I think a big part of using labs is developing a really good relationship so that you and are ultimately on the same page. It can take several times going back and forth, but I think it's worth the effort. I think just about any lab can pull your vision out of your negatives, but it can take some work to get there.
I could not agree more. Even when I was getting my prints at the local drugstore, I built a positive relationship with the photo manager, and she would take the time to run as many prints as necessary to get a print to both our satisfaction. Dealing with labs that are farther afield now, I usually initiate business with via email, but follow up with a phone call. It does not hurt to know the printers and office staff by name, and to show an interest in who they are and how they do their job.
Tom, on Point Pelee, Canada
Ansel Adams had the Zone System... I'm working on the points system. First I points it here, and then I points it there...