Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ripped Off for Newborn Photography

As some of you may know, before I had Tyne I worked in Customer Services for a major high street retailer  where I was a member of the management team, dealing with escalated customer complaints (basically when an agent couldn't resolve the problem initially, it was my job to take the escalated complaint and resolve it)

So I have a good understanding of how a customer should be dealt with  - which is why I find bad customer service to be completely unacceptable.

Nothing bothers me more than a company who is quick to take your money, but completely uninterested and unwilling to assist when you encounter a problem with their product or service.

And this is EXACTLY the attitude that I recently encountered with PIXIFOTO.....

How it all began....

For those who don't know, PIXIFOTO are a company who apparently specialise in baby & child photography - they operate pop-up shops in shopping centres and superstores around the country, and are most often found running their studios within Mothercare stores.

This is where my unfortunate encounter with Pixifoto began...

While out shopping one day with Tyne and my mum, we walked by a Mothercare store in New Mersey Retail Park, Liverpool - outside was a sign displayed stating "Photography Sessions FREE today only!"

I had wanted to have some photos taken professionally of Tyne, and so we went in to enquire...

The girl inside informed us that all the slots for the day were fully booked, and so she was unable to offer us a free session as there were no more of these "Free" days coming up in the foreseeable future but she could book us in to have a session in a few days time for £10.00

This sounded reasonable, so we booked in. I chose a time slot when I knew Tyne would be fed, awake and happy.

The Day Of The Shoot....

A few days later, we arrived for our photo shoot - we were surprised to find another family in there, seemingly only just having started their shoot.

We were left to wait for around 45 minutes for our photo shoot to begin - by which time, Tyne was hot and bothered under the studio lights and was starting to get hungry - so really not an ideal situation for a photo shoot!!

But we bit our tongues and persevered. The photographer took a series of photos of Tyne - I went along with all of her suggested poses, and informed her that I had seen a set of Angel Wings props that I'd like her to use - I wanted a black and white image of Tyne naked, laying on his tummy wearing the wings.

She put the wings on him and took the photo - fine.

After the shoot, we were told to come back for a "viewing session" in an hour or so.

No pricing structure.....

We went for a walk around, and returned an hour later - our "viewing session" consisted of us standing in front of a computer while the assistant scrolled through thumbnails of the photographs.

After she had scrolled through them all, she asked us which ones we wanted to buy. No mention of price had been made at all - so I asked how much the pictures would cost, what the size options were, etc.

The girl seemed, in my opinion, not to have any idea of the pricing structure and so after a few minutes of bluffing - she called over the photographer who took over the "Viewing Session".

Again, I asked for prices and size options - I was told that they are unable to quote a price until I had stated which photographs I wanted as their packages are bespoke.

Erm?!! Fair enough if you offer bespoke packages but who on Earth wants to commit themselves to stating which photographs they want to buy without having ANY clue as to the price of them first?!

I told her that I couldn't state which photographs we wanted without any clue as to how much it would cost -  again, she told me she simply could not give me any prices.

Reluctantly, I pointed out the photos I liked best - around 15 of them. She told me this would cost £525!!

I was obviously NOT prepared to pay £525 for some photographs and I told her this. She asked me what I was expecting to pay.

I said I had hoped to pay around £150, and that I wanted a canvas or a large framed image.

Confusion and Crashing Computer.....

She then started telling me to "remove some" photos and she would see what the "computer quoted" - so she scrolled through and I told her which ones to remove.

After a few photos were removed, she would say "Oh thats too many, the price is going up instead of down....add four more back in"....."Oh now we need to take more off, take two off...." etc etc....this went on for around 20 minutes, all the while the computer kept crashing and she kept having to reboot the system and start from the beginning.

I'm sure you can imagine how confusing this became!! By the end of it all, I was extremely confused as to which images I was left with!

I was then being hurried along as the next couple were waiting for their viewing session, so I was encouraged to pay up my £155 - as I put my card into the machine, the girl told me that the payment was not refundable - I, confused and frazzled with a crying baby!, agreed and punched in my PIN number.

I was then presented with a print out confirming what photos I had chosen and hurried out of the store.

When I got into the car and settled Tyne, I looked at the print out - I was horrified to see that for £155 I had ended up with NO canvas or framed prints as I had requested - instead I had ten small photographs all of the same size and one slightly larger.

Making my complaint....

I was very unhappy with this, and with the whole photo shoot experience, so I came straight home and went on to the PIXIFOTO website to lodge a complaint.

As I did this - I noticed a large advertisement stating their "Pixi Promise" to shoot all Newborn babies for free. At no point had this been mentioned to me when I had originally enquired about the free photo shoot!

I emailed my extremely long and detailed complaint through, and waited to hear back from them.

The next day, I had a response stating that the customer services team took complaints such as this very seriously and they would pass my details on to "somebody" who would contact me shortly to discuss the matter.

Waiting for a response....

I waited for 4 days and heard nothing - so I emailed again.

Again, I received a response - apologising for the lack of previous contact and assuring me that the area manager would call me shortly.

Two days later I still had no contact - so I emailed again.

Again, an apology and a promise that the area manager Faye Cunningham would contact me.

Still waiting.....

TWO WEEKS later I had still had no word from anybody at PIXIFOTO - and so my Mother called in to the store and spoke to the duty manager who informed us that she was unaware of any complaint and would personally contact the area manager Faye Cunningham and would call us back to inform us of what she said.

Disappointing photos....

