Tuesday, January 31, 2006

NetZero = The Devil

To keep expenses down until I can start making more money, as you know, I "re-aquainted" myself with NetZero...the ISP from HELL!!!!!

Last night, I was creating what I considered to be the most elegantly written, beautiful blog post ever. It took me 3 hours to compose.

But, because NetZero seems to enjoy cutting you off the internet for no reason randomly, when I went to publish, there was no connection and I lost everything, all approx. 1500 words of it in one fell swoop.

Now, because of the fact I can't trust this ISP, I'll compose my posts in WORD and paste them on the day of entry. Thanks Dennis Miller, you fucking asshole!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

FLASHBACK: Summer 1972

Aunt Ruth (my father's sister) who we refered to as simply "Ruth", or, as we pronounced it "ROOT", announced to us kids that we were going to go with her and Memere (her mother/our grandmother) on a trip to Lake George!

Lake George, New York, then as now, is a tourist attraction due to it's beautiful surroundings and, most likely, proximity between Montreal and New York City.

It sports great entertainment and lodging, but also, has it's share of campy "tourist trap" venues.

We went to this "themed" attraction called "Frontier Land". It was basically a replica of an Old West frontier fort (ala "F-Troop") and the adults bringing their kids were probably thrilled by it's policy of "immersion" of the "young ones" into the "atmosphere" of the Old West.

Before I knew it, I was being sworn into the "U.S. Army" with an official pledge and "realistic" looking parchment document which I had to sign.

Then I was ordered to march out into the coutyard of the fort with about 40 other kids and made to stand at attention for review from our commanding officer.

The uniformed officer barked terse commands and sounded like a movie-version drill sargeant. He demanded that some kids stand more upright for attention and others to spit out their gum.

Everything for the adults (and I guess most of the kids) was all done "tongue-in-cheek" and in simulation of an old west indoctrination into the frontier army to, no doubt, "fight injuns", but I was either too stupid or too sensitive to see it as "play".

I remember in my minds-eye back to this event that I really didn't "get it". I didn't see this as a simulation, but I actually thought that some how, I, at the age of 8, was actually going to be called up to fight (and likely die) in Vietnam.

Nowadays we have the V-Chip in Tvs to resticts what kids watch. But let me tell you from experience...the worst stuff for a kid to watch on TV won't be blocked by a V-Chip. It's the Nightly News.

In 1972, I watched Walter Cronkite diligently every evening...yes, even though I was only 8. I had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and the TV News was one of the quickest and most dependable sources of information. But, for a youngster without either the parental care and concern for what I was watching or the intellectual capacity to effectively reinterpret what I was witnessing, I was entirely left to my own assumptions.

And, though I "knew" that the Frontier Land attraction was a paid entertainment venue, I misinterpreted that acting and role-playing as "real", and that though touted as "entertainment", this attraction was in fact a drafting station to feed more young boys to the "Evil War Machine" that was Vietnam.

I broke down and cried.

The other boys were laughing at me and that made me even more embarrassed, so I cried harder.

When I was "dismissed" from the reviewing line, I went to Ruth, but she looked around frantically and scolded me sternly in a low voice, "You are such a baby....you're embarrassing me!!"

3-2-1-Blast Off!

(From 1/19/06)

Right about 2:30pm today, I just happened to be walking along the road on this beautiful, sunny day and noticed two guys pointing to the eastern sky. They were pointing to a somewhat familiar Central Florida sight...the plume trail of a massive space-bound rocket having just taken off from Cape Canaveral some 40 miles away.

I remember hearing on the news that there was to be a controversial lift off of an unmanned rocket carrying a space probe bound for the planet Pluto. The probe will arrive in Pluto’s orbit around summertime in the year 2015. The launch was controversial because the probe the rocket is carrying contains about 24 pounds of enriched plutonium. Needless to say, if the launch had "gone bad", our fair weather day here in Central Florida would turn out to be a rather sour one.

The news report had an official from NASA saying that we residents need not worry though, because the likelyhood of a catastrophy had immprobable odds...300 to 1.
Um, I’m sorry, but those are not really comforting odds!

I used to poo-poo the ragged hippie-like protesters that gather at the Cape to picket these launches, but after hearing those odds...er, maybe they have an issue to be concerned with.

Well, in any event the rocket seems to have made it to space without incident. Whew, no lethal cloud of radiation for us today! Gee...thanks!

It’s been a while since my last post...let’s catch up, shall we?

Completed training at the new job.
I don’t think it’s gonna work out.

We started with about 12 new hires in the class on Jan 4. The next day, a former online travel rep with years of experience in the biz, Delores, called out with a "bad cold". She never returned.

