In November 1981, Butterball introduced a toll-free hotline with a simple mission: to help Thanksgiving chefs turn out top-notch turkeys. And while the phone call remains the beating heart of the Turkey Talk-Line industrial complex, it has in recent years branched out. In 2008, Butterball took its first tips to social media. In 2016, it added texting to its toolkit. This year, it’s adding an Alexa skill. Truly, wattle they think of next?
But let’s start with the calls themselves, which have also gotten an upgrade. It’s not quite as flashy as a voice assistant bot, but will probably provide more comfort and joy. Butterball this year has transitioned to a new, cloud-based system called PureCloud, from a company called Genesys—yes, even turkey talk lives in the cloud now. In the throes of your desperate basting, you likely won’t notice much of a difference, aside from one critical new feature: For the first time, rather than leave you listening to hold music indefinitely, Butterball will offer a callback option. You can get back to mashing your potatoes, and they’ll ring you when they’re ready.
That capability isn’t unique to Genesys, and you’ve likely encountered it in other phone calls with other, non-culinary corporations. But it does seem particularly practical to deploy it for callers who are attempting—and presumably struggling, if they placed the call in the first place—to wrangle a giant hunk of bird body.
“Having four little kiddos at home myself, my time is very important to me and somewhat limited, when I’m multitasking with my kids,” says Nicole Johnson, co-director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, who is donning a helper headset for the 18th year this month. “The fact that you can leave your name and number and have one of our team members call you back is amazing.”
Butterball has 50 seasonal turkey experts, in addition to 35 year-round consumer affairs agents, who have to field thousands of calls on Thanksgiving Day, respond to nearly 10,000 text inquiries in a single holiday season, and get nearly 100,000 incoming calls throughout November and December. There’s only so much turkey expertise to go around.
Butterball’s call system will also get an upgrade that consumers can’t see, in the form of enhanced analytics. (Further proof that in the future, which is now, nothing goes unquantified.)
“Now they have access to better granularity of not just number of calls but frequency, busy times for their agents, being able to see something as simple as a ‘closure code,’ where an agent classified it as a recipe, versus a ‘where to buy’ call,” says Brian Bischoff, global vice president for Genesys Cloud. “A supervisor or coach can essentially audibly listen in, they can observe and text answers to the agent to make the interaction more satisfying in real time. And then any data that’s collected during a session is captured for historical purposes.” The Turkey Talk-Line is technically free, but Butterball’s marketing team does gobble up its insights.
The bigger Butterball breakthrough comes not from the phone, but from your connected speaker. Butterball has joined the voice assistant wave, letting you summon up turkey tips from your Amazon Echo or other Alexa-enabled device. The new skill, which has been in the works for about a year, comes preloaded with answers to the Butterball’s most frequently fielded questions.
“Our top 10 questions from the 18 years I’ve been here never vary too much. It’s usually ‘how do I go about thawing my turkey,’ a lot of food safety questions, a lot of thermometer kind of questions, leftovers, that kind of thing,” Johnson says. Occasionally they see upticks in certain areas; Instapot-related inquiries, for instance, shot up the charts last year.
The Butterball skill on Alexa can now answer all of those, as well as suggest recipes. It can even give you a pep talk. And since whole turkeys are like snowflakes—no two are exactly alike, they’re largely seasonal, they’re fun to throw—the Alexa skill gives guidance based on the poundage of your poultry. “It’s a bit of a range, because there are so many variables that we take into account,” says Johnson. A consumer that’s short on time, for instance, may prefer the cold-water bath method to a refrigerator thawing; Alexa can give estimated times for each.
The Butterball skill also uses the voices of actual Turkey Talk-Line experts. The replies are all automated, naturally, so they can’t talk you down from a freak dry brine disaster, but they also don’t feel like a computer crowing in your kitchen.
The new phone system already had a dry run, thanks to Canadian Thanksgiving, which was on October 8. The Alexa skill just launched a week ago, but Butterball is optimistic about its future. “We’re really excited about the scale, and the new technology,” says Rebecca Welch, Butterball senior brand manager. “We really want to be able to offer assistance to holiday customers wherever and however they receive that information.”
The real test, though, will begin next week on November 15, the Thursday before Thanksgiving, which Butterball has dubbed “National Thaw Day”—time to put your frozen turkey in the fridge. That’s when the calls and texts and messages start in earnest. This year, if all goes as planned, they’ll go through just a little more smoothly, waste a little less of your time, and take place across more modes of communication than ever. It’s a few small things that add up to a less stressful holiday.
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