Thursday, December 18, 2008

The beginning of the end? [Updated]

While I realize the following comment that we received could all be rumor, speculation, and hearsay, someone yesterday wrote:

"In all the mid to low volume studios, they are eliminating the assistant manager and key associate positions. All assistant managers in those studios have the option to stay on as regular associates on associate pay."

True? False? Perhaps we will learn at CPI Corp's (CPY) Third Quarter meeting. Webcast is Thursday at 10:00pm central time on the CPI Corp website. Listen in yourself and keep me posted, as I'll be at work during this time. Marketwatch has information about rebroadcast and downloadable audio.

Update: Earnings report released:
"CPI Corp. (NYSE: CPY) today reported that net sales for the third quarter of 2008 decreased $19.6 million, or 14%, to $115.8 million from the $135.4 million reported in the third quarter of 2007. The Company also reported a net loss of $13.3 million, or ($2.06) per diluted share, for the 16-week third quarter ended November 8, 2008, compared to a net loss of $10.1 million, or ($1.57) per diluted share, reported in the comparable quarter of fiscal 2007."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Let's talk the busy season

First off, I know everyone's really busy this time of year but please submit your best, most ridiculous busy season stories. You'll find my email address at right.

Secondly, I got an email from a reader that asks "I'd really like to know what the company is doing on PRS, Sales, and Sits. My old studio is down nearly 70k so far, and the sits are WAY down. I was terminated because my studio was down for the first time in 13 years. (I nearly killed myself trying to "fix it")."

It's something that I, too, am interested in. I know I was catching a lot of flak when I was at SPS because I had a slump where I was at $100/month. Now I hear they're running a 70% custom conversation rate and a PRS of 90 to 95 dollars. How are things looking in your studio. Are people worried that the end is near?

And remember to submit those stories!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What it's like being at Tech Support

A much appreciated submission follows. Number 5 is especially interesting to me:

Out of all the employees that work for CPI, the folks who work for tech support are probably the most misunderstood. Long wait times, an inexperienced tech, and equipment that doesn't want to cooperate wears on everyone's nerves. I just wanted to drop a line letting some of you guys know what it's really like to work on the other side of the phone, potentially dispel some myths that are out there about us, and give some advice as to how to make your wait times shorter.

1. We know your job is hard. Nearly all of us have been in at least one studio. Most of us have been to install studios, from top to bottom with the digital roll out. We have seen the uncooperative kids, the parents who yell, scream, and hit them, and what you have to go through on a daily basis. If we haven't seen it, we have at least heard it on the phone. And, most of us thing you deserve a medal for what you do. Working here is hard, and you go through a lot, and we know that.

2. We really are here to help you. I know this seems unbelievable. But, if we didn't like talking to people on the phone, we'd be repair technicians, where we wouldn't have to talk to anyone.

3. Our jobs are really very hard. I never knew some members of the field didn't think so, until I saw an area manager in the home office smoking lounge loudly declare that we could all be replaced my monkeys. It takes 6 months to get a new tech up to speed that has previous technical experience (college degree or former tech support) and over a year for someone with no experience to become a good tech. There is a lot to learn, not just for Sears, but for Picture Me, Buy Buy Baby, and all of the other concepts we have. Canada and Puerto Rico SPS? Oh, their systems are different too. We have to know all of that stuff before we can even pick up the phone and talk to you.

4. Most of us are not idiots. A lot of us have been with the company for a long time. A lot of us have been around in the field, flying from place to place, helping out real, live studios. Of course, these trips weren't mandatory, but we went anyway. A lot of us give up holidays (like Thanksgiving) to assist SPS and Canadian studios (who don't celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day as the US). A lot of us have had detailed technical training in the form of either a 2 or a 4 year degree, both of which CPI did not pay for. And some of us, due to the economy, have serious qualifications and certifications that in normal conditions, would net us double the salary that we are making at CPI.

5. We are held to the same difficult standards that you are. PRS for you guys equals call volume for us. We don't take enough volume, we are going to be in trouble. 3 tardies (even 1 minute late) or absences in 30 days? That's a write-up. Another one? That's another write up. Another one? You're fired. Too many complaints from a studio even if it's over nonsense? You're fired. And every January, we have layoffs, every year like clockwork. This year we are having November and January layoffs. You're probably thinking: Layoffs? I'm the 80th caller on hold, what the hell? That's right people. You see, the big wigs over this department have told us that we are a "liability"; that the field goes out and makes the money, and that our salaries are liabilities, since we make "no money". When you see the stock plummet, don't get a wage increase, or see other indicators that CPI isn't doing well, odds are we are having layoffs here at the home office.

And now for the good part, how to make the queue volume better:

Nothing says "another day in paradise" like taking 50 calls in a 4 hour period, and having the 51st studio chew you out over the queue volume *sigh*. Please don't chew us out. If you have been reading this so far, you have seen that call volume is largely beyond our control.

1. Don't put the most inexperienced person in the studio on the phone to talk to us. Please, for crying out loud. If I ask the person the studio number and they're stumped and have to ask you, they are going to ask you everything else too. You might as well take the call in the first place. "But, but, I'm busy like hell, you say". Didn't you just hear that we had 80 calls in queue??? Now I have to train your noobie how to troubleshoot. That makes the queue worse, because a call I could resolve in 10 minutes with an experienced person now takes 45.

2. Try to help yourself before calling. No power to your computer? Verify the power connections. Plug it in somewhere else. Try to turn it on. No DSL connection? Unplug the power to your DSL and VPN. Light not flashing? Power off your pack, press test, and replace the bulb. Don't know how to load media into the Shinko? There's a document with pictures on the browser. If it still doesn't work, THEN call us.

3. Please don't bitch us out. It drags the morale and productivity down on this end of the line. Most of us are doing the best we can. Yes, we know that little Suzie's mother just chewed you out, probably over something beyond YOUR control. But, we are here to resolve your technical issue, not to take your abuse or be your whipping boy(s). ALL calls are recorded. People have been fired over what they have said to technicians on the phone. And, we can hear pretty much everything that is going on in the background, really well, thanks to the neat headsets we have. All of the background stuff is recorded too. We complain and the call is pulled. My manager sends it to your DM, and things go from there, depending on severity.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The promise of advancement

We already know how there's opportunity for advancement over at SPS because everyone leaves. But at the same time, what's sometimes worse is the promise of advancement that never comes. From the time I started at SPS, my studio manager was always told that she was soon going to be an area manager. It was always just around the corner and always something that we had to prepare for. Yet, a year later, nothing changed and she was still stuck in the same studio. Similarly, I was told that I was being looked at for a position where I would go around setting up studios and getting everyone prepped and ready. Either that or I could take the position of my studio manager when she moved up.

I'm not the only one out their either. The following comment from yesterday reminded me of this:
"I make $8 an hour and have been with the company almost a year now. I'm a five star photographer and my average sale has never dropped below 115. I've been falsley promised the Assistant manager as well as an M.I.T position many times and my DM refuses to give me a number on what I will be making if I do get those positions.

The only reason I havent quit is because I can't find any other place that starts off higher than minimum wage - or that is hiring, for that matter."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Completely utterly disregard scheduled appointments

One great submitter forwarded me an excerpt from a district manager's email.

"1. We take walk-ins AHEAD of Scheduled appointments. Often the scheduled appointment does not show up on time. It only takes you 15 minutes to take pictures. That is perfect if the walkin comes in 10 minutes before the appointment.
If the walkin arrives at the same time as the appointment, you still need to take them first. Theoretically, the walkin will wait 5 minutes before giving up and going somewhere else. That is losing potential sales!"