Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some of it serious, some not

Another varied post coming up, folks.  Stay with me, and I'll try to justify your patience.

Just returned from another whirlwind business trip of two days.  I like the 'quick trip' a lot of the time, but it seems you just arrive in a location and all of a sudden you're packing to leave.  Which is the whole point, I suppose, but it's a little hard on the nerves sometimes.  This week's destination was Richmond, Virginia, where I interviewed a candidate for an expansion sales position on Tuesday and then met with our incumbent rep in that market yesterday morning.  I arrived at the Courtyard Marriott near the Richmond airport (since I was only having meetings that location made sense) and upon arrival was told by one of the front desk agents that I had been upgraded.  Now, I travel enough to know intuitively what that means regarding flights (moving from coach to first class, or baggage to coach) but I'm less experienced with upgrades within the hotel environment.  Gal said that I'd really like it, this was a really nice room.  She wasn't kidding.  I got a suite, with a living room, wet bar, fridge and microwave for the cost of my scheduled room.  Nice.  About the only complaint I had was that the air conditioners in that space (one in the living room, another in the bedroom area) may have been the loudest in the history of hotels.  Of course, that drowned out the sound of planes taking off and landing, so there's that.

And I experienced something else unique on this trip.  I had the same flight attendant on both directions of my trip.  Apparently this Comair (Delta Connection) attendant flies the Cincinnati-to-Richmond-and-back loop frequently.  We had a good laugh about the coincidence.  I didn't notice if the pilots were the same, only that there were two present for each flight.

While I was sitting in the airport waiting to fly home, I saw on an airport television that President Obama announced that he was releasing his "long form" birth certificate, which should once and for all quell all of the ugly claims that he is "ineligible" to be President.  And near the end of the whole "birther" cycle Donald Trump, who sounds nearly as ridiculous as he looks, announced he's looking into the President's academic history, saying "he understood" that the President was not a good student, yet gained entry into Columbia and Harvard Law.  Others are now clamoring for the President to release his grade transcripts.

My God.  This is what it's come to?  Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck all claim something to be so, and the entire national media gloms onto the story as though it's all verified fact?  Tea Partiers want to "take back our country."  From whom?

As the President himself said yesterday, "We don't have time for this kind of silliness."  Thank you.  He also said that he "had more important stuff to do."  Again, thank you.  Someone needs to lay this to rest, but I have a sinking feeling that it will keep on and keep on.

If you agree that this is all as deplorable as I feel that it is, check out Goldie Taylor's commentary from yesterday on theGrio.com.  It's a good read, I promise, and she specifically states what many (including me) have thought all along.

OK, I feel better now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The big easy

Just got back from a quick trip to New Orleans, Louisiana last night.  I was there for exactly 24 hours, and had the opportunity to visit and stay in the French Quarter for the first time in about fifteen years.  Obviously, a lot has happened since then, namely Hurricane Katrina and the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

When I arrived Tuesday evening the airport was busy.  By the way, how cool is it that the airport in New Orleans is officially named "Louis Armstrong Airport?"  Shuttles to the business district and the Quarter were nearly full, but I scored the last seat on one and off I went.

My last visit to the area was about three years ago, and I stayed in the suburbs to visit a client on the north short of Lake Ponchartrain, so I hadn't ventured into the heart of N'awlins recently.  Was immediately struck by how bumpy and uneven the roads seemed.  Could this have been an aftereffect of all of the hurricanes and bad weather that struck the area since my last visit?  Reminded me more of where I live, pothole central, than somewhere in the southern US.

I was pleased to get a good look at one of New Orleans' famous cemeteries, albeit as we hurtled by in the shuttle bus.  No underground burials there because the whole area's technically below sea level, so there are crypts above ground of various levels of ornation.  Vast, and quite unique.

I knew we were approaching what the locals call the business district when I saw the Louisiana Superdome, which was nearly destroyed first by Katrina and later by the refugees who went there when there was nowhere else to go.  It looked great.  I've never been in that building, and obviously there was still work being done on it, but nice to see such a visible symbol that things are moving back to normal there.

Passed by the Convention Center, which was another site of despair and confusion during the height of Katrina; it appeared to have been fully restored to full functionality.

My colleagues and I stayed at the Hotel Monteleone, in the French Quarter and right in the heart of things.  Nice, traditional room, free wi-fi (always a plus) and a decent meeting room.  We visited the Bourbon House (one of numerous establishments owned and operated by the Brennan family) for dinner and it was excellent in all respects.  And stopped in Mr. B's Bistro, across from the Monteleone, for lunch yesterday and it was equally good!

