Whether you’re a product, a service, a whatever – please, be transparent and upfront with your pricing.
I recently went on my honeymoon cruise (early September) to the Caribbean via Carnival Cruise lines. A wonderful experience, except one part.
I’ll preface the story with the fact that I got married in June and had a horrible wedding photography experience with a company that I cannot name because they made me sign a contract not to slander them on the Internet in exchange for a partial refund – I’ll blog about that story another day. But after receiving crappy wedding photos, no engagement photos and not one hi-res shot of my husband and I that I could frame from our once-in-a-lifetime day, I had high hopes for capturing a romantic moment on this cruise.
Prior to this, I had never been on a cruise, and really didn’t know what to expect. My friends raved about the entertainment, the food, and the photography. “You’re going to buy every single photo they take of you!” my neighbor said. I was looking forward to these special moments with my husband over the week-long trip.
On our very first night of the cruise, we walked the ship from top to bottom. We found a section for photography, that not only printed and sold the photos that you took at dinner and at events for just $11.99, but a professional photo studio called “Dreams by Mihai” that had breathtaking romantic shots of couples and families on the beach and in the sparkling clear waters of the Caribbean. “I want THOSE!” I exclaimed to my husband as I stopped to gawk at the photos. The photographer, Mihai was standing in front of his photos and offered to show us his albums. After just a few seconds of flipping, I asked excitedly, “how much does this cost?” Mihai told us both, “$34.99 – set up an appointment, I’ll take you off the ship when we get to port and spend 30 minutes taking photos. They’ll be ready the next day for your viewing and purchase.”
As awesome as that sounded, I signed up immediately for the very first appointment at our second port of call, Half Moon Cay. True to his word, he expedited us off the ship, and we took photos on a private section of the beach – holding hands, running, piggyback rides, rolling in the sand, the whole she-bang. We left the shoot excited and could barely wait to see the proofs. Mihai said, “I will call you tomorrow when they are ready.”
Tomorrow came, and we got no call. We went to the photo studio, and he told us they were not yet ready and he would call us the next morning. The next morning came, and we found that there was something wrong with the phone in our stateroom, and we weren’t getting our voicemails – so we followed up again. The photos still weren’t ready. The photos didn’t end up being ready until the day before we got back to Baltimore, 3 days after they were originally promised. “No big deal,” I thought.
During this time, we made friends with many fabulous couples. One couple, Mike and Barb, were fun in particular. Barb actually has a photo studio (Studio 11 Photography) in Frederick, MD and brought her camera and dresses for underwater photography. Having been a model at one point in my life, I agreed to take the single shots (which came out phenomenal) and when she asked if I wanted her to take photos with Nathan and I, I declined in anticipation for Mihai’s photos. Again and again, I declined photos from the boat staff, and from friends with cameras because I didn’t want them to waste their time if we were getting professional photos done. I deeply regret that decision.
When Mihai finally called us for our photos, we were brimming with enthusiasm in his studio. He printed each and every photo on huge pages, and assembled them into a “story” format in a gigantic coffee table album. It was GORGEOUS. My husband and I looked like models, and they were exactly the kind of romantic photos we were missing as a newlywed couple. Now THIS was something I could print and put on our wall and be proud of.
I picked out a few photos that I loved and asked Mihai about the pricing. He rolled towards us in his office chair with a sheet of paper, which he lay down on the table. The paper detailed photo packages that started at $500 and went all the way up to $4000. Immediately, my heart sank. I listened to him go through the pricing, let him finish and asked for other options. “The photos are absolutely phenomenal,” I started off with. “But they are way out of our price range. We can’t afford these – you said $34.99.” A different expression came on Mihai’s face, as the conversation continued. He said, “well, yes – $34.99 per printed photo IF you buy one of these packages and want additional prints.” Almost feeling defeated, I tried a different route. “Well, what about the CD? Can we purchase the CD, AND prints?” He told us no. He said that prints or a CD were only available if we purchased a package between $500 and $4000, and there were no lower packages or offers. He specifically said “I don’t go into the island and get off the boat for a couple of bucks. These packages are what makes this worth my time.” I started to get angry, but kept my cool. “Well, I wish you would have given us the pricing up front, we could have avoided this. We simply can’t afford it. I didn’t want to waste your time, and I’m willing to pay at least something for your time so we’re both happy, but I can’t afford $500 right now.” That ended up being the end of the conversation and we left the studio, dropping the prints back on the table, along with my hopes for those special memories I had been longing for so long.
As the studio door closed, I walked ahead of my husband, in a confused sort of daze. I almost couldn’t process what happened. I couldn’t decide how I felt, I could only feel anger and sadness. I walked to the nearest exit to the outdoors and immediately burst into tears. Sobbing, I cursed him for not being upfront, for not wanting to work with us, for making us wait, for presenting something so beautiful that I wanted so bad, and for taking it all away.
After calming down, we walked back through the interior of the cruise ship, where we ran into some friends we had met previously on the ship. Caroline and Vivian from Australia were delightful women, taking a long holiday and were kind enough to share a lunch table with us. We told them about what happened and they said “wow, I would be crying if I were you!” Again, I burst into tears, and they realized how upset I was over it. They offered some advice like going to guest services, or going back up to Mihai to try to negotiate again, but I felt useless and defeated. I felt like Carnival would not understand or care, because apparently the photographer had been working on the ship for nine years. He’s been doing this for NINE years. Surely someone else must have encountered this. But the fact that he’s still doing it made me feel like Carnival was letting him, so I accepted defeat.
I’m still upset about the experience – I’m sad to say that it soured a rather impress experience with Carnival Cruise Lines.
I’m writing this blog in the hopes that if you’re a brand or business, that you take into account your customers – who are the most important thing – and be upfront, honest and transparent. Maybe your product or service isn’t something as personal or emotional as wedding/honeymoon photos. Maybe it won’t be as heartbreaking as this experience was for me. But at the very least, it will lend you credibility and trust, I promise you that.
Carnival Cruise Lines reached out to me on Tuesday about this, just two business days after I published it. I’m not sure if any of the social sharing from me and friends (thank you!) had anything to do with it, but i’m impressed that they reached out. They stated that this should not have happened and they are going to do what they can to get the photos to me at the promised $34.99 per photo, and will follow up soon, and that if i needed anything, to contact them directly. They gave me the direct phone number of a real person. Again, very impressive. My fingers are crossed that they’ll be able to pull this off. Due to my excellent experience on the boat (minus this), I had decided that I we were probably going to take another trip on Carnival, but this just solidifies it.