis shared a eulogy and read the words that I wrote to commemorate her life. Her brother then shared a eulogy with some funny and poignant words about his big sister. Our pastor, Rickey Jenkins shared a very personal message about the impact of her life.
We continue to struggle and miss her more than words can explain. We have had many ask if we have the eulogies to share - so see them posted below. At the service, it occurred to me, since she had shared her four-year struggle for survivorship in such an open way, I wished we had recorded the service for others to see.... or perhaps we should have streamed it live. I know that may sound crazy - but the service was indeed what she requested - a time to celebrate her life. We had many say it was the most amazing service they had ever witnessed. Others, who knew her from a distance, said they wished they had known her better. We share these words and the video with a hope that it will have that some affect on others - the way her life did!
Eulogy by Kandis Harrison Oliver, her sweet cousin:
Hi, I’m Kandis. I’m Keesha’s cousin. I am so blessed because I grew up with parents who really pushed the importance of family. And that meant I got to grow up close with my cousins. Sleepovers, family dinners, birthday parties... We were family, but we were also friends. Keesha was the oldest of the cousins. And as such, she had every right to act as the boss of the rest of us. To push us around and have us do what SHE wanted. But that was not how Keesha was at all. She was always content to play the games we wanted to play, watch the shows we wanted to watch, and give us the first turn on AOL Instant Messenger. And even as we became adults, Keesha continued to give of herself.
When my three boys were born, Keesha was always one of the first to come to the hospital to meet them. She never missed a birthday party, and she couldn’t wait to give them the perfect Christmas gifts she bought for them. It has always been obvious to me how selfless and giving Keesha was. She just exuded love. But it wasn’t until the last four years that I realized just how strong and courageous Keesha was.
From the moment she was diagnosed, she faced cancer head on and never let it get the best of her. Any time I texted her to check on how she was feeling, she always responded in an upbeat way. She continued to show up to every family function with a huge smile on her face. You seriously would never know she was sick by the way she lived her life to the fullest. 1 Peter 1 verses 6-7 says “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. And this is what Keesha did through her suffering- she revealed Jesus through her continued faith in the midst of her trial. Keesha touched so many lives in the short span of her life, including mine. I’m so blessed to have called her “cousin”.
Eulogy written by me, her very proud dad:
There are many words to describe our sweet Keesha. Smart, courageous, funny, loyal, compassionate, lovable, considerate, sincere - but the one word that we hear most often - when friends and family share their their thoughts about her - is, “SWEET!” They always say, “She was the sweetest person I’ve ever known….”
Susan and I agree with everyone - she was the sweetest daughter a parent could ever ask for.
Keesha was one of those rare people that saw the good in everyone that crossed her path. I love how one of her close friends described her this week, “she was the purest soul I’ve ever known..”
Being the first child in our family, she was definitely a little spoiled. Being the first grandchild - her Nana made sure she was a LOT spoiled! She had a special bond with her Nana, Helen Peters, until she died of brain cancer in 2003. Probably one of the most comforting thoughts this week has been our confidence that her Nana was standing at the gates of heaven on Tuesday night to welcome Keesha home.
While sitting with Keesha on Monday morning, the day before she stepped into heaven, she said, “Dad, are you holding both of my hands?” I said, “no, sweetie just one...” She said, “It feels like someone is also holding my other hand too…. I bet that is Nana from heaven…..” I told her it was OK to let go of mine and take Nana’s hand… she is waiting for you.” Susan and I have talked several times over the past days about what she and Nana might be doing in Heaven together…. we can picture them right now - dancing and praising Jesus together on streets of gold!
Keesha was born in 1983 in Charlotte North Carolina. In my mind, she will always be that lovable, snow-white-blond little girl, who always had a hug for everyone…. She was perhaps happiest when her little brother Kevin was born in 1987… and took here role as big sister very seriously.
While playing in the concert band at Appling Middle School, she found a love of music that would follow her the rest of her life. Even at that young age, her friendships were deep - and built on unconditional love. Some of those friends are here today to celebrate with us.
She graduated from Evangelical Christian School in 2001 and marched in the high school band. If you have never heard about band competitions. you should know there is a whole sub-culture of people who go to large stadiums during football off-weeks to march in a program for trophies and recognition. The ECS band typically won every event they entered - and often was named grand champion. Based on their success, they were invited to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin - and in the Disney World Parade. I remember her saying, “People may call us band nerds - but we have fun whether the football team wins or not!”