Another trainee who had worked for Microsoft in software sales quit in a huff on the second day after the review of the very austere attendance policies of the company. The manual states that if you are out without prior approval, like illness, you will have your pay docked at the rate of about $65 a day. If you have earned "paid time" and use it with approval, you in fact are not paid for that day off but just are not subject to the above mentioned docking of pay...this is what they call a "paid day off".

Next was Robert who was really kinda negative about several things anyway but really had enough when we were notified that all of our call-in leads have the option to book on the company’s website on their own and get best available discounts that way...so, call-ins may call to get details, and even a competitive quote from one of us, yet turn around and use the web to self-book at the same or potentially even deeper discounts to them.

Eugene never came back after 3 days because of "family issues".

M.J. (another guy named Michael who like me had to "change his name" because there was already another Michael in the office...I had to go by my middle name, Paul) has been out 3 days due to "illness". M.J. is gone.

Shakarta was out 1 day due to illness.

Dave, one of the most expressive of the bunch with years of insurance sales experience and personal cruise experience, as well as having his wife working in the cruise sales field for one of the many competitors, quit in mid-shift on Tuesday because of the lack of competent management and poor training.

I have been out "sick" for 2 days and I think I may end up quitting as well. I have never been so lost in a job before. I would state that it was my fault if it were lack of experience but my misgivings and insecurites lie not with the cruise industry so much (though it is very confusing and filled with exceptions to every rule) but with the way this small company works.

The tiny guaranteed pay of $7.50, which even by my best scenario estimates would take an unweildy number of bookings to surpass in commissions. My estimate (which is hard to do because of the funny math they use to calculate commission structure) is an average of 1% commission per booking value. This is because the company is one of these heavy discounters that advertises on all the "cheapskate" web sites.

Here’s a rundown of the "red flags" I’ve either been ignoring or nullifying by my "pie-in-the-sky" wishes:

1. The original add on Monster.com said "$12.50/hr. average commission". My guesstimate is that may be accurate, but, the fact of the matter is this office is only half full (if I were pessimistic like Robert, I would say "half empty"). From my shadowing veteran reps, reading between the lines in the company procedures policy on minimum # bookings and minimum company commission booked per month and anaylizing the management philosophy and work atmosphere...firings are frequent. These "fodder" employees’ income, or lack thereof, are likely not figured into the "average rep pay" result.

2. When I went for my interview and "testing" with Heather, an outside staffing agency rep hired by the company to do their recruiting, I only saw 2 other applicants on either day and both were in the training class. Also, there were only about 4 completed packets on her "desk" after the testing which I believe she had on one day for all hired trainees. Later, during the "luncheon orientation" she had scheduled, she mentioned that over 400 people were interviewed for the positions and we 12 were the "best of the bunch".

3. While most of the class went out for a smoke break on the first training day (virtually the whole class smoked!), Shakarta and I struck up a conversation. She had worked the Dell account at the "Big C" across the highway (yeah I got news about them too later). She mentioned that about 3 months earlier she had applied at this company and was interviewed by Todd, one of the managers and the owner’s son. (yeah, this is another "family" run company like U.S. Grants. Mom Pat is the "CEO", Dad Mike is the "CFO", Daughter Tiffany (Carol) is the "VP of Mktg", and Son Todd is probably another "VP"...don’t know, didn’t see him much...It’s kinda like my Junior Achievement days where kids get to play "business magnate" and give themselves impressive titles)
Anyway, this quirky issue of "family ties" aside, let me get back to Shakarta’s story:
After the interview with Todd, she was told she would hear from him if she was hired. He never called her so she called in and spoke with him and he denied that he had ever interviewed her. Very weird.

4. Tifni, the office manager was our trainer but she relied almost entirely on lectures and though she pointed out on a couple occassions that she had an itinerary of her planned training, she had poor control of the class and let many "boisterous" trainees like Robert and Dave chew up valuble time with stupid questions and negativizims. She also left some of the most important job aspects like the computer systems, phone system and crusieline contact info virtually uncovered while focusing on the "painting the picture" crap as if we were new to sales. She knew we were seasoned salespersons but since most of us had experience outside of the cruise industry, I think she felt it was nessessary to emphasise the atmospheric qualities of cruising in much detail to us. She went on at legnth about the sizes of the ships, the decor, the dining options, the nuances of the various cabin sizes...yes, this is good info, but most of the callers are experienced cruisers...they already know first-hand about this stuff...we needed to know how to price, how to effectively upsell without jinxing the sale, how to close effectively in this venue...each of us were closers, but how you close in one field may be, and usually is, very different from how you close in another.
Also, even though she said she had conducted training classes of around this size before, she was very unprepared. She had only a few handouts and other multi-media such as overheads and LCD projectors but she was plagued by chaos. Copies of handouts were made and compiled on the fly (yet we all were hired a month ago...didn’t she prepare in advance of day one?), overhead transparencies were HANDWRITTEN! I mean, who does this anymore? Overhead transparency printouts via tools like PowerPoint or Publisher are the de facto standard if you are still doing overheads which itself is a bit dated in the realm of presentation media. (At least she used dry erase markers on the transparencies rather than the down right ancient wax pencils!)
One of the nights for 2 hours before we were scheduled to leave she just popped a promotional DVD from Celebrity in the laptop and played it thru the projector (a brand-new projector CFO Mike had to buy since the old one "just didn’t work" as Tifni discovered on day 1). The DVD was very boring and most of it was produced in 1996...ancient in light of the quick-growing, ever-changing cruise industry.

