"You Too" and Stuff...

If it's "a penny for your thoughts" but you have to "put your two cents in", someone is making a penny somewhere.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Note to the Cox Family...

I am a consumer junkie. Not only am I a chronic shopper (the gene runs in the family...), but I'm also a stickler for customer service. Thanks to unfortunate employees at the local Sears Portrait Studio (No worries, the letter is on the way to the corporate office), you won't be receiving the fun Christmas cards that Gale and I were planning on sending out this year.

We decided that since we haven't had professional pictures taken together since we were tiny, they would be a great gift for our mothers. It would also be a lot tamer than the pics they usually see of us together, some of them featuring us being silly on a Saturday night in Springfield dancing with strange men or maybe even dancing on the bar (Gale...). We told "Chelsey", our assigned "photo professional" at Sears, to make the pictures casual. Gale and I were hardly ever serious so we wanted pictures that would reflect our "fun-ness." And fun we had. "Chelsey" put us in different crazy poses...we were sitting on blocks, we were laying on each other, and then there was "THE PICTURE." I refer to that particular photo this way because "THE PICTURE" is the eye of this conundrum. We wanted one fun Christmas picture where we got to use all of the props, which are normally reserved for the under-8 years old crowd. Gale ended up wrapping herself in gold tinsel and climbing into a fake snow-covered chimney. I sat on a sled after wrapping a strand of red beads around myself. We were both donning Santa hats. Yeah, it really is as grand as you are imagining right now.

Thanks to new technology, you can see the pictures right after they're taken so that you can order them right away, rather than waiting for them all to come in and then deciding which ones that you want...yes, it has been quite a while since I've had my picture taken in a professional portrait studio. The pictures turned out great! We chose the poses and sizes and then learned that we could have Christmas cards made...in time for the holidays... The picture of us in our Christmas gear was hilarious and captured the spirit of Gale and I quite well. We decided that we would use this picture to make Christmas cards to send out to all of the Cox family members. When we had finished deciding and picking and choosing and then deciding and picking some more, we had spent almost $300. The photos would be ready the following week.

When I returned to pick them up, a day earlier than the date they had told us that all of pictures would be in, they were exactly what we had wanted. I was anxious to pick up the cards because I wanted to send them out right away. All of our order was in except, of course, for the cards. I was informed that they hadn't been delivered yet and were expected in a shipment the following day. I knew that, with this being the holiday season, I would be spending plenty of time at the mall in the upcoming days so I just assumed I would pick them up at a later time. I was still disappointed because I believed that the picture on the cards was the best "cute cousin" picture that we had ever taken and we were anxious to share it with everyone.

When I returned to Sears the following Friday to retrieve the cards, they were nowhere to be found. The young girl that was waiting on us searched all of the drawers in the place that she could possible find, occasionally incinuating that if I had brought along the confirmation number the cards would magically appear. She told me that she was going to check again while we were shopping and I told her that we would return soon. As predicted, when we returned a hour later, the cards still had not surfaced. I gave them my cell phone number and asked them to call immediately with their excuse or our cards, I needed one or the other. Around 9:00 that evening, I received a call from one of the "portrait people", cheerily telling me that they had made a mistake and the cards had never been physically ordered. Then she proceeded to tell me, as if I was going to just let the situation blow over that easily, that they would refund half of the cost of the cards and order the cards for me...which would not be available for pick-up until December 22. I tried to explain to her that I would be mailing these cards to places as far away as Hawaii (sorry Rick...I know you're sad...) and the mail didn't even run on Christmas Eve, leaving us with 2 days to prepare and mail the cards for everyone's enjoyment...when they received them after Christmas. Being my mother's daughter I immediately asked to speak with a manager. "Mark" got on the phone and told me the same story. He asked for my confirmation number. I'm not sure why they all thought that if I had that number, the situation would have changed. He told me that if the cards were on the receipt, then the images were stored in some secret processing plant in some far away land. He offered to put a rush on them so that I would receive them the following week, still giving me enough time to send them out. I actually set up an appointment to meet with "Mark" in person the next day to get things figured out. I guess I was also thinking that maybe if he saw what I looked like, he would recognize me from a set of Christmas cards that he accidentally filed in the wrong place. I would walk into the Sears Portrait Studio and he would say to me, "Oh, yeah, I know who you are. You're the girl on the sled. Just a sec."