She used this experience to land a music scholarship at the University of Memphis. She was so proud to march with the "Mighty Sound of the South" Marching Band. It was in the band that she made several lifelong friends…. As I read the tributes posted to her facebook wall this week, I realized just how special they thought she was…. Here is one example: “I remember the way she smiled from the outside in - and how much she loved us… She was one of my best friends in the world - actually more like a sister…. I feel grateful that God put us together - sorta like peanut butter and jelly. She’s taught me SO many things. She taught me courage and strength and kindness and compassion and patience. She was a total goob, but that’s what made her laugh so infectious.”
Although God never blessed her with children, he did bless her with hundreds of children that she claimed as her own as a daycare teacher. Just this past weekend, two girls, Riley and Leah came to visit. They have been to our house many times over the four years she was sick. They are now 9 and 11 but, they STILL remembered her - and prayed for her daily. And they still call her, “Ms. Keesha… the best teacher I ever had!”
When writing this eulogy, I asked Susan to give me some words to describe Keesha. The first was “sweet” - the second was “thankful.” Keesha never missed an opportunity to say “thank-you.” She was also thankful for life.. One day, early in her battle with cancer, she bought a little sign for her room. It read, “Blessed!” She said, “I know it does not make any sense, but I am just so blessed to be alive.” You can see the sign on the memorial table in the back - along with her favorite hat. It reads “obsessively grateful.” Keesha taught us all how to be thankful for the little things and grateful for the big ones…. and to live life like there may not be a tomorrow!
Keesha was a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece, an aunt, a friend and THE warrior princess…
As a daughter, she defined love and grace. Her relationship with her mom was not typical… it was more like a very deep friendship. I loved sitting in the living room listening to them share life together - sitting together in her room - talking about makeup or Luke Bryan or whatever was the important topic of the day.
As a father, I loved her deeply. Fathers are supposed to protect their daughters. But that was just not possible when it came to this horrible disease. Not being able to fix her cancer was the worst thing I have ever experienced. She was my “pooh-bear” even at 34 years old. You can also see the pooh-bear I bought on the table in the back. And yes, even in her early 30’s she slept with him every night. There is now a hole in my heart that will never ever be filled again….. But she fought courageously. And her mother and I could not be more proud of who she was - both before and after she was diagnosed.
As a sister, she loved unconditionally. Keesha’s brother/sister relationship was always a little different. Although almost four years younger than her, her brother Kevin often took the role as a big brother. Kevin was always the ultimate protector. Don’t get me wrong, he was also the annoying little brother - it was ok for HIM to be mean to her - but not others! She loved him deeply and he loved her back the same way. When he got married in 2011, Keesha welcomed her new her sister-in-law Kaitlyn as the sister she never had…
We talked earlier about her role as a granddaughter, she loved her Nana and Bill (Peters), her Pe-paw (Jim Furniss and her Gramma (Beverly Bennett) deeply. She was the ultimate grandchild - and they were the ultimate grand parents!
Keesha loved her aunts and uncles too. I believe ALL of her aunts and uncles are here today. Uncle Charlie and Kim (Bennett) lived in Illinois but she loved visiting their home. Perhaps because we did so much together and because they lived nearby, she had a special bond with her Aunt Sharon and Uncle Tim (Harrison)… they were a huge part of her life.... She also loved to visit her great aunt, Claudette and great uncle Paul (Tribble) in Alabama.
She also had a special bond with ALL of her cousins - and there are a LOT of them! But there was something special about her relationship with Timothy and Kandis. Timothy described the relationship last night as “almost siblings.” Kandis was probably one of her closest childhood friends. And, more recently, became one of the people that checked on her the most every day. Kandis, Timothy, Keesha and Kevin formed a special bond at an early age - and continued to be “almost siblings” up until her death earlier this week..
As is typical in the south, she was “Aunt Keesha” to a whole host of cousins… But the most important “Aunt Keesha” namesake was saved for her REAL two-year-old nephew, Benjamin. He was a bright light in the her world over the past two years! And, one of the things she said she will miss the most - is not being able to watch him grow-up.
As we talked before, Keesha was also a great friend to many! I loved what one friend wrote this week: “I know without a doubt that she is in heaven. I know she's not hurting anymore. The selfish part of me is just sad - to not be able to text her or go get her a peppermint mocha from Starbucks. I am so thankful for the time I spent with her. I am so thankful for the influence she had on my kids and on me also. There's no doubt that I'm a better person for having her as a friend.”
