11.10, Thursday 6 Feb 2003

At least in the UK, on the back of most food packaging is a tiny helpline phone number. About a year ago I called up a few to find out what they did. There's something intriguing about customer care lines.

  • Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles
    Friendly. The sort of questions they get asked are: how much fat do pastilles contain? Are they vegetarian? (They aren't kosher.)
  • Sainsbury's jam
    Wouldn't tell me anything. When asked what sort of questions they get asked, became paranoid. "Who are you? Where are you calling from?" I was just interested, I said, in what sort of questions they get asked. "Who are you? We can't tell you that. It's a secret."
  • Flora
    Similar to Sainsbury's. Contents of questions to care line is secret. Happily sent me large amount of margarine propaganda.
  • Polos
    Very friendly. Bloke who answered customer care line based in a portacabin on the factory floor, near the Polo making machine. Asked to describe it, he said it was a like a six barrel machine gun, shooting mints. Loud.
  • Some premium marmalade company, jar obtained from Sainsbury's
    Customer care line number resolves to office secretary who obviously doesn't get these calls often. Refuses to believe my "what sort of questions to do you get" question is a real question. Demands to know my true purpose. Embarrassingly, I make up that I love marmalade and I'd love to know where to get more. "Tescos," she says, "or any supermarket," even more confused. Trying to get out of this hole, I claim I can't find it in supermarkets and I'd like to buy it direct. She takes my address, and later sends me their product list.
  • Tate & Lyle
    I ask how sugar is made. Customer care put me through to a sugar factory. I ask how sugar is made. Factory put me through to the technical department. I ask how sugar is made. Technical department put me through to a sugar engineer. I ask how sugar is made. Sugar engineer asks me how much time I've got. I ask for the overview. Lovely sugar engineer spends nearly quarter of an hour talking me through the growing, shipping, refinement and chemical processes. My favourite.

(This writeup prompted by a discussion in email where it turns out someone else used to phone Lucozade. It's not uncommon. My flatmate calls PizzaHut to thank them after we've had a particularly tasty pizza delivered.)