Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Fifth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

As you obviously know, picture day is tomorrow at my sons’ school. As you also know, in years past, for the most part I have written you these letters after picture day, usually after you send me a bunch of pictures I didn’t order or want, containing silly instructions about how I’m “required” to do things for you. You guys are hilarious!

Anyway, as you also know, since I am such a selfless humanitarian, these letters have always been in an effort to help you improve your business model, which, as near as I can tell, was conceived and implemented by a group of six-year-olds.

I am starting to get the impression that you’re not reading these letters, or if you are, you’re not taking my unsolicited advice as readily as I accept your unsolicited picture packets full of mirror hangers and plastic rulers that don’t measure anything.

However, since I am such a selfless humanitarian, as I already stated, I will continue to offer you my advice free of charge, whether or not you have the good sense to listen. Come to think of it, that’s actually the same arrangement I have with my kids.

So listen up – You have angered me. I am not at all happy with your website, and I am appalled at either your unfair treatment of our Spanish-speaking community, or your blatant favoritism toward them. I’m really not sure which you’re doing, but I know I don’t like it!

My ire on both fronts stems from your ridiculous “Family Plan.” This is a special deal that you offer families with more than two kids by highlighting the discount at the very bottom of your paper order form in and unrecognizably small font size. I think it might be Times New Roman negative five.

I couldn’t find a magnifying glass, so I set the form a few feet away from myself and was eventually able to read the Family Plan verbiage with my binoculars.

Family Plan - For parents with more than 2 children attending school. First 2 children’s portraits are full price, additional children’s portraits are half price. To receive your discount: 2 children make full payments. Do not combine payments. Complete the information below, cut out and put in envelope.

As you know from my previous letters, I have three boys, and your photographers have yet to manage to coax a natural smile out of all three of them on the same day. However, we understand that you are dealing with Son Number One’s chronic Forced Smile Disorder, and that is not at issue here today. What is at issue is the fifty percent discount you promised me on Son Number Three’s fine quality studio portrait session.

I foolishly assumed that since you offered this discount on the paper order form, I would be able to receive it on the website as well, since most of the space on the paper order form is dedicated to inviting me to use the website instead.

I went through the ridiculously tedious chore of ordering my $18 “entry” level picture packages on your website, spending approximately seven hundred minutes on each child’s order denying the myriad of upgrades and add-ons that require me to individually opt out before I could get to the checkout screen.

When I finally made it to the “place your order” page, I was shocked to see that my total was $54, which if my rudimentary math is correct, is $18 per kid for three kids. As you might recall, you told me on the paper form that if I had three kids, the third one would only be $9. I looked and looked on your super-helpful website for the “apply the family plan algorithm” button, but I could not locate it.

Since, as I understand it, websites these days are built with math and stuff, I would have assumed that the “take 50% off all the kids after the first two” thing would be built in. Seems like that would be pretty easy for a first-year web programmer to put in there. I guess not.

Nine bucks is nine bucks, so I didn’t want to give up without a fight. I moved my mouse over to the “Live Chat” button and clicked it. Up pops a screen with way too many fields for me to fill in just to chat with someone about my order. Name, email, school name, school picture day code, my address, etc. Now, I hate to have to keep being the one to point all this stuff out to you guys, but I had already entered all those things in the pit of despair that is your online order process. Again with the first-year programmer thing...

Anyway, I let out a heavy sigh of disappointment and filled in all the info, just so I could have a slim chance of getting my $9 discount. I hit the “Submit” button, and do you know what you told me?

Sorry, no operators are available at the moment. Please try back later.

You have a button on your website that says “Live Chat,” and when pressed it says, “sorry, no one’s home?” What the actual hell, Lifetouch? Are you kidding me?

To make it even better, there was no button for “Resubmit,” or “Try Again,” just in case Chip, the lone Lifetouch Live Chat Operator, was just getting back to his desk after a potty break. Just a button that said “Close.” Your website is the DMV office of the internet.

Based on your website and all my previous dealings with you, I guess I should not assume you have the same feelings about the DMV as the rest of us, so to be clear, what I’m saying is this: Your website sucks!

I went from being disappointed to mad at that point. Now I’ve spent more time than anyone should have to on your website, and I’m not willing to throw that time away and go back to the paper order form just to save nine bucks.

But like all my selfless advice giving to your company, this isn’t about me. It’s about the Mormon families out there. And the Catholics. And the Amish, if you guys take pictures of them. And all the potentially not-that-religious families out there that just can’t seem to stop having kids. What about the folks with five kids, or even six? The problem is exponential, because your website can’t do math, and you won’t allow us to combine payments with the paper order form.

You have created a situation where someone with five kids has to write five separate checks and include them with five separate paper order forms in order to qualify for the family plan. News flash: Someone with five kids doesn’t have that kind of time.

It’s almost as if you don’t want to offer the Family Plan discount at all... It’s occurring to me now that the DMV is actually more functional than your company. They take my picture too, and they also don’t care if I was smiling or not. The only real difference is that I can’t renew my car registration through you guys.

Oh, yeah. Then there’s the matter of our Spanish-speaking friends. (Spoiler alert, Lifetouch - This doesn’t help your case.)

When I flipped the paper order form over, I noticed the reverse was in Spanish. I have a border cantina/Taco Bell understanding of Spanish, so I got out my binoculars again and read the “Plan Familiar.”

Plan Familiar - Para padres con mas de 2 hijos que concurren a la escuela. Para recibir el descuento: Por 2 hijos corresponden pagos integros. No combinar pagos. Completa la siguiente informacion, corta e inserta en el sobre.

Hmm. Something doesn’t look right, here. There doesn’t seem to be any further mention of the particulars of el descuento... To be sure, I plugged it into the Google translator:

Family plan - For parents with more than 2 children who attend school. To receive the discount: For two children are full payments. Do not combine payments. Complete the form below, cut and inserted into the envelope.

Just as I suspected-o. You don’t tell the Spanish-speakers what the discount is. You only tell them how to get it. Actually, you don’t even tell them that.

This leads me to believe one of two things: Either,
A) You do not want our Spanish-only friends to get the discount, or
B) You are giving our Spanish-only friends their third or mas picture packages for free.

Either way, now, I’m really mad. You have a double standard going here that either affects me morally or financially. I don’t like either option!

I guess there could be a third option. Maybe the fourth-grader you hired to do your website programming is the same kid in charge of order form translation.

Anyway, I needed to get on with what was left of my life, so I kissed my nine bucks goodbye and begrudgingly hit the “Place Order Now” button.

Thanks for your order. Please take a few minutes to take our survey and help us improve our site.

That’s optimistic! Unless you were going to pay me $9 or more to take the survey, I wasn’t going to spend another second on your website. I wrote you this helpful letter instead.

Not that I expect you to read it. You’re probably really busy explaining all the survey answers to the fourth-grader.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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