sábado, 14 de julio de 2007

An Argument Over 99p

Of all the things to complain about I would have thought that having to pay less than £1 for something would be quite low down the list. Not for one customer however, who deemed it necessary not only to complain to me but also to the customer service desk when she couldn't get me to agree with her that she shouldn't pay it.

First, some background. We offer, as do most photo labs, a photo CD service where we can put either pictures from film or digital images onto a CD for you to use at home. This is a fairly popular service (we go through close to 400 CDs a week at this time of year) and one which we're told to try and upsell when we're taking films from customers. We also offer extra sets at the same time and if someone mentions they will be wanting a lot of reprints done once they've seen the pictures I always strongly recommend it as prints from CD can be up to 54p cheaper per print than reprints from negatives. Case in point, I had a customer spend £37 on reprints recently whereas the equivalent prints from CD would have cost him as little as £7.

To advertise this service we have a large poster on the back wall which basically says photo CD and the price. This price is for the disc only so if you have 100 digital images and a CD copy, it will cost you the price of the prints plus the price of the CD. Likewise if you have a film and would like a CD copy with the pictures, it will cost you the price of the pictures plus the price of the CD. Simple, right?

Well apparently not. This customer wanted to have her film put on the CD without having any pictures printed but was apparently expecting to pay just the price of the CD for this. Now, when doing this we make a small, 99p, charge for the development of the film (and I suppose also partly for our time and the cost of the index print) in addition to the cost of the CD. There have been a few people in the past who haven't realised that we make this additional charge (I don't think we're unique in doing so, but correct me if I'm wrong) so I always make a point of explaining it to everyone who asks for the service. In the 18 months I've been working in the photo lab this is the first time anyone has ever objected to paying it. Since it's a relatively rare request it's fairer to make an additional charge rather than make the CD more expensive for everyone.

Anyway, when I told this customer that there would be the additional development charge she questioned it (this has never happened before either, most people just agree) and asked why we were advertising the CD at one price and charging her more when she just wanted a CD. I explained to her that the advertised price was for the CD only as it covered digital as well as film. She then questioned again why we were advertising it at one price and then charging her 99p more. Fair enough, perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough first time round, so I tried again:

ME: "The advertised price is for the actual CD itself, i.e. the cost of the disc in addition to any other services, so if you were to have the pictures printed as well it would be added on to the cost of that"
CUSTOMER: "But I don't want the pictures, just the CD"
ME: "I know that, and that will be [the price of the disc plus 99p] because we have to make a 99p charge for developing the film"
CUSTOMER: "But it says [price] up there"
ME: "Yes, I know it does, but's that the price of the CD on it's own. The development of the film is additional. Let me put it another way, if you were to order just the pictures, that development charge would be included in the price. We can't advertise the price of the CD including the development charge because for 95% of our customers that would be wrong. So instead we advertise the cost of the disc on it's own."
CUSTOMER: "Well that's very misleading, you should have that taken down"

I could have argued that it wasn't wrong, but I was quite busy at the time so just wanted to take her order and move on. Thankfully, she dropped the matter and agreed to pay the development charge, although I could tell she wasn't happy about it. I was waiting for her complaining about having to pay in advance, but she didn't. Instead, she paid up and moved to the customer service desk to complain there. Since I was quite busy I didn't hear everything but I think it basically centered around the fact that the POS poster was wrong and should be removed. I amused to hear the customer service person tell her it wasn't wrong at all and basically tell her what I had just finished telling her. Unbeknown to her, she got the person on there at the time who is photo lab trained and thus knows what she is talking about. However, if she had been "helped" by anyone else on there they would have checked with us first anyway before telling her she was wrong.

Now, I can understand why some people might think that a film onto a CD only would cost the advertised price. However, as I mentioned earlier, it's not practical to mention the development charge or include it in the price. It is mentioned in the small print, but you need to be almost directly underneath it to read that, not several feet away. Most people are more than happy to pay the additional charge when it's explained to them. Usually all we have to say is something like "that will cost [price] because there's a 99p development charge as well" and people will agree straight away. It's such a small amount after all, I could understand it if we were adding a few quid onto it, but it's only 99p. Like I said, nobody had ever questioned it or made a fuss before this customer.

