Monday, September 14, 2009

Yep, I dialled......

Have you ever been washing your dishes or eating your breakfast cereal and then found yourself automatically reading the entire label on the bottle of detergent or packet of bran flakes?

Not just the 'serving suggestion' ideas (ie a photograph of weetbix in a bowl with milk - who'd have thought), the ingredients (yum, it's got emulsifiers and vegetable gum in it) or the ridiculous promises made by the product (NEW! IMPROVED! How can something be 'improved' if it's new?), but the tiny print that says "Comments? Questions? Call us on 1800....."

Who rings these numbers? What on earth do they want to comment or ask about? How bored and lonely and clueless would you need to be to even consider making such a call? Well, I made a few calls.....

Safcol Tuna
'Our operators are busy or unavailable. Please leave a message and we will get back to you.' Which they did.

"Errm, I'm not your usual caller, but I got curious and would like to know....WHO rings you?"

The pleasant-sounding Pamela told me that most of their calls were not concerning the tuna, but their catfood brand, Snappy Tom. She'd had complaints about how the packet looks and that one chap was not going to buy the new dry catfood in the box because the spout was too small. As for the tuna, the calls mostly concerned where they could get certain lines and flavours if they couldn't be found at their regular supermarket.

Pamela also told me that consumers often confused herbs and spices in the cans of flavoured tuna as 'foreign bodies' and would ring to complain or demand a refund. "We have some fact-sheets we work through to explain that what they think is a stone is a peppercorn."

She receives around twenty phone calls a day and " least one or two of them also end up telling me their life stories." Despite my encouragement, she was not allowed to share any weird and wonderful tales with me because "Everyone is a consumer and we mustn't laugh at them." Fair enough, especially if your calls 'may be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes.'

Sakata Rice Crackers
"Oh you'd be surprised. We get heaps of calls," said the helium-inflected voice on the other end of the phone. What about? "Mostly about questions about the ingredients - what they mean and if they're safe for coeliacs or diabetics to eat." Any complaints? "Rarely. Except for one guy, who thought the seaweed was grass. He'd picked them up by mistake when he really wanted the BBQ ones."

Colgate Toothpaste
Automated answering machine. 'We welcome your questions and comments and keep it all confidential. Please press '1' on your keypad to hear about your rights to privacy. Please hang on the line if you wish to speak to a consumer service operator.' Justin came on the line.

"We get a lot of feedback about our cleaning products, shower gels and soaps mostly," he said. What about your weirder calls, you know the ones that you laugh about in the tearoom? He stayed professional: "We deal with people who can't find particular products in their stores and dispense oral care advice."

Hang on - oral care advice? Like for people who don't know how to use their toothpaste? "Sometimes. We're not dentists but we do have fact-sheets that we can post out to them."

Come on Justin, give me something here! "Actually we do get a lot of calls complaining about how one of our products might have damaged their clothing. Again, we have factsheets on how to remove particular stains, mostly using all that old stuff like lemon juice, breadcrumbs and borax that your grandmother would have used."

Now he was starting to enjoy our conversation. "We also get a lot of single guys who ring us, wanting to know how to do their washing. I had one guy once who'd used the antiseptic hand soap as a shower gel, and complaining he'd broken out into a rash. When I told him that it wasn't mild enough for showering with I then had to spend about an hour going through his entire bathroom cabinet of our products so that he knew what he had to use for where."

Now there was no stopping him. "I've had fifteen years of experience in customer service call centres, most of it at Telstra. I can tell a story from there if you like," he offered.

Yes please. "Cool. In the very early days of mobiles and SMS, I had a call from a very worried lady. She'd been getting SMS messages telling her to check her mail box. She told me 'Each time I go outside to the letterbox, there's nothing in there. After the sixth message, I got so worried I drove to our beach house to check the letter box there, but there still wasn't anything in it.' That's the only time I had to put down the phone to have a laugh," he said.

