In Our Own Backyard...Hurry up and wait


Last weekend I spent 50 minutes of quality time with Janet M.

I decided I'd put together one of those family photo books that you can order online from home and pick up at your local store the same day. And since I needed to get Christmas gifts off in the mail, I figured that would work out just about perfectly.

I logged on to the website, uploaded my photos and selected a format for the book. I imported the photos, did a little minor editing and pushed the "Checkout" button, feeling very savvy and smug.

After I entered my name and address and hit the "Continue" button, however, nothing happened. I hit "Continue" once again, and still nothing. I tried a third time. Nothing.

By then, I was beginning to see my entire morning's labors going straight down the tubes. I noted there was a little "Help" button down in the corner, however, so I decided to give it a try. The message indicated I could either call, email, or use an "online chat," where you type in your question and an operator comes online and types in the answer right in front of your eyes. That sounded kind of cool, so I decided to try the chat.

I typed out a description of my dilemma and hit "Send."

Soon, an answer popped up on my screen, telling me Janet M. was there to help. She apologized for the problem and indicated she was checking into the issue. I waited.

In about a minute she typed in another message. "Everything appears to be OK with your order. I suggest that you try clearing your cookies and cache, reopening a new browser and logging in to your account again."

I paused just long enough that she worriedly typed back, "Do you need any help with that?" she asked.

"Probably," I said, readily acknowledging that I didn't know how to do all those things.

Unfortunately, however, nothing helped "unclog" my photo book order.

Janet M. seemed to be just as crestfallen as I was.

"I'm SO sorry," she wrote. "I will contact your local store to see if they're having mechanical difficulties with their processing equipment. Can you wait a couple of minutes?"

I replied, saying that would be fine.

While I waited, I checked Facebook, fed the cats and went through the day's mail.

Finally I received a typewritten message back from Linda M., saying the problem appeared to be that my local store didn't handle the "Custom Cover" photo book that I'd ordered, only the "Classic" photo book.

I typed back, asking where I could get it done.

She replied, saying she would look it up and let me know. "This could take a few minutes," she cautioned.

"That's OK," I typed back. "I have some vacuuming to do, so I will check my computer screen in a few minutes to see if you have an answer for me."

Once again, she wrote back apologizing for the inconvenience and promising that she'd get back to me as soon as she could.

I fired up my vacuum cleaner and got to work, stopping every so often to check my computer screen.

Finally, I spotted a reply from Janet M.

"How far are you willing to drive?" she asked.

Realizing this whole thing wasn't going well, I replied testily (I hoped), "Not at all. I already have a lot going on today, I need to get the photo book in the mail for Christmas and this whole thing was supposed to save me time."

In a split second Janet M. typed back apologetically, "I feel so bad about this. I'm really sorry."

I took a couple of deep, cleansing breaths and reminded myself this is the holiday season after all, and the poor dear had certainly given it her all.

"No problem," I said. "It was worth a try."

Once again, she responded immediately.

"Have a wonderful day, Wendy. Be well."

I felt as though Janet M. and I had somehow bonded, in a disconnected sort of way. She really seemed to take my plight to heart and cared about me. That's not something you find every day in customer service representatives. And despite the fact my photo book order never went through, I felt a surge of Christmas spirit.

Then, a survey popped up asking me to rate Janet M.'s performance...