WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?

NYC's local Fox 5 News affiliate finds employees who say WorldCom invented a customer service exec

July 23, 2002

3 Min Read
WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?

WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOME) has been accused of many things lately. But what about the possibility that it cooked up fictional executives to patch up customer service problems?

That's the charge that local New York City television station Fox 5 made after investigating a string of complaints from angry WorldCom customers. The investigation led to a mysterious "vice president of customer service" named Thomas Barton, who wrote letters to many customers apologizing for problems. A WorldCom employee, however, told Fox 5 news that he doesn't exist -- that he's a fictional character. He never returns phone calls and very rarely returns letters (nor, presumably, does he appear in mirrors).

Mary Garofalo, the reporter on the story, tells Light Reading that a producer for the Fox 5 "Problem Solvers" show went to interview for a customer service job at MCI. On a smoke break after the interview, several of the employees in the department were eager to tell her all about the practice of keeping customers on hold for hours, laughing at how, when they finally bothered getting back on the line, the customer was liable to be snoring into the receiver.

On the television segment, one employee tells the camera that Thomas Barton is "fictional." Another tells Fox 5 that it was common knowledge among employees that Barton didn't exist -- and that WorldCom employees were threatened with being fired if they disclosed this.

Garofalo says Problem Solvers called every single WorldCom location in their search for Thomas Barton, but that he never surfaced. Instead, they were told to write to him at the same address given to the snoring customers -- the one from which there rarely comes a response.

Garofalo says that she’s received the names of several other possibly fictitious executives but that she hasn’t had time to investigate whether or not they actually exist.

The TV station started production on the segment after a horde of honked-off WorldCom customers had been complaining about being put on hold for as long as three hours when they called in to complain about billing problems.

Following yesterday’s report, the Problem Solvers have received hundreds of emails from people disgusted by WorldCom’s behavior, Garofalo says. She says the idea from the story came when Problem Solvers received more complaints from consumers about the now bankrupt carrier than about any other company.

WorldCom officials had "no comment" on the matter.

Complaints have been abundant about the company’s MCI (Nasdaq: MCIT) long-distance unit systematically over-billing customers, or continuing to bill them when they cancel the service. In fact, Light Reading itself was victim of the latter practice when WorldCom's overseas Internet access service double-billed for service at our London branch office, then sent a collection agency to us after we had already paid the bill. This took months to sort out. (Fortunately, no knee-caps were broken.)

Back in April, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) informed Light Readingthat between January 1, 2001, and April 16, 2002, there were approximately 188 informal complaints filed against WorldCom pertaining to overcharging or double-billing. At that time, 95 of the complaints were closed and 93 were pending (see WorldCom's Woes Mount). A long line of lawsuits has also been filed against the company by customers.

In the wake of WorldCom’s giant bankruptcy filing on Sunday, speculation is running rampant on what will happen to the company, its network, and the services it provides (see WorldCom Files for Bankruptcy). After massive layoffs, many observers are worried that the company’s quality of service will deteriorate. Others, though, wonder how it possibly could.

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading

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