Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Picture May Be Worth A Thousand Words, But Seven Pictures Will Cost You 80 Bucks

I've dished out some praise to a few organizations for superior customer service in this blog, including Bonfils Blood Center, AMC Theatres and The Melting Pot. Well, it's time to write about a company on the opposite end of the service spectrum. And I'm in just the right mood to do it; I fell mountain biking this afternoon and hurt my wrist, which I can still barely bend and will probably have to get checked out by my doctor tomorrow. So I'm already tired, grouchy and uncomfortable, and typing this with one hand isn't helping.

The company in question is Lifetouch National School Studios. They took Zak and Taryn's school pictures. I'd actually forgotten they'd gotten their pictures taken until they came home with three fat envelopes last week. Each contained 10 8" x 10" photo sheets in various combinations -- two 8" x 5", four 5" x 4", eight wallet-size, and so on. Lifetouch took each of their pictures separately and then one of the two of them together, hence the three envelopes.

I didn't remember ordering that many prints, which was precisely the case. We didn't -- they send them to you and you have to send back the ones you don't want and pay for the ones you keep. This seems to have very little to do with parental convenience and everything to do with hoping people will be unable to bear the thought of discarding images of their darling offspring and just buy them all. Didn't we all eventually drop out of BMG and Columbia House for having to constantly opt out of receiving CDs instead of being able to just opt in for things we wanted?

Lifetouch does at least understand volume pricing. The more prints you order, the cheaper they are per print. At least, that applies for prints within the same package. You only get a price break on prints in different packages if you buy the COMPLETE package. We wanted to buy four prints from one set, two from another and one from another. But we couldn't get them at the seven-print price. We had to pay the four-print price plus the two-print price plus the one-print price, which ended up being a difference of more than 20 dollars.

Then when it came time to pay, the instructions on the payment envelope made it very clear that "a service fee may be charged for any returned checks." But they didn't say who the check should be made out to, nor did the instructions on the price list. We finally found it on the other side of the payment envelope by the credit card info. Way to hide the most relevant info in favor of threatening people with additional fees on their already overpriced pictures.

So in the end we spent $80.95 on seven prints through a process clearly built to be as benefical as possible for Lifetouch and maximize their revenues as opposed to being convenient for the end customer. Then again, why should Lifetouch care? It's not like parents choose who takes their kids' school pictures. As long as they provide good deals to the schools, their business will probably continue to do fine.

They didn't count on an annoyed blogger with a painful wrist injury. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: I've heard it said that having a problem with a company can be good, because it provides the company the chance to really prove their worth. On that note, I've had a fairly productive e-mail dialogue with Lifetouch Customer Service over the past few days. Here's the last message I received from them on July 2:

"The pricing for the seven sheets you want to purchase would be according to the price insert for seven sheets. You will want to total the amount of sheets you are purchasing regardless of which package they are from. The buy one complete package of portraits for full price and purchase the second complete package of portraits for half price only applies to Complete Packages.(example: Your packages consist of 10 sheets....your first set of 10 sheets will be full price....your second set of 10 sheets would be half price). You may mix match to make a complete package of portraits and you may still mix and match if you only want seven sheets.

"The Family Approval program is used so parents don't have to pay for portraits up front(no obligation to purchase), every child is photographed, and you don't have to wait for an extended amount of time for return of your portraits.

"Portraits that are not purchased are returned to Lifetouch. They are then shredded/destroyed (for safety) and then recycled.

"Thank you for you suggestions. I will definitely pass them along. We are always trying to find ways to better serve our customers.

"I apologize for the confusion. I hope I have been able to clarify and not cause more confusion. Have a great day!"

"If you need further assistance or have additional questions please feel free to contact me. It has been a pleasure assisting you."

It seems they may be more guilty of confusing materials than malicious intent. And whether you agree with their practice of having parents "opt out" of prints or not, at least their defense of it focuses on benefits to the customer rather than to the company. So thumbs-up to Lifetouch for their response to this point. I'll let you know if they refund my $21 or not.

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