Is the POS in any way misleading? No, I don't think it is. I would be inclined to say yes it was if it said something like "Your pictures on CD, just [price]" or something like that. If it said that then I think it would be fair to assume that if you wanted a film put just on CD it would cost the price advertised and no more. However, the POS reads, word for word, "Photo CD, only [price]". There's a couple of generic pictures below that, as there are on all of our POS posters and then the small print below that. The small print just mentions the maximum amount of pictures which can be put onto CD, one CD for each film and the additional development charge. There's also the usual subject to availability stuff and the fact that due to circumstances beyond our control we can't offer a 100% cast iron guarantee that things will be ready when we say they will be.

Who knows, maybe I'm wrong here, but I think there would have been a few more complaints in 18 months if I am (the same basic poster has been there all the time, just in it's standard, winter, Christmas and summer varieties - technically they're all up there and we just rotate as necessary). Let me know via the comments if you agree or disagree.

jueves, 12 de julio de 2007

Digital Problems & Observations

There have been few problems with our digital machines since they replaced the elderly single machine with two new ones (and made everything we do computerised as well - which didn't go down too well with some people initially). As you would expect with any new system there were a few initial teething problems, which were sorted fairly quickly - one was as simple as a poorly sited connection point which kept coming apart (now held together with tape!). Our first major issue since November last year occured this week.

The way the system works is that the customer places an order on either kiosk 1 or kiosk 2, the order is then sent to our computer and we can then send either the whole order or part of it to the printer when we are ready to print it. This has proved itself to be extremely useful especially with larger orders and it also means I no longer dislike the customers who place them since they no longer bugger up the service for everyone else and thus, indirectly at least, make my life difficult.

Kiosk 1 is more popular than kiosk 2 as it is literally a couple of metres less to walk from the entrance to the store. If in any given day there was no point when two customers wanted to use the digital kiosks at the same time then I would estimate that 95% of them would use kiosk 1. The remaining 5% would only use kiosk 2 because they either wanted to scan something or they had come from the other direction. We have the same situation with our checkouts, with numbers 1 to 12 always being busy regardless of how busy the store is and 28 to 33 always being quieter. Even when it's busier people will stand in a queue of 3 or more people at the lower numbered tills rather than walk a bit further up where the queues are shorter or there are even cashiers with no customers. Watching the checkout managers trying to herd these people up there can be an amusing way to pass a few minutes.

Anyway, since kiosk 1 is the most popular it had to be the one to develop a problem. Unfortunately it wasn't a problem we had any chance of being aware of before it was too late. It's issue was that it was taking it's sweet time to send orders to our computer and it had lost a few of them altogether. Of course sods law states that the orders lost or seriously late (we're talking a few hours here) all belonged to the rudest, most irrational customers we have. Some of them we recognise by name alone, that's how bad they can be. Unusually for me I didn't have the dubious pleasure of dealing with any of them otherwise they would normally get a blog entry all of their own.

We took kiosk 1 out of use completely because we couldn't be sure that even if we made it 24 hour orders only that it a) wouldn't lose the order somewhere and b) the customers would pay any attention to the sign. Our maintainance company can connect remotely to each individual terminal we have so it didn't take long for them to attribute the fault to a corrupt file in one of the lost orders and to fix the problem by removing the order from the system. However, they weren't able to determine whether or not the file was already corrupt before it went into our systems or whether it was corrupted by them, so if the customer tries again we may end up with the same issue again.

To prove how blind and/or stupid some of our customers can be I saw at least 3 people walk up to kiosk 1, see it was out of use then turn and walk out. They didn't seem aware of the fact that we have two of them and although they could have assumed that they were both out of use it wouldn't hurt to check, would it?

