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MCI's Customer Service Mystery Solved?

Google searches can turn up the most remarkable things, but few as strange as what Thomas Barton found when he typed his own name into the search field last weekend. Among the results was a Light Reading article claiming he didn’t exist (see WorldCom's Customer Service: Fictional?).

The article, published July 23, 2002, chronicled how certain MCI (Nasdaq: MCIT) and WorldCom Inc. (OTC: WCOEQ) customers were frustrated trying to locate a mysterious customer service executive by the name of Thomas Barton who seemed to be avoiding customers.

Barton never returned phone calls from angry customers and rarely returned letters, according to WorldCom employees interviewed in the Fox 5 Problem Solvers segment on which the article was based. In fact, attempts to verify whether Barton actually worked at MCI -- or even existed -- went nowhere.

It turns out that Barton exists -- but he hasn't worked in MCI customer service for nearly a decade. Or so claims one Thomas Barton who has contacted Light Reading.

Talking to Light Reading nearly nine months after the article ran, Barton, 32, argues that he not only exists, but that he also once worked for MCI and authored letters apologizing for customer service issues. While customers continued receiving letters signed by Barton until last July at least, however, he says he hasn’t written one since he quit his job as program manager of retention marketing in 1994.

"I’m outraged, but I’m not surprised,” Barton says. “I think WorldCom’s cup of ethics has long been half empty... The question is how many Thomas Bartons are there out there?”

Actually, that's a good question. Thomas Barton has supplied Light Reading with proof that it's his real name, including copies of his driver's license and social security card. But Barton, is, after all, a common name. Barton has been unable to produce pay-stubs or other evidence of his employment at MCI nearly 10 years ago. WorldCom has not returned numerous calls asking for comment.

Fox News reporter Mary Garofalo, who investigated the initial story, was astounded to hear that a Thomas Barton claiming to be the customer-service executive had suddenly surfaced. “I called every single [WorldCom] corporate office across the country,” she says. “They were all squirming… They couldn’t find this guy… I researched this story like no other.” She says that if Barton can prove that he is indeed who he claims to be, Problem Solvers will definitely do a follow-up report.

Barton claims he gave up an acting career to get into telecommunications. Working as a cash-strapped actor in 1990, he decided to answer an MCI ad looking for someone who “liked to talk to people.”

“I came on as a temp, and I loved it!” he says, pointing out that talking to customers all day was strangely similar to his work as an actor: It was all about communicating. “I just loved telecom! MCI was important to me.”

Barton says he worked his way up the corporate ladder from temp, to customer service representative, to a full-fledged executive in only four years. As head of the retention marketing program, he was indirectly in charge of seven customer service centers and one mailing center. “I would personally send out these blanket letters with apologies for issues with customer service,” he says. “They said stuff like ‘please don’t switch… you can call me directly.’ ”

Barton liked his job, he says, but after four years, the artist in him started to get restless. “I went to Europe to find some answers,” he says. [Ed. note: Well, haven't we all?]

He did go back to work for MCI when he got back to the States in 1996, he says, but he was no longer in customer service. Instead, he became the host for a special “Club MCI” TV show, as well as for live Club MCI events all over the country. “I had a big name in MCI,” he insists. “I was giving away cash and prizes. It was a great gig.”

When MCI cut the show in 1997, Barton moved to New York. After a short stint at Deutsche Bank AG, he says he decided to delve back into the arts, and founded a museum of “applied trash.”

So has Barton left the telecom industry for good? “I have thought about going back,” he says. “I’d certainly be interested in going back as a consultant… Am I going to put a ring on my finger with a communications company? It would have to be a really sweet deal.”

Yes, strange story. But true? The only people who would know, at WorldCom, likely aren't there anymore. But if you knew Thomas Barton and can verify he was indeed the customer service executive whose name was used after he left in 1994, please contact us at [email protected].

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading

changeisgood 12/5/2012 | 12:13:53 AM
re: MCI's Customer Service Mystery Solved? why don't you run an article on what ebbers is doing these days?? there might be some more interest in this.
WiserNow 12/5/2012 | 12:13:48 AM
re: MCI's Customer Service Mystery Solved? It seems that Barton developed a successful process for handling customer problems. The only difficulty is that when MCI generalized it, they forgot to change the signature line.

Is this a good reason to get ISO certification? If nothing else, the annual audit would have turned up the missing Mr. Barton within a couple years of his departure.
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