Thanksgiving Tip: Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line Adds Alexa

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 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, nonculinary 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, codirector 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.”

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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.

Talk Turkey

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 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?’ Johnson says. “A lot of food safety questions, a lot of thermometer kind of questions, leftovers, that kind of thing.” Occasionally they see upticks in certain areas: Instapot-related inquiries, for instance, shot up the charts last year.

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