Monday 21 November 2011

service with a sneer, part 1: the spanish inquisition

Customer service ain't what it used to be. I refer not to the "Oat Crisp" saga, but to other, even more scandalous happenings.

Have you ever looked at a packet of food and seen a phone number, email, or mailing address through which you can contact a "customer service representative" if you are "unsatisfied"? Who are the unseen heroes that field these concerns and complaints?

I once held a romantic view of these people, imagining them to have the patience of Mandela, the morals of Gandhi, and the resolve of Churchill. This has all been recently shattered.

In September of this year, a friend of mine attempted to cook spaghetti bolognese for nine hungry people. Since a good sauce is crucial to this dish, we provided the cook with detailed instructions about the ingredients he would require to prepare the sauce for said dish, and sent him off to the store.

He returned with two golf-ball sized tubs of tomato paste, and one spanish onion.

The disbelief hung thick in the cold kitchen air. Sadly, as we could not serve and eat disbelief, debate began to focus on the onion, with the cook defending the ridiculous idea that one spanish onion might somehow be enough for a pasta dish meant to serve nine ravenous males.

I resolved to put an end to this debate by emailing my local supermarket (Woolworths) the following week. Sadly, I do not have the original email, but I can assure you that it was written earnestly yet with no sass. I said, assuming the tone of a kindly yet elderly man, that although Woolworths' spanish onions were of the highest quality, I was unsure as to their size and thus needed to know roughly how many onions Woolworths would recommend to cook spaghetti bolognese for nine.

I was not prepared for the vitriol that followed my inquisition. If you, dear reader, are short of time, I have emboldened the section you should pay most attention to:

Good afternoon [redacted]

In response to your request
I would have thought you may have had some family or friends to ask but in answer to your question I have attached a Spaghetti Bolognese recipe. This recipe has 1 large onion not specifically Spanish so by using 3 Spanish onions which are not as strong as a brown onion it should turn out delicious. I think by doubling the attached recipe you would have enough for 9 serves.
I hope this helps enjoy your meal.

Kind Regards,


Holy moly!

My illusions were shattered, and my inbox was besmirched. Here lay words formed by a metaphorical Frankenstein of customer relations: a person assembled with the temper of Henry VIII, the morals of Stalin, and the kindliness of Thatcher.

I would assume that when faced with an odd request, prudence dictates that the service representative must make a conservative estimation: that the letter-writer is a nice old man, a slightly deranged amateur chef, or an Dickensian orphan who must feed his gang of street urchins—certainly not a twit with a blog.

What if I were indeed a fragile, doddering old gentleman? How would fare my will to live? Would I cry at the sight of an onion for the rest of my days? Although tempted to reply to this email, I decided that I must stay in character, and so retired to my bed to weep.

I would love to read the Woolworths customer service manual, particularly the part that encourages the casting of aspersions upon the social and familial situation of customers. If anyone has a copy and can scan the relevant section for me, that would be outstanding.

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