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If the tone of the presentation is so upbeat, and the message so positive, how is it that I look around the room and see nothing but boredom on the faces around me? Even the Boss, sitting at the back of the room so that he can keep an eye on the unruly elements at the front, is finding it had to fake enthusiasm. Of course the person delivering the presentation, a very positive young lady from one of the big five US management consultancies, is oblivious to our lack of response. Perhaps it's a language/culture thing. She's a Yank management consultant and most of her audience are English software developers…
The topic is service quality. We are, she informs us, about to become an 'agile service quality enterprise able to leverage the synchronous creative energy of the fully empowered and fully committed work-force going forward into the future'. It's not clear to any of us where we're going forward to, but what the hell, her time is more precious than ours and every minute of it costs us a fortune so we listen in silence.
Across the room I hear the first snore of the morning. It's a low rumble that sounds like a washing machine about to grind to a halt. It gets louder a second later and Rice has to dig Kevin in the ribs to wake him up sharpish.
'You have a question?' Ashley-Jo asks, stopping mid-sentence to stare at Kevin intently.
He looks dazed but her steely blue eyes fix him in place. She's waiting for a question. 'Er…You say that we're moving forward into the future?'
'But doesn't moving forward imply that it's in the future? I mean you can't move backward into the future, can you?'
Suppressed sniggers all round. Ashley-Jo's smile assumes a certain gritted-teeth quality.
'It's just a figure of speech,' she tells him. 'Is there anything else?'
Kevin looks embarrassed. 'No,' he mumbles apologetically.
Ashley-Jo turns round on her expensive high-heels and continues where she left off. She's telling us what service quality means. It means a lot of things apparently. Like caring, commitment, energy, creativity. Mom and apple pie are surely on the list somewhere.
When she moves on to the next PowerPoint slide I add to my tally of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and formatting inconsistencies. She's into double figures on all of these. I especially like the sentence 'Quality means not been negrative'. It's a beaut, for sure. I always make sure that me and my team are not been negrative. Not negrativeness oozes from our pores most days. Sometime we've even been positive in our not been negrativeness. I'm glad that quality is high on her agenda as well as ours.
Several dozen slides later, by which point we've had the 'seven deadly sins of poor service quality', the 'six positive virtues of quality', the 'eight principles of the quality enterprise' and four different flavours of quality mission statement, and she's getting to the exciting part. She's about to introduce our company's new 'service quality initiative'. This is what her management consultancy has cooked up for us, at a cost of mega-bucks, (unfortunately quality doesn't involve paying for more powerful servers, new computers for developers, money for training courses, developer recruitment or any salary increases). The tension in the air is palpable. She's been building up to this. Her voice is hushed. We're on the edge of our seats…
'Now that we know what quality is,' she announces, 'it's time to look at how we can deliver it across the enterprise. This is where we have worked with you to create a powerful initiative - a complete program from top to bottom - to help leverage the best of us all to give back the quality that makes us all shine. And this program is called Comet Service'.
We sit in silence and stare at her Comet Service logo up on the screen.
Colin is the first to break the silence. 'Is this anything to do with broken washing machines?' he asks innocently.
'I'm sorry?' Ashley-Jo is bewildered.
Someone at the back of the room calls out that his video came back from repair in a worse state than when it went in. Somebody else had a vacuum cleaner that spewed out more crap than it sucked in. The list of complaints gets louder and louder as the horror stories multiply. Above it all the words 'wouldn't', 'touch and 'barge-pole' can be heard repeated like a mantra
'Hold on! hold on!' she tells us. 'Will somebody please explain?'
'Comet is the name of a high-street electrical retailer in the UK,' I explain. 'They're one of the biggest in the country. They are also well-known for providing crap service. Comet and crap service go hand in hand.'
'When I think of Comet,' she tells us, 'I visualise shooting stars flying through space. It's a thing of wonder and enchantment. It's aspirational.'
'We think of crap customer service, rude staff and technical incompetence. We visualise broken DVD players, unfixable PCs and leaking washing machines. It's not aspirational, it's diabolical.'
She looks at me coldly. 'You guys are kidding, right?'
The Boss stands up. 'It took five technician visits to look at my home cinema system,' he tells us, 'and it was still not working at the end of it. Luckily it was my nephew's birthday last month, so I was able to pass it on to him as a present. They are a shower of shite without a doubt. Comet provides crap service, it's well known.'
Ashley-Jo is not impressed. 'We've worked hard on this initiative,' she tells us all sharply. 'You forget about that other crap. From here on you focus on this initiative. That's what your corporate people want, and that's what they'll get.'
We all nod sheepishly. Looks like the initiative is well named after all. Comet and crap service really are synonymous.