My first project at PCHQ, the government's electronic listening centre, may well be my last. I've been given the near-impossible task of making a success of the trial outsourcing of PC services to US giant Silicon Support Systems. After spending a whole day attempting to persuade the SSS site manager, an ex-mainframe jockey with total contempt for the personal computer, that he should change tactics, I decided to work on the grass roots. I arranged an awayday for the PC support team to introduce them forcibly to the concept of customer service.
It wasn't easy. SSS had given them a thorough grounding in trouble ticket handling and mean time between failure, but they had little idea of dealing with people. I'd arranged with the trainers to have a council of war during the first coffee break. By then, we thought, we should have assessed the current level of ability. We rated the staff against a scale of service industry workers, setting a target that they might compare themselves to after the event. For instance, if they had already been good, we might have aimed to equal a royal aide. "I suppose we could try for an estate agent," said Diane, the lead trainer. "Perhaps a car salesman after the sale is complete," said Phil, her sidekick. I shook my head. "We've got to be bold. We're going for hamburger restaurant counter staff." Despite the trainers' concerns that I was expecting too much, the seminar room was soon ringing to chants of "How can I help you? Have a nice day!"
I came away from the session with the warm glow that attending an uplifting event gives. I was humming a tune as I battled through the traffic streaming away from PCHQ on my way to give my report to the top man, Major Preston Stewart. And to get my expenses signed. I found Major Stewart waiting for me at reception. He did not look a happy bunny. His face was a brighter red than the tabs on his uniform. "What have you done with the support staff?" he asked through clenched teeth. "They've been on customer service training," I said brightly. "That would be excellent," he said, "if only they had any customers. The total absence of support today has been the last straw. There has been a walkout. You have single-handedly crippled this organisation. Get this mess untangled in 48 hours, or you are out on your backside. Is that clear?" I decided to leave my expenses to another day.
IBM and Technical University of Munich team demonstrate how Shor's algorithm, which can't be cracked by conventional computers, can be solved quickly with quantum computing
Hubble Space Telescope finds superflares from young red dwarfs could strip away planetary atmosphere
Younger stars are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when they're older
Two of the big four supermarkets will use the system to control sales of restricted products
PUBG news and updates: November's Update #23 to bring new Skorpion pistol and changes to blue zone visibility
Genuinely useful side-arm coming to PUBG in Update #23