"Oh and there's one thing we all notice when working on the info ling; we get a helluva lot more weird, sad or bizarre calls on a full moon." Really?
"Oh yes. We've been able to document it, it's very noticeable."

What about the consumer centre for Band-Aids?

Rosemary tells me that they deal with calls from consumers about all of their products made by Johnson and Johnson. She answers a lot of enquiries about what adhesive is used on the bandaids from people who have sensitive skin. The only complaints she's received about the innocuous little plasters has been about the gauze pad being stuck in the wrong position. "No, that's not right", she said, warming to the theme, "We also get loads of calls from people who have counted the number of bandaids in the box and aren't happy if there's only 24 instead of 25." She considered that those calls were pedantic but fair enough.

"We also handle the Splenda Sweetener product and apart from calls about their suitability for diabetics and requests for recipes, we've had calls complaining that there's only 299 in a 300 packet." Now that's a canny consumer - sitting at their kitchen table counting out sweetener tabs - thank goodness some people are spending their time wisely.

What about the 'Full Moon' effect? "Oh yes, there's definitely an increase in calls at that time. We get heaps at night asking us how to put on a bandaid or whether they can go for a swim wearing a sanitary pad."

On to our great South Aussie icon, Farmers Union Iced Coffee. As an interesting aside, did you know that South Aussies are the largest consumers per head of milk in the world? It would also be interesting to find out, therefore, if our rates of osteoporosis is lower than the general population too.

The lovely Lyn said that the most calls they receive about FUIC is from homesick South Aussies who are desperate to know where they can buy it interstate or seeking more information about its magical nutritional qualities. "We had one guy last week who thought that the package number at the bottom of the carton was the number of fat grams in the product." Any complaints? "No, never about our iconic iced coffee and flavoured milks, but we do get a few about runny yoghurt or milk that seems to have gone off before the use-by date."

The 'Full Moon' effect?


And lastly, Libra Invisible Pads. 'Welcome to the Tena and Libra customer service line. All of our customer service officers are currently busy. Your call is important to us, so please leave us a message and we will return your call as soon as possible.'

OK then, I left a message. No-one called in the past three days, so I can only assume that they're run off their feet with pesky little enquiries about wings versus no-wings.


Kay said...

I rang the Sakata line a few weeks ago. When they changed to the new packaging, they deleted the ONLY flavour that I liked....Tomato Salsa. I was hoping that if enough people rang to complain, then they might bring it back, but my work colleagues suggested that the response to my call was probably along the lines of "yay we've finally found the one person buying the Tomato Salsa flavour!!"

Benjamin Solah said...

The only time I've contacted customer care was when a workmate offered me a Cadbury Easter egg and upon eating it found a tiny white hard thing in it.

I called them up and they asked me to send it in. They then posted out a whole array of Cadbury goodies in apology.

...later I realised that that white thing was a chip off one of my back teeth.

ashleigh said...

Kath... turn this into a newspaper article :)

Dont hit me but... otherwise it starts to look like perhaps you have too much time on your hands (and if thats the case I'm sure there is a chapter of the bible waiting for your attention to translate it into LOLCAT!)

Lorna Lilo said...

I'm tempted to call the tampon companies to ask them why I don't feel more energised, feel like running along the beach or riding a horse with my girlfriends when I use their product. I just get more shitty than usual. They should be more honest..."use Libra for those times when you want to savage someone's head off".

Terence McDanger said...

Yep and no feckin' wimmin want to ravish me when I use deodarant under my arms either. Sakes!

Helen said...

We get called in sometimes to validate claims - like "is that a dead mouse in the ice-cream?"

The Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

What a great post. This is something I must try - not to ask questions about who rings - but perhaps to pretend to be a moron.

(OK - perhaps "pretend" is too strong a word).




Jilly said...

Kath, I loved this - definitely should be a newspaper article.

The Man at the Pub said...

I think a career in investigative journalism is calling Kath. I hope you had Milly help you.