She also had a group of friends she met in college that were a big part of her life. They got together often - to celebrate holidays and birthdays - and life together. I love what one of them wrote this past week on Facebook: “In a lot of ways, Keesha was our group’s big sister. I’m sure she sometimes felt like she was at a perpetual slumber party - full of preteens on a sugar high. She would laugh, shake her head, and walk out of the room. Moments later, she would return with enough chocolate to keep us up the rest of the night. Keesha, we love you. We miss you. We’ll see you again soon.”
Words cannot articulate how much of a fighter she was over the past four years… She WAS the Warrior Princess. She had the grace of a princess and the fight of a warrior. But through it all she DEFINED the word FIGHTER. Her attitude was, “I may not be able to beat this, but I am going to fight it for as long as possible!” I remember one time, while taking a particularly nasty chemo, she had been throwing-up for about 15 minutes straight. She sat back in the chair, wiped off her mouth and said, “Well that was better on the outside than on the inside!” That was her - always positive, always fighting… She WAS the warrior princess!
We will miss her every day… we will never fill the hole in our lives that her death has created… But we will also celebrate who she was… and one day soon we will see her again in heaven… Yes, Susan and I are already looking forward to that day!
I will end with a special thank-you to all of your who attended today's celebration service. Thanks for your love and support throughout this journey. We are humbled by all you have done for her, and for us, over the past four years. She often was amazed that so many people loved her so deeply - and she loved you all too!
Eulogy by her brother Kevin:
Good afternoon. First, on behalf of my parents and family, let me thank each of you for being here today. As I look out over this room and the amount of people here, there is no doubt that Keesha had a profound impact on many people’s lives.
I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days thinking about what I wanted to say today but the one things I kept coming back to was sports. One of the things that Keesha always loved was sports. Now if you’ve known Keesha since she was little, you’d know that she wasn’t very good at sports. I remember always playing basketball out on the driveway and her wanting to play with me. We would play knockout or shooting contests, and I would rarely let her win. I even remember putting my rollerblades on and shooting hoops one afternoon. Because when you are a kid, making something more dangerous always makes it more fun. Well Keesha decided she would do the same thing. Well 10 minutes later, she was laying in the driveway crying after she fell and broke her wrist. I remember playing baseball over at our Nana’s house in the backyard with Keesha and our cousins. One of my cousins and I were always a little more athletic than Keesha and our other cousin. So we would always team up against them to beat them. For some reason, no matter how many times I beat Keesha in sports (and let’s be honest, I wasn’t very nice to her while doing it), she still loved me and loved sports.
So I thought it would only be fitting to share a quote by a famous sportscaster who I loved growing up and Keesha did as well. His name is Stuart Scott. In 2014, he received the Jimmy V Perseverance award at the ESPYs, which is a yearly award show done by ESPN. This award was named after a man who died of cancer in 1993. At the time of receiving the award, Stuart Scott had been fighting a rare form of cancer for over 7 years. He passed away a few months after saying these words. “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” I couldn’t agree more with him. When Keesha died, she didn’t lose to cancer. She beat cancer by how she lived. Why she lived. And the manner in which she lived.
Here are a few ways people have described Keesha over the last few days: Sweet. Caring. Extraordinary. Sunny Disposition. Wonderful. Kind. Special. Joyful. Positive. Uplifting. Optimistic. Selfless. Compassionate. Saw the best in everyone. I’m a better person for having her as a friend. Never missed her kid’s birthday parties. That last one really stood out to me. Keesha was someone who you could count on. She bought birthday presents for everyone and would never miss their birthday party. It could have been her nephew or her coworkers kid or her 3rd cousin twice removed. She loved everyone. She never wanted to miss out on having fun with her family and friends. It has been over 4 years that she has had cancer. She has been through countless chemo treatments. In and out of the hospital. Yet she rarely missed an opportunity to hang out with her family and friends. A couple of years ago a bunch of family went to Disney so she loaded up her wheelchair and was right there with them. This past summer, she was determined to go to the Younique conference in New Orleans against her doctors wishes. So my parents loaded up the car and off they went for the weekend. Just a couple of months ago, my parents and her drove out to Colorado for a week because she wanted to see the leaves changing in the Rocky Mountains. She never stopped fighting to do the things she loved with the people she loved. Just a week ago, our family had Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s house and rather than just saying “No. I’m too sick. I’ll just stay home.” She loaded up her wheelchair and oxygen machine and came over to her house. She spent most of the day in the bed but that didn’t chance the fact that she wanted to be where the fun was with her family. She was supposed to be at Disney in two weeks with 20+ family members and as of 10 days ago, we were still trying to figure out a way to get her there. Nothing stopped her from living life to the fullest.