A couple of digital related things that I've noticed recently. Firstly, the number of people who are walking off without paying for their order first seems to be on the increase. This is annoying because it states clearly that they must be paid for at the time they are ordered. It also causes problems for us because it means we have an order we can't match a receipt to and we have to be 100% sure that we don't have one before we can print a billing receipt for the order. In theory it wouldn't matter because the customer should bring back their order receipt to collect the pictures and if they had paid it would be marked as such. However, so many people don't bother that we often have to rely on the paperwork with the order. If this isn't marked as paid and it's because we lost the receipt then the customer has to prove they've paid or pay again.

We're also not allowed to actually enforce the threat, which is also clearly displayed, of no payment then no pictures. There is therefore no 'punishment' for not paying since they will still get their pictures on time, unless I see them walk away then I will call them back at increasing volume to pay for them. We know there are some people who object to the idea of paying up front and are deliberately not doing so since we get the same names time and time again who haven't paid. I'm going to put forward the idea of keeping a record of everyone who hasn't paid and then not printing orders from those who repeatedly do so. I don't have a problem with the first time since, despite it being very clear (I would take a picture but it would give away where I work), it may be possible to miss it. When it's three or four times however, it's deliberate. If I had my way, however, we would stick to the no payment no pictures rule all of the time in the interests of fairness.

Secondly, it has been officially stated to us that we are not, under any circumstances, to add digital orders together so that it makes it cheaper for the customer. This hasn't gone down well as we've always done that and there have been a few people complain to which my reponse is to show them the piece of paper with it written on and to offer them the address and phone number of the place to complain to. I don't agree with this particular one as it effectively punishes the customer for having to use more than one memory card or CD since each card or disc requires a seperate order. As far as I am concerned, if they order 150 pictures in one order or across 3 different ones then they should pay the same - it's still the same number of pictures after all. However, although I don't agree with it I don't think it's worth losing my job over, so no more adding orders together.

There was one customer who, to my knowledge, hasn't yet collected their pictures and who I really want to deal with when they do. They had a three different digital orders which totalled over 150 pictures and were initally dealt with by our newest member of staff. She was on her own at the time and apparently the customer demanded that they be added together and was quite rightly told that they couldn't be. The "lady" then proceeded to complain that she had them added together in the past and generally berate the memeber of staff for apparently not knowing what she was doing. The customer wasn't especially pleasant and refused point blank to pay for the orders until she could "speak to someone who actually knows what the hell they're doing".

My colleague handled it a lot more dimplomatically than I would have done, which just goes to show that I didn't teach her all of my bad habits. Personally, when she refused to pay, I would have simply told her I would cancel the orders for her and left it at that. Any further complaining would have been met with a mini lecture re. the pay before you go rule and how not to talk to me like she apparently did my colleague. Even if we were able to add the orders together (it was technically not allowed before but there had been no official "don't d0 it" message) she wouldn't have got very far with me by demanding that they be added together. My colleague however just wrote not paid on the receipts and sent her on her way. Damn sure I would have done.

Thirdly, and finally, there also seems to have been a marked increase in the number of people leaving their memory cards behind in the digital kiosks. There have been 4 in the last week and normally we wouldn't get that many in a month. Luckily, since most people have to pay before they leave it's relatively easy for us to reunite card with owner when they pick up their photos, or realise that they've their card behind and come back for it. That's assuming that someone is honest enough to hand it in of course. There's a notice on the whiteboard that a customer left a card in the machine but which hasn't been handed in. It says to call them if it turns up, but it's fairly obvious that someone's helped themselves and there'll be no phonecall.

Oh, and we're being moved at the end of the summer. Swapping places with the kiosk apparently, although I'm not entirely sure what benefits this will have for either department but with the amount it will cost to move everything a few feet (upwards of £100k) there must be a good reason for it. I wonder what I'll be doing while the move is made?

sábado, 7 de julio de 2007

The Problems of Power Failure

There was an interesting start to Friday for me. First of all, when I drove into the area where the store is I realised that there were absolutely no traffic lights working. That's the first time I've ever been down that road and not been stopped by at least one red light. Anyway, I didn't think much of it at the time and assumed that there was just a fault with those lights. Then, when I got into work I realised that it was in fact the result of a power failure.

