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WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/23/2002
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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 Reading that 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
http://www.lightreading.com

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erbiumfiber
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erbiumfiber,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:17 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
that were exposed about a year back ("BEST FILM OF THE YEAR" Bob Smith...Los Alamos Daily Informer). Quite a few companies even used their own employees as "movie-goers" emerging from the film to give us their comments...

Nothing like getting a "feel-good" letter about customer service from a guy who doesn't exist...

Keep digging-there are enough disgruntled former WCOM employees that soon every shady practice will be revealed...they will rue the day they laid off those 17,000 mouthpieces and then gave them severance in "distributed" payments...
Eye-in-the-Sky
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Eye-in-the-Sky,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:16 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
>>>>> Nothing like getting a "feel-good" letter about customer service from a guy who doesn't exist... <<<<<

or customer service that doesn't exist from a guy that could be real
keelmoose
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keelmoose,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:16 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
I'm not trying to defend Worldcom but the situation described could just as well apply to SBC:
Whomever answers the [customer service] telephone can't help with your problem and must transfer you to someone else. That requires putting the caller on hold, typically for a LONG time.
Things do not improve much at all if you write letters asking for assistance.
The nicest thing I can say about their customer service is that it works very well indeed if you do not use it.
freethinker
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freethinker,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:15 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
Next thing, we'll hear that Betty Crocker doesn't exist.

Say it isn't so.

[The sad thing is that Berner Ebbers was a real guy - sort of]
BBBoa
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BBBoa,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:15 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
HMMMMMMM. Let's see.........

MFN and Worldcom are heated competitors in NYC

Stephen Garofalo is Chairman of MFN http://www.mfn.com/about/board...

Reporter with last name Garofalo breaks this story!

Wow! What a coincidence! (yeah right - I don't believe in coincidences either....)

"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."
Stevo30
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Stevo30,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:15 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
As a current WorldCom customer, I can tell you that this is EXACTLY the experience I have had.

My only comment to the report of their bankruptcy and possible reductions in customer service is "how will we know the difference?"

I'm happy to see a day of reckoning coming, but empathize with the pain of the WorldCom employees in the trenches...
fon_guy
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fon_guy,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:14 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
I dropped AT&T long distance because of repeated billing errors but more than that, when I called to discuss the errors, their customer service people were uniformly rude and unhelpful.

I moved my service to Worldcom. The switchover was not only seamless but provided a better service combination than AT&T was able to offer.

Since then, for more than 2 years, we have enjoyed excellent service and accurate billing. We have had no reason to call their customer service people, which is a good thing.

Their network product evaluation approach is another story for another time.
wiseguy
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wiseguy,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:14 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
I am not a customer of WCOM, but no mendacious behavior of WCOM surprises me. When a supplier to WCOM, they constantly exagerated their requirements, the promises of my competitors, the payment provisions, the conditions for approval, etc. I just thought it was some old fashioned purchasing behavior. I now wonder if the lack of character and integrity was simply built into the culture. It looks as though all consituencies were treated the same. If so, good riddance.
who is john galt?
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who is john galt?,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:13 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?
It's too bad that the crooks at WorldCom denigrate the efforts of the pioneers of competitive telephone - the "acquired" employees of MCI.

Ah, those days of yesteryear with Tim & Jerry, Friends & Family, and Countessa in customer service delivering champagne in a French maids costume to pay up on a bet.

What sad times we all face in these days...

starwars
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starwars,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:03:13 PM
re: WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?

Speaking as a past employee, a grunt in the trenches, there is a lot of pain with those in the trenches

The group of people that I worked with there were great people. I say GǣwereGǥ because most of those I knew are no longer employed there anymore.

Initially we were part of a small company, and took pride in doing it better, faster, and smarter then the big boys. Then we were acquired by Intermedia Communications. We still had the pride, the authority went to Tampa, but the pride, and the good customer service that went with it, were still there.

Then Intermedia was acquired by Worldcom. We still tried to do right by our customers, and would have, if the money had been spent where it should have been. (Instead of 400 million dollar personal loans, and 15 mil houses in Boca Raton)

It ticks me off that the people responsible for this mess, in this company and others, will probably walk, while the hard working employees get the shaft.

The big wigs deserve your wrath, your scorn, and a flat tire on the thruway at rush hour.

The grunts in the trenches, in this company and most others, deserve your respect, and whatever help you can give them. They earned it.

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