When Keesha stepped into Heaven last week, she didn’t lose to cancer. No. She beat cancer. She beat cancer by how she lived, why she lived, and the manner in which she lived. I’ve told many people over the last few days that while I’m sad and we grieve with our family and her friends, I am so excited for Keesha. We might be a Disney in a couple of weeks that people say is the happiest place on earth (and it just might be). I’m excited that Keesha is in an even happier place. She is in Heaven with her Lord and Savior. I’m thankful that she has no more pain. No more sickness. She has been given a new body. And she will now spend eternity with God. And I look forward to joining her one day!
Special words of our pastor, Rickey Jenkins:
Keesha’s Prince - John 11:21-27
Ours is the privilege this morning to celebrate the life of Keesha Furniss. For Bob & Susan she was your daughter. For Kevin she was your sister. For the rest of us she was our relative. Our coworker. Our friend. But for everyone of us, Keesha was our hero.
I kept trying to think of one word that described Keesha’s impact on my life and I just kept coming back to the word SPARK—Keesha was a spark in our lives—a spark that was altogether brilliant, altogether gracious and beautiful, and altogether inspiring. She was a spark for each and every one of us who reminded us that life in Christ can and will be what you make it to be when you put your trust and faith in Jesus, hold on tightly, and do your best to enjoy the ride.
I would be remised were I not to acknowledge her family that she loved so dearly. We honor not only Keesha today but we honor her family—To Bob, Susan, and Kevin and so many more of you—know that are prayers are not just with you today but we all pledge our presence in your lives from this moment forward. I speak for all of us who know and love you today that we will be there for you as you continue to grieve your loss and charge ahead in a way that not only Keesha expects, but the Lord Jesus expects as well.
Keesha was not the selfish type. Everyone here knows that. Keesha was more about others’ needs than her own. But if Keesha would’ve asked for the moon, Bob would’ve went out and made a down payment on it. You loved your little girl well to the end and before this body today I applaud you.
Susan, day in and day out you and Keesha was a Tag Team that inspired all of us. We know Keesha was a great woman but I’m happy to say that Keesha had a great mama as well. Indeed no Mama should have to endure what you have endured. I know many a day you wanted to switch places with Keesha. But you stood with her and you stood next to her. And I applaud you that you served her well. And in so doing you showed us a sweet picture of the gospel.
I said earlier that we celebrate a hero today and that’s not an embellishment. Those who stand where I stand today sometimes feel the pressure to present average as above average, to make good into great. I don’t feel that pressure at all! This. Lady. Was. Special! And everyone of us knows it!
Keesha was a loving daughter. A strong sister. A faithful friend. A competent educator. A brilliant businesswoman. A lover of children both foreign and domestic. A cheerleader and encourager. A comedian. An adventurer. And last but not least, she was a Warrior Princess.
My First Time Meeting Keesha
I was trying to remember the first time I met Keesha and I suppose it was around May of 2015. I was moving back to Memphis—and my wife told me Keesha’s story and said, before we even moved back, “I think it’d be good for us to go see the Furniss’s and pray with Keesha.” We hopped in the car and went out to Bartlett. And to be honest after having heard all that Keesha was going through medically I pictured that I would see a face of sadness and reservation. I thought I might see someone who wasn’t gonna be all that talkative. I thought I might feel like I needed to kinda get in and get out with respect to what she was going through.
That’s not what I saw. We all fellowshipped for a good little while. We talked. And laughed. Then we laughed and talked. And we prayed. And I left that day thinking to myself, “Man! She was...She was Cooool!” Who Keesha was was not the person I was expecting to see considering what she was going through. And I’ve been trying to put the pieces together for what I saw in her that day that I saw in her up until the last day. And I drew four characteristics about Keesha that I bet all of you would resonate with. I saw spunk, resilience, fun and faithfulness!
Girl had spunk. Cancer. Who cares? Keesha lived her life with determination to win at life. Mission trips to Honduras. Refusal to give up on fighting her disease. Pink- Level Producer for her Younique Business—Incidentally Pink-LEVEL is kinda like a BIG DEAL! The Girl had spunk. We can learn from her today.
Keesha was resilient. I’m thinking about dozens and dozens of facebook posts where Keesha would bravely stare cancer in the face, give a detailed report on where her health was, then end that post with an expression of her courage and resilience in that she was going to move on in life as if nothing had happened. I can’t recall how many times I read, “Cancer stinks!” But it never soured her ability to charge ahead and live her life to the fullest anyways.
