/ People

We’re in a people business in more ways than one.

Know what an earworm is? According to Wikipedia, an earworm is a catchy and/or memorable piece of music or saying that continuously occupies a person’s mind even after it is no longer being played or spoken about. That pretty much describes my earworm right now—a 1978 song called “Reminiscing” by Australian soft rockers Little River Band.

The song is basically a nostalgic, if not romantic, look back at the era of big bands like the Glenn Miller Band and songwriters like Cole Porter. It’s a bit of a sappy love song—par for the course for a soft rock band—with a catchy melody line that can really get inside your head. “Reminiscing” remains the band’s greatest success in the United States, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 10 on the Easy Listening Chart.

I think the song has been stuck in my head because reminiscing is what I’ve been doing a lot of lately. As a rule, I try not to spend too much time looking backward; instead, focusing on the future and what may lie ahead. From the time I was a boy, my father made sure I understood the futility of “shoulda, coulda, woulda,” so I try not to waste too much time thinking about the past. But recently I find myself increasingly breaking my own rule.

I was shaken up this past January, as was everyone at Contact Center Pipeline, by the unexpected passing of Frank Priola. Frank was the magazine’s advertising sales manager and had been with Contact Center Pipeline since before its first publication. Frank started work with the magazine in late 2008, before the first issue was published in March 2009.

“A real testament to Frank’s sales professionalism was the fact that he was able to sell the magazine to advertisers sight-unseen, while we were still developing the product,” said Susan Hash, Contact Center Pipeline editor. “I think that had to do with his personality and belief in maintaining intimate, one-to-one relationships with business colleagues. The way Frank conducted business might be considered ‘old school’ these days, but people seemed to appreciate it. I was always amazed by how many personal details about his clients that Frank kept in his head.”

I always considered Frank to be the consummate Southern gentleman. He was always polite and made everyone he met feel at ease. I always looked forward to seeing him at industry events and chatting with him about the industry and, more importantly, about our lives.

One of my favorite memories of Frank was when we met at the 2018 Verint Engage customer conference in Dallas. Prior to my scheduled conference session, I had my usual meeting with Frank, and when it was getting close to the time I had to be in the room for my session, Frank walked to the room with me. I was speaking in a session with Verint’s Andrew Studee called, “The Contact Center of the Future Reimagined: From Possibilities to Realities.” It was a follow-up in a series that Andrew and I began in 2016 with an Engage session futuristically titled, “Contact Center 2020.” The sessions had proven to be popular Engage presentations over the previous couple of years, and when Frank and I walked into the conference room prior to the session, it was already clear the 2018 version of the presentation was going to be pretty popular, too.

We were set up in a room that held maybe 100 people, and the seats were already mostly taken. Frank immediately went and found a hotel employee, who rounded up enough chairs to set up four more rows. When the chairs got to the room, Frank didn’t hesitate to pitch in and help. That’s him in the green jacket, setting up and organizing the chairs.

Frank never hesitated to pitch in and help.

While we still didn’t end up having enough chairs for everyone, simply because there just wasn’t enough room, below is the “after” picture of Andrew and I during our session. For the 2019 Engage session, we got a much bigger room.

After, four more rows with all seats taken.

I’ll miss seeing Frank at customer conferences and other industry events. Reminiscing about him also got me reminiscing about live industry meetings and how much I miss them. I don’t really miss trade shows anymore and haven’t attended one for years, but I sure miss mingling with the attendees at the various customer conferences I used to look forward to each year.

As it was with Frank, there are lots of people that I only get to see and catch up with at customer conferences, like Susanne Pitts at Verint Engage conferences. Susanne and I exchange emails several times a year, always about something I’ve written or something she’s editing. But at Engage, we get to meet face-to-face and, besides industry talk, we get to talk about music, who we’ve seen in concert since our last meeting, interesting experiences of the last year, and so on. You know—the important stuff.

Ryan Hollenbeck is the Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Verint, which makes him a pretty big deal. But he has never failed to spend casual time with me at Engage every year. Of course, we talk business, but the conversation invariably turns to family and the other more important aspects of life. Ryan and I have children about the same age and have had similar life experiences, so we never lack for things to talk about. It also helps that I’ve known Ryan for over 20 years now.

There are also people I look forward to seeing at other industry events, like NICE Director of Global Communications Chris Irwin-Dudek. Last time I saw Chris at NICE Interactions 2019, we managed to find a friendly bar for a cocktail or two and after the obligatory business talk, spent the rest of the time talking about family. Chris and I are both fathers to daughters, although mine are well into adulthood and Chris is about to face the terror of the teenage years with his daughter. Despite the age differences of our daughters, I still offered Chris my wedding expense spreadsheets for his future use!

One of the best customer conferences I’ve ever attended was Calabrio C3 in 2018. The conference was in Nashville, and Calabrio arranged to have a trio of Nashville singer/songwriters perform for attendees at the close of the keynote session. One of the performers, Luke Laird, went on to win a Grammy Award later that year. How do you virtualize an experience like that?

I’ll also never forget the 2019 Calabrio C3, which was held in San Antonio. My fondest memory is of sitting down with Calabrio CEO Tom Goodmanson and debating the merits of exotic skin versus leather cowboy boots. You just can’t do that on a Zoom call!

When you get right down to it, we’re in a people business in more ways than one. Sure, there’s the customer service aspect of it, but what makes this industry special are the relationships that are built to last, even through this miserable pandemic. I look forward to the day we can all get together again but, in the meantime, I guess we’ll keep singing those lyrics from “Reminiscing”:

Older times we’re missing

Spending the hours reminiscing.


Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!


Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford served as Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specialized in contact centers & customer service, from 1999-2022.
Twitter: @PaulStockford

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