By Greg Schwem
Every journalist charged with writing a weekly column yearns for two things:
1. Somebody will actually read the column
2. Somebody will feel strongly enough about the column to respond
Columnists particularly love it when No. 2 occurs, because we immediately think, "Wow, if I respond to the responder, I might just have ANOTHER column and won't have to beat my head against a wall three hours before deadline wondering what I am going to write about!"
This is precisely what happened after I wrote a piece detailing my desire to man the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. I merely wanted to hear the anguished voices of those hapless people thrust into the role of chef on Thanksgiving Day. After years of botching my holiday bird, I needed proof that I wasn't alone.
One day after posting the column on Twitter, an email arrived from Allison McClamroch, senior vice president at Edelman Consumer Marketing, Butterball's PR agency. In part, it read:
"We would love to have you out at the Talk-Line for Turkey 101 - with the experts who take all the calls."
An invitation? A chance to see the inner workings of the Butterball operation? I felt like Santa himself had summoned me to the North Pole on Dec. 23 and said, "Bring a video camera. And your kids!" I immediately accepted and, a few days later, found myself standing in the lobby of a nondescript office building in (dare I divulge the location?) Naperville, Ill.
Allison met me at the fifth-floor reception area and soon I was inside the Turkey Talk-Line nerve center, which consisted of 10 tables , each containing three to four festively dressed women. Yes, all the participants are female, something the Talk-Line's supervisors are aware of but don't seem too concerned about. Then again, would you rather have a male or female voice answering the phone when you're calling about the finer points of stuffing?
Within two hours, I had learned how much time I had wasted over the years worrying about . . . nothing. Registered dietitian and 12-year Talk-Line veteran Sue Smith told me it was perfectly OK to put a slightly frozen turkey in the oven and not necessary to spends hours with my hand inside various body cavities cleaning out turkey innards. Talk-Line supervisor Marty Van Ness suggested various ways of preparing the bird but cringed when I mentioned how my mother used to roast our holiday turkey in a brown paper grocery sack.
"Combustible item in a hot oven with grease. Never a good combination," she said.
Mom had no idea she was putting the entire family at risk every November.
Watching these ladies in action, I wondered, "Why can't all customer support lines work this way?" At Butterball, callers ask a question and receive not only an answer, but assurance that everything will be fine. The Talk-Line definitely does not operate like the cable company for not once did I hear, "Your turkey looks pink? OK, we'll send a technician out sometime between Thursday and Saturday."
It also does not function like a computer support department. If it did, every Talk-Line rep would have been ordered to begin the conversation with, "May I please have the turkey's serial number? (PAUSE) I'm sorry but that is not a Butterball turkey and therefore does not qualify for support. Goodbye."
Or, "Our records show you called last year. Unfortunately, you are only allowed one free Talk-Line call. If you want any more advice, you must upgrade to the Butterball Silver Talk-Line Plan. Do you have your credit card ready?"
Finally, the calls to Naperville stayed in Naperville. Nobody was placed on hold while satellites bounced the caller through space until, 15 minutes later, a monotone voice from a call center in Bangalore, India, droned, "If I'm hearing you right, you're wondering why there are flames shooting from your turkey fryer? Please hold while I transfer you to a higher level of support."
So thanks, Butterball, for assuring me that, should I choose to host Thanksgiving next year, my cooking duties will be infinitely easier. I just have one more question:
Does anybody there know anything about cable TV?
Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad
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