The store was in almost complete darkness as most of the emergency lighting has disappeared due to the refit (still waiting on that ceiling - although the heating/air conditioning is back) and it wasn't all that light outside anyway. Somewhat oddly, however, although there was no power for lighting the televisions in the electrical department were all still on. The photo lab equipment was all still on as well, including the two digital machines. Normally, when there is a power failure, the only things left running are the emergency lights and the checkouts as they are connected to a back-up supply.

The checkouts are supposed to be unaffected by a power failure but in reality that is never the case. At least half of the tills will go offline which basically means they are isloated and therefore can't process payment by cheque, card or sell any phone top-ups. Given 10 minutes or so they will normally come back online by themselves and everything is fine.

As soon as I got down to the photo lab on Friday I was asked to go on a checkout to deal with the ever growing queues of people wanting to leave a pretty dark store. The till I found myself on was and express till (you can read more about my attempts to enforce the no more than 10 items rule here and here) and it was online, which was a bonus and everything was fine for a while. After about 2o minutes the lights came back on but then quickly went off again before once again coming back on. This buggered everything up even more.

Firstly, my till and most of the others in the store went offline, so that's no cards or cheques. The customer I was serving at the time was trying to pay with a card and didn't have the cash to cover the total of the shopping so there was a delay while I waited for someone with more power than myself to sort something out for him. Another problem with being offline is that the till can't store a transaction so I couldn't do that and send him to customer service to get sorted out there. Eventually the transaction was voided and the manager went to find an online till to put it through. All through this the next customer was standing there and able to hear everything which was going on, so what happens when she comes to pay? Yes, she hands over a credit card. Another call to the manager, another voided transaction and an even longer, angrier queue for me to deal with. Marvelous.

After about ten minutes the till came back online but that wasn't the end of the problems. Those tills which had been knocked offline by the blips in the power supply were now displaying the date as 01/01/00 and the time as 00:00. This means that those tills still can't take cards or cheques unless the card number is typed in (and there is a 30 second delay between telling it you want to do this and typing in the number) because the electronic system sends that date and time to the bank which doesn't like that and refuses authorisation. For whatever reason, the loyalty cards also wouldn't register as being used unless the number was typed in manually. Some tills also had problems the special offers and weren't deducting the necessary amount. Presumably this is because the dates are also programmed as well and therefore the system didn't recognise the offers as being valid.

This general chaos lasted another 20 minutes before everything caught up with itself again. After all of that I was glad to get back in the photo lab, at least there's somewhere to hide when it all goes wrong. I have to say though that nobody I encountered was particularly annoyed by the whole thing, or at least if they were they didn't take it out on me.

I thought checkouts was supposed to be less stressful?

jueves, 5 de julio de 2007

Some Customers

It's time to return to the time honoured tradition of talking about our customers behind their backs...

Customer One: That's Totally My Fault
This customer was stupid enough to totally ignore my advice and then had the cheek to complain to me when it all went wrong for her. This customer was making some print from print reproductions which means she had to scan in each individual image for it to work properly. It was going to take this customer a long time to do so since she had about 30 pictures she wanted to reproduce (each picture takes 3 minutes to scan if you're quick and know what you're doing). After scanning a few I think she realised that she was going to be there for a while, just like I had become painfully aware that it was going to take her well past closing time. I usually turn the screens off when we close but I will obviously let anyone who is using one finish, however I have to turn them off before I leave and if she hadn't finished by then I would effectively have to tell her to go away. Anyway, when she realised how long it was going to take she had an idea.
She asked me if it would be possible to scan more than one picture at a time and then cut them herself. I explained to her that scanning more than one picture would reduce the size of the reproduction and told her that it wouldn't be a good idea, since we don't offer a size that we could fit any number of 4x6 prints onto exactly. It turns out she was planning to scan three at once, print them at 8x10 and then cut them herself. As you might have realised, 3 4x6 prints won't fit on an 8x10, it would need at least a 12x18, which we can't do. I told her this and that doing so would result in her getting one proper print and then a couple of inches of the other two, not to mention the fact that it would cost her more. This was the end of the conversation.
As it was so late - she finished five minutes before I went home - I didn't get to print them. To be fair I didn't notice that she had ordered a load of 8x10 prints because I was in a hurry and I couldn't take payment as the till had already been emptied. Had this not been the case I would have noticed this and would have checked to make sure she hadn't done precisely what I had just finished telling her not to. Predictably I was the person who dealt with her (I'm sorry, but I really hate the expression "I served her") when she came to pick them up and discovered that she had received exactly what I told her she would, an 8x10 print with one full 4x6 and small part of two others on it. Naturally this was my fault, despite having explicitly told her that it wouldn't work that way. She wasn't best pleased when I told her that either, and was even less pleased when both myself and my team leader refused her a refund.