I could go on and on about what (and how much) we ate but suffice it to say that all appears well in the culinary world in New Orleans.  And I had oysters and shrimp, so I have to believe that all is well in the fishing industry, too.

Bumpy ride back to the airport (where, incidentally, they have the least comfortable gate area seating of any airport I have visited) and then home.  Quick trip, fun to see some of the folks who were present, and certainly enjoyed some good food and atmosphere.

Not sure when I'll go back.  But I would like to.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Home work

Have I mentioned in this space that I work from a home-based office?

I do so now because I happened upon a discussion board online yesterday debating the pros and cons of doing so, and since I've been doing this for nearly eight years, I'll provide my own mini pro-and-con treatise on this subject.

First, and foremost, when I joined my current company, I was told that this was the way things were done unless one lived relatively close to a company office.  So, for me, there was really no choice.  I would be supplied with a cellphone, a computer and a fax machine/printer combination, as well as Internet connectivity (first from a dial-up connection and later from a cable Internet account).  I was lucky in that I had spent the prior three and a half months doing some consulting work from a home-based office as well, so I was already used to the whole scenario.

My first day on the job was probably the most awkward, as I started on a Monday in mid-October 2003.  I arose, took a shower and sat down at my desk.  And had absolutely nothing to do, but to wait for my new boss to call me and advise on what he wanted me to do.  Possibly most amazing was that he didn't really have anything in mind until he scheduled a meeting to which we'd both travel the following week.

This work at home stuff is going to be pretty good, I thought to myself.

As I got further into the routine of walking from the bedroom to the office (which would be our dining room otherwise), it became just that--a routine.  And that's not a bad thing, but sometimes it's easy to develop bad habits.  The kitchen is close by, so that's not always a good thing.  But the treadmill is just upstairs, so that kind of balances it out.  And with my work environment being so convenient, it's easy to return to the office for "a few minutes" after dinner or on the weekend just to "clean up a few things," as I'm apparently fond of saying.

So here are the pros and cons, as promised:

PRO

Flexibility of scheduling
No dress code
Ability to multitask with personal tasks mixed with work duties
Computer equipment and Internet connection provided by company

CON

Must be self-reliant at just about all times
Little face-to-face contact with colleagues
Ability to work too much is a temptation
Distractions (TV, videos, kitchen) are readily at hand

With all of that said, I'd say that working at home is probably worth an extra $15K to me annually, meaning that if I were offered a similar position that required me to report to an office for regular hours, I'd probably need an extra $15K to make it worthwhile.

After this long, I am used to the pros and cons, so there really aren't any surprises left.  And I suppose that working at home is something of a payoff for the amount of traveling that my job requires me to do, so there's that.

So, if you happen to drive by my house on a warm spring day and see a guy mowing his lawn in what appears to be a pretty big hurry, that'd be me, trying to use my lunch break constructively!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Survey says.........

Have you noticed how frequently we as consumers are now being asked to complete surveys of various types to gauge our satisfaction with a product, service or process?

I don't know about you, but I feel that I'm being inundated by them lately.  For example, I went to Walt Disney World for a work function a couple of weeks ago, and received a total of three surveys relative to that excursion--two from Delta Airlines (one for my outbound flight and the other for the return trip) and one from Disney regarding my stay on their property.  And I often appreciate the chance to complete these forms, as I know from my own experience in working with customers that it's sometimes the best way to get someone's attention if there's been a problem or issue.

But one wonders where all of this data that's being collected is going, and what's being done with it?  After all, if you continually ask your customers what they'd like to see improved about your service, and nothing ever improves, I mean, come on, what's the point?

By far, my favorite surveys are the ones that GIVE you something to thank you for completing it.  My wife and I eat occasionally at a certain restaurant, and for the longest time on EVERY receipt was an invitation to complete a survey about our dining experience.  At the end of the survey you'd receive a code and if you turned in the receipt with a valid code, you'd receive a $5 credit on your next bill at that restaurant.  Needless to say, we visited there a little more frequently when that promotion existed, but, now that it's not going on any longer, our visits are less frequent.

My least favorite offshoots of these surveys are when you get a cloying E-mail from someone who's responsible for "customer satisfaction" and the like, practically begging you to accept an apology for something that your completed survey indicates did or didn't happen.  Rarely is it accompanied by anything other than these profuse apologies, which are fine, I guess, but a little uncomfortable.  I recently completed one for a hotel stay and mentioned that I was disappointed with the food choices available in the concierge lounge (if you're unfamiliar, it's a lounge available to rewards members for breakfast and happy hour, and I usually go for breakfast, since the food is complimentary).  Now, remember, I'm making a small complaint about a free breakfast where I didn't have as much menu variety as I would have liked, and I received an e-mail nine paragraphs in length, in which some corporate something-or-other fell on his sword again and again.  Truth is, I'll go back to that hotel, because it's well located and it's part of my preferred hotel rewards program.  But he didn't know that, so he felt compelled to beg me for another chance.

