November 10, 2012

A Picture Perfect for the Nursery

This is a bit of a long story. The TL;DR version is that I purchased that canvas print two months ago, but due to a series of print errors, I only just recently received it. For the first month I was in customer service hell. I finally got some one who was able to fix the problem by reaching out on twitter. Now I’m a happy customer once again.

On September 3rd I purchased a large canvas print of Nicki for her nursery. I loved the idea of having one of my photos blown up, and thought it would be very new-age-y and art-y to have. The canvas print that arrived, however, was all wrong. my baby was a reddish orange of an oompa lompa after a temper tantrum.

What I think went wrong

Print shops like shutterfly apply automatic color correcting before each print. They call the color correction software vividpix. Most of the time this software will enhance the photo, making it more vibrant. Even though I had already color correct my images, I’ve printed from them before (my wedding guestbook and Nicki’s birth announcements) and never had an issue with Shutterfly’s color correcting. The preview looked fine, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

The photo I was having printed of Nicki, however, was particularly light. She’s shoot against a white background with a white stuffed animal. My guess is to the computer, the over abundance of white made the image seem washed out. To ‘correct’ it, the software went overboard, upping the saturation to a comical level.

My Customer Service Nightmare Begins

I immediately called Shutterfly customer support upon opening the canvas print. The automated system told me the wait time was 30 minutes, and that they could hold my place in line and call back when an agent was available. I choose that option.

After an hour with no call back I started to really stew. I decided to call customer support again and stay on the line. If I got a callback while on hold I could hang up to answer. At least this way I was sure I was in the queue. This time the predicted wait time was 52 minutes.

Another hour passed.

As I waited I poked around the shutterfly website. They had the option for ‘live help’ which apparently wasn’t ‘live’, but an email form even though it was still before the 5 pm closing time. I filled it out anyway.

Another hour passed.

Finally someone answered. At this point I had been on hold in one form or another for three hours. I was beyond frustrated. I explained the problem to the support person and he said he needed to put me on hold to ‘check something’. When he came back his response was “it looks fine to me.” (Note to any customer oriented people who may read this some day: If the customer is irate after a large order, the appropriate response is not “it looks fine to me”. This is going on my nursery wall, not anyone else’s. I’m the one that needs to be happy with it, not anyone else.)

The customer support agent gave me two options: return it for a refund, or snap a picture with my cell phone so he could verify the colors were off and they could try to reprint it. Since I still wanted a canvas print for the nursery, I chose the second option. Only I could tell he didn’t know what he was talking about. A cell phone image would not necessarily be true to life colors. I didn’t want him deciding the print job was fine and dismissing my complaint again. To make the problem as obvious as possible, I printed the image to put next to the canvas print when I snapped my picture.

I called back. This time the wait was reported as 103 minutes.

102 I-so-wish-I-was-making-this-up minutes later, the system hung up on me. The office was closed for the day.

I was livid.

When I woke up the next morning I had a response to the form I had filled out. Shutterfly was reprinting the canvas print with Vividpix turned off. The next Friday I received another Oompa Loompa photo.

Since I was busy with Nicki all day, I hadn’t opened the package until the office was closed for the day. The next morning I wake up as soon as the customer service department opens up. Yes, I woke up before the baby just to contact customer support. This time ‘live help’ was working and opened up a chat window. The rep told me that “all appropriate color correction was done.” I asked what that means, since no color correcting was supposed to be applied. “Yes, that’s what I meant.” There was nothing she could do, I’d have to call customer support back on Monday.

I really didn’t want to spend another 5 hours on hold. I don’t want to waste another day on the phone. I couldn’t, I was still on maternity leave and had to watch Nicki while my husband is at work. I told myself I can live with the print. I have my friends tell me I can live with the print. But I just couldn’t. By the end of the week I still couldn’t bring myself to hang the canvas print on the wall.

I decide to try the email form one more time since that’s we’re I had the most luck last time. The customer support agent who responded was able to tell that vividpix was not turned off correctly. He suggestion I upload the image again and to turn off vividpix myself. He would apply free credits to my account so I could reprint it.

Since I don’t want to repeat this exercise yet again, and since the customer support agents didn’t seem to have a good idea what was wrong, I decide to send the image to the two most graphics experts I know, my sister and her husband. They theorized that the problem may be the color display. Basically, my computer and their printer may be processing colors differently. They showed me my photograph under different color displays on their computer and, sure enough, one looks particularly red. I do a little googeling and find that Shutterfly print in sRGB.

I contacted customer support to see if they can print the image in a different color display. Its a long shot, but would save me from recallabrating it. Short answer: no. The agent suggests I use the preview option to verify the image is correct after I upload it, promising it will print “exactly the same.” Except I did, and it didn’t. In fact, not only did my photo look beautiful in the preview view, it looked wonderful on the receipt shutterfly printed and included with both oompa loompa canvas prints. The only option left, per her recommendation, was to change my color display to sRGB and color correct yet again. That’s when I discover my monitor is already set to sRGB. The color display wasn’t the problem.

It gave me an idea. Even though my monitor was in sRGB, I could still tweek the colors. There’s a range of acceptable skin tones. I split the color channel in my graphics program. Splitting the color channel shows me the proportions of red, green and blue. Sure enough, the red channel looks a bit blown out.

Here’s were we’re really expanding outside my comfortable zone and skill level. My goal was to adjust the skin tone so that it’s on the pale yellow end of the acceptability range. That way whether it prints as is, or on the redder side, I will still be happy with it. Only, I’ve never done this before, and the current version looks beautiful to me. Since it wasn’t printing red at home, I would have no way of knowing when I tweeked it enough, or too much. I was effectively flying blind.

Since I was modifying the image, it would be my fault if the image printed too pale. I couldn’t get mad at Shutterfly if this reprint was still not up-to-snuff. Thus I decided this is would be my last attempt.

I finish the redesign and login in to shutterfly to order the reprint. Only I have no promised credits. I email shutterfly again to ask for the promised credits. Their response? I would need to mail the canvas print back to them so they could verify the color problem. On my dime. Totally Unacceptable. I just went through the exercise to fix the reprint myself. A month has passed since I first placed the order. I was not going to spend more of my money and time. I was previously willing to walk away, but this response had my livid once again. I was the paying customer, and I once again wanted (demanded?) satisfaction.

At this point it had been 3 phone calls, 5 hours on hold, 3 emails, and 2 chats. I took to twitter and complained. Loudly.

A Resolution

After a couple days of angry tweets I finally get a response. Through a series of direct messages the customer service agent offered to reprint the canvas print again. Her plan was to ship it to herself and verify the quality of the print. Once she was satisfied the problem was resolved, she would send it to me.

Another month and three reprints later, she had a reprint she felt comfortable sending me. Shutterfly didn’t use my modified image and I never found out what was wrong. But that doesn’t really matter now, does it? I finally have a canvas print I’m happy with.

Would I use Shutterfly again?

Yes and no.

To their credit Shutterfly was willing to reprint the canvas print four times. I doubt there are very many places that would have gone to that level of effort. Shutterfly didn’t give up, and I really appreciate that. I achieved my goal of having a canvas print I could be proud of in her nursery. I am once again a happy customer.

On the other hand, the first month was hell. Each time I’d call back a different agent would direct me to do something else and I got the impression more than once that the customer sales agent didn’t believe there was a problem with the print, and thought I was trying to defraud the company. I wasted an awful lot of time and energy on this project, and spent too much money to be treated that way.

So yes, I will use Shutterfly again. Just not in the near future.

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