I will be the first to admit that I'm dramatic, okay, maybe not dramatic, but "passionate" when it comes to certain things. Good customer service is one of those things and I lose it when I'm treated poorly. I write letters to regional offices, talk to store managers, and even boycott some of my favorite places if I don't see justice having been done. Perhaps this stems back to the time when I worked at Bath and Body Works and was put on probation for "not smiling enough"...it's important to keep the customers happy at all times, even if you're dressed like a Stepford Wife and your hands are so pruny from forcing innocent passers-by to try on every single lotion sample that you have in your apple basket. I know the importance of good customer service.

When I called Gale, she didn't seem as concerned about the situation, angry, yes, but not so worried. She had a simple solution. If the cards were not in my hands when I went to meet "Mark" the following day, I was to demand our money back. I could handle that.

It was a Saturday...two weeks before Christmas...at the mall...and I was at the Sears Portrait Studio ready for resolution, maybe even a revolution if necessary. Kids were screaming, parents were screaming, and "Silent Night" was ironically playing in the background. I told the young female "portrait person" that I was there to meet with "Mark." She told me that "Mark" was in a "session" with customers and that he wouldn't be able to help me immediately. Not willing to say, "Okay, I'll come back later", as she probably expected, I said, "That's fine. I'll wait." Eventually, the girl came back and told me that she had spoken with "Mark" and had asked for my receipt. I gave it to her...I was armed with the sacred confirmation number this time. She took the paper into one of the back rooms and returned about ten minutes later telling me that she and "Mark" had checked it out and the cards were never ordered at any time and weren't stored on any computer anywhere. Gale and I were not going to get our fun Christmas cards for the family and I was heartbroken. I loved those cards.

When I was younger, I would always be embarassed by my mother when she would become disatisfied with service somewhere and complain to a staff person. I wished that she would just drop the whole thing and walk away. But she can't...it's not in her blood. I realized then, that I had the same blood. My mother was with me and silently sat behind watching my interaction. I could actually feel her biting her tongue, letting me fight this one out on my own. I wasn't being rude, but I felt that I was being assertive. I started by thinking, "Well, at least they weren't some young mother's pictures of her newborn twins that she was trying to get framed before Christmas so that she could send them to the twins' father who was proudly defending our country in Iraq for the holidays because recent pictures of his babies were the only things on his Christmas list since he missed their birth." Then I thought again, "But the cards would have looked so great on everyone's mantle..." My mother's quick thinking had me ask the young girl if there was anyway I could get wallet sized pictures made to send out in the usual generic Christmas cards that I usually send. She said, "Absolutely. They will be ready to pick up on December 22." I rolled my eyes as the girl was preparing my refund. A part of me wanted to start talking loudly enough for all those waiting to have their pictures taken to hear, a short speech about my dilemma and how Sears is inconveinient and inefficient. I held back. That was something that my mother would do and I wasn't her...yet.

That's when I saw "Chelsey", our portrait person, who was single-handedly responsible for my little lack of joy this season. I almost wanted to say something to her directly, but I thought I'd make her sweat a little. When the girl returned my credit card with my refund transferred on to it, I took out a piece of paper, mentioned "Chelsey's" name very loudly to the girl, and began writing. "Chelsey" heard me say her name and looked right at me to see what I was talking about. I walked away. I figured that if my relatives were going to have to wonder what these great pictures looked like, "Chelsey" was going to have to wonder what was said about her.

So...to the Cox family, we're sorry that you didn't get your cards this year, you really would have been tickled. We posted "THE PICTURE" below so it can still be enjoyed! Keep an eye out for a pic from Gale's birthday celebration...I can guarantee that it's so "special" Sears Portrait Studio wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole...just kidding...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Jodi & Gale


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