 Customers Two and Three: Demanding

I've had my fair share of customers asking us to bend the rules for them. If it's something small like printing 155 pictures in an hour rather than the 24 hours the system forces upon them then it's no problem. There are some things, however, we just can't do, no matter how much we might like to.
At least the first of these two customers was nice when she asked us if she would could print 70 pictures in ten minutes if she ordered the one hour service. Er... no, sorry, we can't. Even if we had absolutely nothing else to do at the time we couldn't do it, it just takes longer than that I'm afraid. Now, all credit to her, when she was told that we couldn't do it she didn't become a miserable cow like so many do. It amazes me sometimes how little common sense some people have. They don't seem to realise that we have a minimum service times for a reason and that printing pictures takes times. It's a common occurrance for me to take payment and then have people stand there waiting for their pictures (I know some places have instant thermal printers on their kisok, but ours is clearly adverstised as at least one hour). They seem most upset when told they should come back in an hour.
Having no concept of the time it takes to do things brings us neatly to customer three. This customer was an older man and his wife who dropped off five APS films to be printed and burnt to CD. They selected the one hour service and all was well. With our equipment five APS films would take most of the hour to do, so it was no surprise that they were nowhere near being ready when they came back just 20 minutes later. I didn't deal with them at the time but I was close enough to hear them complain that they had done their shopping now and demanding to know how long it would take. When they were told they needed to come back at the time on their receipt they pointed out that we advertise processing "while you shop". We do, right under the big sign saying one hour processing. I think he was trying to say that we advertise processing while you shop and since they had done their shopping the films should be done, never mind the fact that it says one hour everywhere, as well as on his receipt and I damn well told him they would be ready in one hour when I gave him his receipt.

Customer Four: A First For Me

I didn't actually deal with this customer myself so this comes from the story told to me by the person who did. My colleague found this woman trying to feed her negatives into the SD card slot on one of our digital machines. Apparently she wanted to see what the pictures were having had the film developed elsewhere but declining to have any pictures printed or a CD made and thought that our digital machine would provide a way for her to do so.
Now this is a first for me. I've heard of people putting the wrong card in a slot, getting them the wrong way round and/or upside down (this doesn't happen much anymore) but I've never heard of anyone trying to feed negatives into it before. I know where she took the film originally, and it's a well known company (an item of footwear perhaps?) so it surprises me that she wasn't provided with an index print for the film. It's not very often we get a development only request because people generally want to see what they've gone to the trouble of photographing (a popular one is to have the film developed and transferred to CD without pictures - and is a method I recommend if someone has something they're not sure is going to print well since it's a lot cheaper). When we do however, we always print them an index card because it's no trouble and it at least allows them an idea of what is on the film.
In retrospect it's probably a good idea that I didn't find this woman trying to feed ou digital machine her negatives. I'm not sure I would have been able to keep myself from laughing.

sábado, 30 de junio de 2007

Quality Complaints

It would appear that customers don't read this blog. A number of the things I have complained about here still happen on a semi-regular basis, such as people trying to use the photo lab as a checkout. I've also mentioned at least once that there are certain ways to go about complaining to us, well me in a particular, especially where image quality is concerned.

When people complain about the quality of the pictures it can obviously be cause for some concern. Often it's simply because of the camera they have used (in the case of film), the settings they've used on their camera (if it's digital) or it can be due to a problem with our machine. The latter would result in a number of complaints from both film and digital customers. Therefore if someone makes a complaint and we haven't had any others the logical conclusion to reach would be that it's more likely to be the former. It can be quite difficult to tell these people the reason for the poor quality of their pictures. Telling them simply that it's their fault or that it isn't ours doesn't seem to go down well and sounds like we don't care.