5. Tifni was supposed to go over the competition in training but I had to check it out on my own once at my desk. Each site, including our company, was all about the price! All that shit about the "feel" and "experience" of cruising...that’s not the reason our potential customers call in...they are calling in for the hook up.
Listening to some of the veterans and taking a few calls myself confirmed my assumption...they want as close to free as possible. Oh shades of greedy Cingular customers wanting free RAZRs!
I was listening to the veterans having to play haggling games and arguing with the callers over price...on virtually every call! Several times they had to raise their voice and "hard sell" the callers. Yet for their "cash cows", the cruisers who take 30 night cruises on fucking Cunard for $15-20K each, they were all kiss ass, practically fawning over them! (And as new reps, we couldn’t even hope to get access to these clients since we were restricted to only the Carribean and only the big 6 lines)

6. Let me tell you about Carol (the above mentioned Tiffany (Carol)...she has to go by Carol for the same reason I had to go by Paul...someone else in the office was already using "Tiffany" but she spelled it "Tifni", the office manager/trainer.
Carol, as you know, is the daughter of the owner Pat. Carol, though originally from Kentucky, rattles through speech as if she were on crystal meth. I mean, I come from up north and yes, northerners do tend to speak faster than southerners...but not at the breakneak speed Carol goes! She even "apologized" to us several times as she was giving her little "sales techniques training" to us and said she would try to speak slower...but instead it seemed she sped up! Several people complained repeatedly about this to her but she just glibbly stated that she "lived in Cincinatti" for a few years and that’s where she picked up the fast talking habit "cause that’s how they talk there". Also, she constantly overused and frequently misused the word "placate".
But her "demon bitch" attitude really showed it’s faced when Dave, a redneck, straight-shootin’, tongue-in-cheek joker quipped to her when she had paused for a second in her machine gun rattling roleplay of a successful closing scenario on a big commission deal: "You got one thing wrong though...". Carol’s eyes widened and neck craned stiffly in a classic "Oh no you didn’t!" glare. Carol chirped, "And what’s that?" Dave said, smiling, "You forgot to tell them My name and My extention [for future business]." Carol, totally not getting the joke said defensively, "I DID tell them my name." Dave now grinning, as all of us were since we knew what he was saying, tried to clarify, "But you said Carol, it should be Dave." Carol, even more perplexed and starting to blush a bit, likely due to frustration, answered, "...But my name is Carol.", staring at Dave as if he were a moron. By now we were all chuckling as Dave explained it out for her that since this client was so lucrative that future referrals should be directed to him.

7. Even the veteran reps were cowed, humorless and a bit "off center". One guy Eric, a top seller and 10 year veteran was worried that he would miss-out on his "lunch" at 6:00 if he didn’t take it at that time: very call center like.
Marcia, another seasoned and top dog veteran was explaining a few things to me "off line" (that is "off the phones") and Carol came by and quipped: "Is everything okay Marcia?", in a very MANAGERIAL TONE. Okay, I get it....stay on the phones as much as humanly possible...or else!

I'm Baaaakkkk!!!!

I feel like it has been years since my last post. Let me tell you what's going on!

As I promised I have been keeping up my blog offline for the eventual "return" to the internet...estimated around mid to late February.

Well, a couple days ago....the phone rang.

Not Ric's cell phone or my cell phone....the landline phone!

Why was it ringing?...Ric canceled it in December!

Well, billed or not, we have an open landline. So today I signed up for a free trial from Net Zero, so it cost me nothing to get back online!!

The next post is the one I did a few days ago offline.

I don't refute what I wrote but...long story short...I think I may stay with them for now.

I found out BTW, that if I went back to the "Big C" in May when I am eligible (don't ask), I will be making a dollar more per hour! Woo Hoo!!

Anyway, Dear Reader, glad to be back and just in case the phone line connection is some kinda mistake...I'll try to post more frequently incase I get "disconnected".