When Sue Cunningham's father passed away in December 2014, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, Sue inherited more than a business—she inherited her father's leadership role in the family answering service, Cunningham Communications.
"My dad always said he wanted me to buy and take over the business, and I always said: No, no, no. I want to do my own thing. So I did. But then I came back to doing what I really loved."
Cunningham Communications was founded in 1989 when Sue's father, Dick Cunningham, bought a small daytime service that operated from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. When he took on one client, a doctor's office that required phone service throughout the night hours, he turned Cunningham Communications into a 24/7-hour business. The company hasn't stopped taking calls since—not even when it moved locations.
Originally located in a building on the corner of Leonard and Fuller, Cunningham Communications moved to its current Michigan Street location in 1998. Moving the phone lines was a tedious process, but they never lost a call. Within moments, the old building stopped and the new building started receiving calls. Cunningham Communications is open around the clock, 365 days a year. It serves close to 500 clients nationwide, with most located in West Michigan. Cunningham Communications makes the best first impression possible for their clients by offering a kind and knowledgeable voice to answer calls and provide personal assistance no matter the time of day.
Customer service is a lost art, Sue believes, and statistics from Forbes reflect her conviction: 80 percent of callers will hang up if they hear an automated voice messaging system or a voicemail, instead of a live person answering the phone. "You don't want to leave a voicemail and hope that someone gets back to you. You want to make sure your problem is resolved," said Sue. "To have a live person on the other end, there's value in that."
Sue graduated from Aquinas College with a degree in business administration. During college, she worked for her father in the call center. Upon graduating, she spent a couple of years working for Amway and then Steelcase; neither, however, felt like home.
"I really enjoyed the business," Sue said. "So I talked to my dad, and he brought me back on staff. I was his sidekick for awhile—there's really no better way to put it."
Sue worked alongside her father for 11 years, helping out with business administration and other tasks. When her father was diagnosed with cancer in April 2014 and passed away in December, Sue stepped in. Today, she works with her husband, Paul, and 18 other employees, including Mary, the operations manager, who worked with Sue's father before he purchased Cunningham Communications and moved into the new role from the beginning. They hope to grow the company by 50 percent in five years.
"It's a tough task," said Sue, "but it's exciting to see where we can grow."
In the photo: Sue with her parents, Dick and Del Cunnigham. Sue's father always taught her not to go home until she's returned all her calls. Sue's mother, who was also an active player in the family business, taught Sue to never take anybody for granted.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman magazine.