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.
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