To get round this I always offer to reprint the order, or part of it, to see if that makes any difference. It almost never does so I also warn them of this. At least by doing this we look like we care, even if we're really busy and it's the last thing we need to be doing. If, for whatever reason, the customer prefers the new prints then of course we'll print the complete set for them. More often than not, however, they're still not impressed and then the next step is to offer them a refund and everyone I've come across is happy with this. Some customers will just ask for a refund when warned that reprinting often makes no difference and that's fine too. In fact that's a lot easier for me to deal with because it's not only faster but it means I don't have a customer standing there for five minutes watching my every move.

The customers who annoy me though, and I had one this evening who inspired this post, are the ones who come back to complain about the quality and who also claim that they've printed them at home or somewhere else with better results. This is fine if they've actually brought some of the 'better' ones with them, but the annoying ones don't. I don't know about you, but if I had printed the same pictures at company X and company Y with significantly better results at company Y, I would take at least one of company Y's pictures to company X when I went to complain. It would not only prove that I wasn't taking the piss but it would help me explain where company X was lacking. Perhaps it's just me that would do that (let me know in the comments).

Anyway, when this happens I don't bother offering to reprint them and just go straight to the refund. After all, if they've had better results somewhere else they don't need another set do they? That should pretty much be the end of the matter (unless we were getting persistant complaints) right? Well, no. Even offering a refund can bring further problems, namely:
  • If the customer doesn't bring all of the pictures back I can't give them a refund for all of them, only the ones they have with them. This is the companies policy rather than me being well, me, but I do agree with it. After all, you wouldn't try and return a six pack of Pepsi and only bring one can. This can often result in a lot of bitching and general slamming around (it's amazing how many of our customers will behave like a child when they don't get what they want) when they're told that a full refund needs all the pictures. Some people even ask for extra compensation for having to come back again another time to which the response is always no. Use your brain next time.
  • When we give a refund on pictures we MUST have the pictures back from the customer. This is part of the reason why we need all of them to give a full refund. If it's a film then the customer can keep the negatives, but we keep the pictures (we're supposed to deduct a development charge from the refund but never do). Again this shouldn't be a problem because if you have/can get better results from somewhere else you don't need the ones we did do you? It's amazing the number of people who complain about having to give back the pictures. This makes me think that they were just taking the piss and trying to get a refund for no real reason.
I think the reason why the people who claim to have obtained better results elsewhere but don't bring at least one of the 'better' pictures with them annoy me is that I immediately think they're trying it on. The number of people who bitch about having to give us back the pictures in exchange for a refund would seem to support this in the majority of cases. It's annoying because it immediately makes me suspicious of anyone who tries the same thing and simply because lying is just so unecessary. As I outlined previously if you say you're unhappy with the quality it's fairly easy to get a refund. You'll still lose the pictures but you'll get one and there's no reason to make things up.
I don't just want to see the 'better quality' pictures as proof that the customer has been elsewhere. If I can see the ones the customer thinks are better I can make a note of the differences (are ours too dark, are the colours less vibrant etc.) in case this complaint is the first of many. It also allows me to see if what that particular customer classes as better would be what the average person would class as better. I've had people come back with pictures they thought were better quality but which had a horrible blue hue to them or over saturated colours.
I realise that there may be some people who have genuinely received what they perceive as better quality prints elsewhere but haven't thought to bring those with them. Unfortunately they're placed at a disadvantage by those who are just after some free pictures. It's sad really because once again the people who try and take advantage who spoil it for everyone else.
In other news, I'm training the new member of staff we have as our shifts overlap the most. It's an excellent chance for me to pass on my bad habits knowledge and a useful opportunity to refresh myself as to how things should be done rather than the easiest and quickest ways. She's progressing well so I must be doing something right, it's not very often you'd feel confident leaving your trainee for 45 minutes on a Saturday afternoon but she was absolutely fine.