It's sometimes hard not to use these survey opportunities not to simply trash merchants and service providers for fun, but if you take them seriously, hopefully the merchants will, too.

So the next time you're asked to complete a survey, spend the five minutes and give them your honest opinion.  Who knows, they might actually listen!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

There and back again

Just returned late Friday night from a company event at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida (and, no, I didn't see Mickey or his pals at all, except on television screens), and now I'm getting set to head out to Hot Springs, Arkansas for an industry conference.  Sort of made me think about travel, one of my favorite love-to-hate subjects, and some recent observations.

ORLANDO'S AIRPORT IS A LOT LIKE THE ONE IN LAS VEGAS.  No, it's not laid out the same (it's actually very similar to the major airport in Tampa, Florida, which makes me wonder if they weren't designed by the same architect), but it's the spectrum of humanity you see in a major tourist destination.  When I was going through security on Friday for my flight home, I noticed a great many passports out for the TSA agents to review, which quite often implies folks from other countries.  And that's a great boon to the economy of central Florida, no doubt.  But it does present some challenges, namely that some travelers may not be English-speaking, but the ticket counter agents, airline gate agents, cab and bus drivers ARE.  Looked like everyone got where they were going but not without a hiccup or two.

And folks continue to amaze me with what they are willing to wear out into public when they fly, whether they're Americans or otherwise.  The gal next to me in the security lines (they run several kind of parallel in Orlando's airport) was an attractive 30-ish woman, blonde, average height and wearing a black unitard with a pink hoody tied around her waist and cowboy boots.  I'm very happily married, but when a woman is dressed in that way, it's hard NOT to notice.  Also saw a litany of men wearing shorts with dark socks and dress shoes, which is common in touristy places, obviously.

DISNEY DOES IT RIGHT.  Our event was on the grounds at Walt Disney World, and we stayed at the Yacht Club Hotel and had our meetings in the adjacent conference center.  Rooms were nicely appointed, with thoughtful touches like a double sink outside of the room containing the tub/shower and toilet.  That would make it much easier for a couple or a family to get ready for the day at the same time. Everyone is unfailingly friendly.  There's a travel method called Disney's Magical Express wherein you tag your bag with their special marker, and they, not you, retrieve it from baggage claim and deliver it right to your room.  They also provide you with bus service to and from the airport, and shuttles run from the hotels to all of the major attractions.  I even found my boarding pass slid under my door on my last day there, which is quite a testament to their attention to detail in such a large hotel.  Most impressive.  The food was all quite good, too, a notable step up from the usual hotel food.  It was particularly nice that I wasn't paying for this out of my own pocket, but can see the advantage of making the investment to stay on the grounds of the resort (and it's no longer a park, but a RESORT).

IT'S HARD TO FLY THIS TIME OF YEAR AND ALWAYS BE ON TIME.  My outbound flight from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport last Wednesday was delayed because we had to de-ice.  Seems odd to have to do that the next-to-last day of March, but we did.  And we were delayed leaving Orlando because of weather in the northeastern US, where the plane had been prior to arriving in Orlando.  My sales territory is the southeast, which means that severe thunderstorms and potential tornadoes are a constant threat during this time of the year.  Hoping for better things today and Thursday, my travel days.

TRAVELING LIGHT IS NICE.  Now that I have my iPad and have hot-rodded it with some software of various types, I don't have to take my laptop with me quite so often.  I like that, as it saves wear and tear on both me and my beloved Macbook Pro.  The less I have to punish that machine, the longer it will serve me well, I think.

WHERE TO EAT IS THE PRIMARY PREOCCUPATION OF THE BUSINESS TRAVELER.  I was comparing notes with some folks last week and we agreed that where to eat is important.  Hotels are often similar, if not identical, from market to market, but eating can present some challenges if you're not attentive.  For example, tonight I'll accompany one of my sales reps to a family-run restaurant in Hot Springs that he took me to last year.  Simple, tasty food, served in good portions with attentive service (waitresses who call you "hon" and the like) always beats something really pretentious, in my book.

And, finally,

THANK YOU, DELTA, FOR THE OCCASIONAL UPGRADE.  I'm still a Gold Medallion SkyMiles member, so I am fortunate enough to receive an upgrade to first class much of the time, at least on flights where there is a first class section.  Today's flight from Atlanta to Little Rock is one of those flights, so I'll be just a touch more comfortable and less worn out when I arrive.

And that, friends, is a good thing.

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