Keesha was FUN!!! She loved adventure. She loved travel. She loved Luke Bryan! She swam with dolphins and cheered on Steelers. She was head cheerleader at her own 5Ks and had fun selling products that aspired to make beautiful women even more beautiful. She knew how to laugh and she knew how to make people laugh. We were at the hospital a few days back. And of course Keesha has her gown on. You know how these hospital gowns are made and how they’re open in the back and they tall all our good news. Well I think Susan was helping her up to get a drink or whatever it was. And here Keesha is just as sick and frail as ever but that didn’t stop her from yelling out, “Mom be careful I don’t wanna moon the pastor!” She knew how to have fun no matter what.
Keesha was Faithful. I know she had her bouts with fear. And worry. And doubt like all of us do. But her faithfulness was the kind where these bouts with fear and anxiety were laced with a deeper and more abiding assurance that in all of this her Lord & Savior was using her life to tell a grander story about the way God can give us hope when everything else says we are hopeless; how God can grant peace when all around us is conflict, how God can be our warmth when all of life is cold.
She had spunk. She had resilience. She had fun. She was faithful. But She Also Had Pain
But there are some of you who want me to acknowledge a 5th characteristic. And that’s the acknowledgement that Keesha also dealt with pain. Ricky, I know what you’re saying about Keesha. She did have spunk. She was resilient. She was tons of fun. She was the most faithful person I’d ever seen. But there was pain. And I can’t understand it. I can’t wrap my mind around this narrative of this woman who gave so much but went through so much as well.
“When the pains of life darken my door, God what are you going to do about it?”
Jesus did this for Martha. He did this for Keesha. And He will do this for you.
The actual video of the Celebration Service:
If you've been in the customer service industry for as long as I have, you're probably asking yourself, "What's up with this artificial intelligence thing that I hear is going to change customer service forever?"
Whether it's Forbes talking the future of contact centers or 60 Minutes talking about the impact of human assisted cognitive learning, artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be everywhere.
Actually, AI is already affecting our everyday lives. The photo app on my phone and on my Macbook Pro uses AI to analyze and automatically tag faces to sort them into folders and albums. Tesla now has a has a self-driving car that can change lanes and decelerate based on traffic. And Siri seems to be taking over more and more of my daily life – reminding me to pick up my clothes a the cleaners about a mile before I pass the store.
At Bluewolf, we believe the real revolution begins as companies embrace the power of AI to help run Customer Service. And if you don't have AI on your radar, the time is now.
With high expectations for omnichannel experiences – providing a seamless, consistent experience across all channels – service organizations are finding it harder to keep up. Customers want to communicate with your brand via the messaging tools they use every day (Facebook Messenger, SMS/Text, WhatsApp, etc.). Companies – especially B2C – are already looking for ways to scale to customer expectations across these digital channels.
IBM Watson has taken AI technology several steps further, most recently with Watson Virtual Agent – helping reduce costs, make service agents more effective, and improve customer experiences – in real time. And Salesforce, the number one CRM Cloud company in the world, recently announced how it will continue to innovate to engage customers through AI within their Service Cloud application.
At Bluewolf, we believe AI will drive transformation discussions in contact centers for years to come. Let's explore two examples where AI is already helping companies (and self-service customers) succeed today:
With tools like Salesforce, we can already pull customer data forward to provide agents with the right information at the right time to have better conversations and share relevant solutions. But what if you could route calls based on multiple forms of disparate customer data? AI can already route calls based who the customer talked to last, the reasons for the contact, product ownership -- the list is endless. AI has the power to "think" through this mountain of data, including the skill level of the agents available, and send the call, email, text, or chat to the best agent, not just the one next available.
Automated Knowledge Management
Salesforce's Service Cloud application can suggest articles most likely to help an agent -- or a customer in a self-service situation. But what if you could do even more? Using machine learning, IBM Watson, and soon Salesforce Einstein, can take unlimited amounts of marketing and product data -- along with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and knowledge articles -- and not just analyze keywords, but learn from the materials and then actually think about how they work together. Now when a customer asks a question, the agent can "ask Watson" and get the answer in real-time and in natural language. Complex cases can be resolved in minutes -- no more manually wading through recommended articles. In some cases, the solution is best supplied person to person, but in many, the propensity for the AI system being right is so high, the answer can go directly to the customer via digital channels.
Gartner projects that by 2020 up to 85% of customer interactions will be managed without human involvement.
At Bluewolf, we have already begun working with our customers to use AI to improve their customer experience now. The question remains, "Are you ready for the reality of AI in your future?" We believe the answer must be a resounding, "Yes." Get started on your service AI journey now.
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