A friend of mine found a bug in a can of Coke once. He rang the complaints line and got a shitload of free stuff sent to his house the next day. After making the call he returned to the drenched bug and saw it dry its wings and fly off. It must have flown in as soon as he opened the can.

Another classic I heard was of a bloke complaining to a hotline about a frozen pizza which he brought home and opened to find it had no toppings on it. No tomato, no cheese, no nothing. "That's very odd" said the customer service guy, and the customer went on complaining for 5 minutes until he realised he had the pizza upside down.

River said...

I've never called any of those numbers, but I have gone to websites or written letters about products. Once I emailed a company about a new pen saying how much I liked it, and they sent me 3 free ones in different colours. With Cadbury I once opened a family block and discovered cobwebby type stuff inside the silver foil, I sent the whole block back and got an apology first, then a box of different chocolates in the mail. Two family blocks and several other snack bars.

Kath Lockett said...

Kay, ah yes, tomato salsa. I think your workmates have hit it on the head. If it was selling well, it'd still be on the shelves.

Oh Benjamin - I bet you didn't ring Cadbury back to tell them it was your fault, did you? :) It reminds me of the time my brother found a tiny bolt in his pie and promptly rode his bike around to the factory to complain. They sent him home in a taxi with trays of fresh buns, cakes etc. When he got home, he realised it was their competitor company whose pie he had eaten that day!

Ashleigh I don't know if I have too much time on my hands, but it's more about how I spend that time; ie not very wisely.

I agree with you Lorna. Each packet of tampons (the 32s not the piddly 16s) should also have a packet of Panadol and block of family-sized chocolate attached to it.

Sorry to hear that, Terence. According to the latest Bonds advert running here in Australia, you have to wear those Roman-style wrestler's undies and they'll make the girls swoon instead.

Helen. You don't get PAID enough to validate a claim like that. They should bring in the CEO for that kind of taste test!

PlasManc - I look forward to reading the results.

Thanks Jilly. Maybe - I'd have to seek permission from all the companies to mention their names and stuff and wait for them to return calls or forward them on to the appropriate PR/marketing person and Zzzzzzz.......

Man/Pub Daddy - I wonder how many dodgy 'claims' that big companies just accept like the bug in the coke can just to get the person off the phone and happy to get a free six pack?

River you've done a nice thing (writing letters of thanks or appreciation is far, far rarer than letters of complaint), so I'm not surprised you got sent more pens.

Mark Base said...

Full stop.

Baino said...

Haha you're so out there! You rang SAFCOL just to ask who rings them? That's your trainer in the picture isn't it? If it isn't you so want some don't you? Ha! the FUIC homesickness bug . .I hope she ships you a crate! We can't get it here either but then you know I'm a Dare Double Espresso fan! As for the Tena/Libra people, you know they're just going to tell you that if you use their products, you can surf, play the piano and get an idiot boyfriend who uses your tampons to play with the cat!
@ Terrence, clearly you're not using Lynx

Actually, in all seriousness, Cadbury are very generous in providing product to disgruntled customers.

franzy said...

Oh, Kath. SO good. I think I'm going to applaud.

I just did.

I once found a good half a dozen thick, chunky toe-nail clippings in the bottom of a bowl of green pasta I'd made with Maggi Frozen Peas. I found the disgusting things In My Mouth. I spent a good 24 hours recovering and rehearsing my tirade of anger in my head. Just before calling Maggi, I told Mele what I was going to do and she confessed that the bowl I'd put the pasta in was the same bowl she had used as a toe-nail receptical the night before ...

JahTeh said...

I've had eight months of calling AGL and if they really do record the calls for training purposes, I expect ASIO to come knocking about the bomb threats.

Cat J B said...

After working in a public library and later a charitable organistation, the full moon phenomenon is spot on. All sorts of weirdness' increase at that time.....

Lidian said...

Love love loved this! Just brilliant. More, please!

The Blakkat said...

Kath, it's been said already, but turn this into an article for the paper! It's novel and very amusing and obviously you've done the investigative yards! Great post.