Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Customer Disservice

Some months ago, my mom pointed out the darling family portraits she was exhibiting of my brother and his wife, and my stepbrother and his family.

"I just need one of you guys, and then I'll be set."

"Ok, I'll try to get us together and break out the tripod."

"No, I want a REAL family portrait. Taken at a studio."

To her, "studio" means Sears Torture, er, Portrait Studio, which I long since abandoned. I grimaced a bit, and put it out of my mind.

Some months later, it was still in her mind, and she mentioned it again. Again I requested to do it myself, and again she declined. Then I pleaded. Pointed out that dragging my three darlings into a germ-infested waiting room to catch every virus wiped on the chairs and toy table wasn't high on my wish-list. That trying to get anyone to smile - much less me - after hours of waiting in uncomfortable clothes, getting hungry, tired, cranky was the kind of misery I should have the freedom to avoid as an American citizen. To no avail. Perhaps it was my less-than-motivation that made her offer to pay for the photos (I don't think she paid for my brother's, but she probably did for my stepbrother). Even that wasn't enough to get me on the phone to book an appointment, but I became obligated, nonetheless. Finally, a couple months later, she 'reminded' me again, about the time I got some sales-pitch postcard in the mail from Sears.

I bit the bullet and called their 1-888-Make-An-Appointment-With-A-Less-Than-Congenial-Employee number, and asked for the earliest available appointment the following Saturday. She gave me 10:30 which I accepted, and we hung up. I got to thinking about early December Saturdays at the mall, and at the portrait place specifically... and decided I might need a better plan. I called the local Sears and got the direct line to the portrait studio where I explained I'd just made an appointment, but was considering making another, so as to get the "kids only" photos out of the way. She said they weren't usually busy at all on weekdays, so I booked an additional appointment for the following afternoon (a Tuesday). I asked about how their Saturday mornings usually went, whether to expect a long wait or not. She asked when my appointment was, and then pointed out that this studio would be open at 9 that morning, and they had a spot at 9:30 if I liked. I liked, so I switched to 9:30.

My Tuesday appointment went fairly well, though combining a photo shoot with other errands like grocery shopping and a visit to the dentist wasn't the brightest thing I've done.

Come Saturday morning I am, of course, a mad woman, trying to get three children dressed and brushed and in the car (not to mention Hubby and his less-than-enthusiastic involvement) -- PLUS I had to have my hair down and makeup on (requirements of the Check Writer). We slipped into the parking lot at exactly 9:30 and I bailed out of the car to let them know we had arrived, and not to talk any walk-ins ahead of us.. please?

The automatic sliding doors didn't open for me, however, and I stood there for a moment, perplexed, before an employee pried them open for me and some others who had walked up to the door. I hurried through the next set of doors and turned into the portrait studio... which was empty, dark, and not at all bustling like I expected. I stood another moment, perplexed again, and began to wander around. On the counter was a printout of the day's appointments, beginning with a 9:00 booking. Worse, we were on the list, but not until 10:30! I waited for Hubby to bring the girls in, wishing I'd remembered my knitting. A woman I recognized from Tuesday showed up, and I asked her about the situation. "Sears decided not to open until 10:00, I guess. I'm only here this early (it was 9:40 by now) for a conference call. I'll call someone, though." She proceeded to call "Tammy", her short conversation consisting of, "I need you here right now, there are people waiting and no photographer." I was hoping Tammy was across the store, or across the parking lot at worst, but no, she just happened to "live closest" to Sears. *sigh* Another family came, with two young girls, and eventually I disclosed to her the situation. A photographer showed up, but didn't seem in too much of a hurry to get things rolling, other than clocking in at the computer and checking a few other things. A third and fourth family showed up, and then "Tammy" who took a look at the schedule, started asking who was there, and when our appointments were. I explained to her that we had arrived at 9:30 for a 9:30 appointment, but somehow the time had reverted to my original appointment. She apologized, saying their server had gone down for two whole days and they couldn't book appointments or anything, and unfortunately she had to start at the top of the list. By now it was 10:15. She took one family into a studio (there are 2), and the other, earlier-arriving photographer sorted through some paperwork, and looked as if she might ask us to fill some out. I pointed to their little pocket of paperwork on the wall, saying mine was already in there from last week. At this point I was also on the phone with my dad, saying such tempered things as "just HOW badly does Mom want this family portrait???" and "they'll be lucky if [Hubby] doesn't walk out of here after burning the place down." Apparently mom wanted the portrait, even if charges of arson were eventually filed. The gal looked at our old paperwork, and thought we were just doing pictures of the girls. "No," I explained, "we already did those earlier, today we just want a family portrait, just one shot of all of us together. White background, sheetrock, whatever's up." Pointing this out, while plucking my youngest from all kinds of mischief -- and possibly the thundercloud on Hubby's face -- helped common sense prevail, whereby she said that she would take us if it was just one quick shot.

I'm so glad my husband didn't have to go to jail for arson. It took two shots (Organique had her tongue hanging out in the first one - which I had Christmas cards done up with), and we were ready to order (again), pay (more), and leave, thankyoujesus.

So, while we left in fairly good spirits (and with considerable compassion for the employees dealing with such a scheduling debaucle), I think my Smile Savers card will go unused, notwithstanding bribes and other manipulations. Mom (she never reads here, so I'll have to tell her again in person), if ever you get it in your head to have happy little family portraits that are *not* taken by yours truly, you're gonna have to dig deeper and spring for the shmancy photogs that have little shops and studios downtown, ok? That's the new rules. Maybe Hubby will even smile for them.


MamaJ said...

"1-888-Make-An-Appointment-With-A-Less-Than-Congenial-Employee number" this cracks me up!! I can feel your pain! Our "appointment" sounds so similar. We only went because Mom was footing the bill & even then, I doubt we will go back!

Glad you got the whole thing done!

sariah said...

I hate family photos too- they're such a PAIN!! Everyone has to wear something that looks good as a group, girls hair needs to look pretty, you hope no one has a bruise or cut on their face- it's just too much work for something I am not into- espcially because it costs a lot. So I understand your pain! :-)

annie said...

Yikes! Your insanity sounds much like our experience with our daughter's birthday pictures at JC Penney in June. We called. And called. And called. And no one answered. The store opens at 9, so naturally the photo studio opens at 9, right? Nope. They open at 10. So the helpful non-photography studio employee wrote our name down for the first slot of the day at 1015 and we waited. And waited. And waited. Another family shows up. At 1030 the photographer comes in. She had no idea she had any appointments before 11, much less two. And it takes them 20 minutes to set up and they usually schedule appaointments 20 minutes apart. So she called the employee who lives closest to the store to come in and help. I think we got out of there sometime around noon, with four pictures taken, none of them with the backdrop we wanted (they didn't have the one they were advertising. nice).

For Christmas pictures we asked my dad to do it with his plain ol' digital camera. Taking posed pictures are a pain and I'm never satisfied with how I look, so I always try to weasel my way out of it.

And what's with moms and demanding the hair down? No matter what I'm doing, what I look like, my mom makes me take my hair down before she takes a picture of me. It gets in the way! It makes me fussy! I have to constantly manage it, instead of managing whatever it is I'm supposed to be managing.