Whilst there, we were informed that our photos were ready. A surprise, as we had not been informed that they were ready for collection!
So we took them home - I was not very happy with the quality of the photos, particularly the angel wing shot I had most wanted as I realised when looking at it that the wings were not even opened out! (Something you can't tell from a tiny thumbnail on a computer screen!) - when people look at the photo, they ask me why he has a feather on his back!!!
Not something you expect from a "professional photography company".

Still waiting....

The next day, the duty manager called us (At least somebody at PIXIFOTO keeps to their word!) - she informed us that she had spoken to Faye Cunningham and that she would be calling me shortly.

Two days later, still no phonecall - so my Mother returned to the store and spoke to the manager on duty again. This time she requested the number for Faye Cunningham - after a lot of deliberation, they gave us the number.

Contact at last.....

After another 2 days of calling and leaving voice mails, we FINALLY received a call from the elusive Faye Cunningham herself (albeit after leaving a voicemail informing her that if she did not return the call within the hour we would be going straight to Trading Standards....)

Considering the complaint had, at this point, been going on for almost a MONTH I expected at the very least an apology from Ms Cunningham, as the area manager.

Imagine my surprise when not only did she not apologise once during the duration of our phonecall, but she also:

*Admitted to not even having read my emails or having any knowledge of the nature of my complaint whatsoever
*Tried to palm me off by telling me that she been in hospital for the last two weeks (Erm...not my problem or my business, and not an excuse for poor customer service - was there no acting area manager during her hospital stay?! And if she was unavailable, why was I repeatedly promised that she would contact me?!)
*Admitted that she was calling me whilst driving (I'm hoping she was at least using a hands free!!!) .... which may go some way to explaining her, in my opinion, lack of interest in my complaint, abysmal customer service skills and unbelievably bad attitude

Having spent a month chasing this, I really did not want to have to go in to all of the details of my complaint all over again - so I asked if it would not be possible for Ms Cunningham to read my original complaint email and call me back when she was familiar with the case - she refused to do this and insisted that I told her the problem there and then.

So I did - which took around 20 minutes, thanks in part to her constant interruptions and excuses....

No apology.....

As I have already stated, she did not offer an apology. 

This is something that even somebody with the most basic customer service knowledge would have done within minutes of taking the call.....

Instead, she focused on the fact that I had collected the photos....

I told her that yes I had collected them, because I had paid  £155 for them and after numerous emails and phonecalls over the course of 3 weeks I had not had a response from anybody - so of course I collected what I had paid for.

Ms Cunningham informed me that this meant they could not do anything at all about my complaint, because I "could have copied the photographs".

I informed her that my complaint was made on the evening of my photo shoot, less than 4 hours after it took place - before any photos would have had any chance to be printed - so it is not my fault that their exceptionally poor approach (in my opinion) to customer service meant that it took them a month to deal with my complaint, meaning I have since collected the photographs. If they had responded to me promptly, I would not have had the pictures.

NO refunds in ANY circumstances....

Again, Ms Cunningham repeated herself over and over - and then began to refer to PIXIFOTOs No Refund policy - stating that from the very minute the payment is made, there are absolutely no refunds given.

So - despite the fact that I had been misinformed as to what I was paying for, despite the fact that I received poor quality photographs - I was not entitled to a penny of my money back.

So PIXIFOTO are, in theory, able to take your money and run no matter how unhappy you are with your products - EVEN if they tell you that you're paying for 5 canvas prints and you actually receive one small photograph - according to their policy, you are not entitled to a penny of your money back.

Interesting, don't you think?!

My phonecall with Ms Cunningham ended when I asked her if she intended to do anything whatsoever about the problems I had experienced.
She informed me that there was "nothing she could do".

I thanked her and informed her that I would now pursue the case through Trading Standards.

Going to court....

I have since been in touch with Trading Standards who have informed me that I must send two written letters to them via Recorded Delivery, outlining an acceptable response time - after both letters have been sent, if I receive no reply or am unhappy with the response, I can pursue them through the Small Claims Court.

I will report back with my progress in this case.

I realise that £155 is not a lot of money but that is not the point - originally I did not want a refund, I wanted a reshoot. 
Imagine if I had paid the original £525 quoted and was left in this situation?!!!

Now its about more than the money - I think it is disgusting that a company offering newborn and child photoshoots is so ready & willing to take the money of parents, and yet are completely unwilling to resolve any problems experienced.

I am also disgusted that a company such as Mothercare allow such an unscrupulous company to trade from within their stores, preying on their customers as they shop!

More unhappy customers....

While discussing my bad experience with PIXIFOTO on Twitter, I was contacted by  many other disgruntled customers who felt that they had been ripped off, mislead about what they would be receiving for their money, and left with poor quality products..... One very interesting message came from a former employee of PIXIFOTO who informed me of the dreadful working conditions she encountered during her time with the company....

This person does not wish to be named, however she did provide me with these photographs - showing the filthy silks used to drape over newborns during shoots, which she brought home herself to wash.

Lovely?! Very hygienic in the hands/mouth of a newborn baby... 


In short, I would strongly advise ALL mothers against using PIXIFOTO for your photography sessions - Max Spielmann are currently running a photo shoot plus canvas, large and medium print and 2 photo mugs offer for £30.00 - nice clear price structure....and Faye Cunningham doesn't work for them!

Have you had any experiences with PIXIFOTO yourself? Or experienced bad customer service to this degree? What did you do about it? As always, I'd love to hear from you!
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