Last month, MCI WorldCom suffered a 10-day disruption in its data network. Thousands of companies claimed to have lost a substantial amount of business due to the outage, which ranged from slowed service to complete shutdowns. The coverage of this issue was more one-sided.
Last month, MCI WorldCom suffered a 10-day disruption in its
data network. Thousands of companies claimed to have lost a
substantial amount of business due to the outage, which ranged
from slowed service to complete shutdowns. The coverage of this
issue was more one-sided.
The media not only grilled MCI WorldCom for the prolonged
disruption, but also for its handling of the crisis. USA Today
(August 16) reported, ’MCI WorldCom has received more criticism
for keeping customers in the dark and downplaying the seriousness
of the situation than for the outage itself.’
There were reports that the company was investigating the matter,
followed by reports that it was uncertain when service would be
But a recurring criticism was that these explanations were vague
and not very helpful.
The Wall Street Journal (August 16) and other papers portrayed
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) president Thomas Donovan as the
most ardent critic.
These media latched on to Donovan’s noticeable ire, making him a
symbol of customer dissatisfaction. ’CBOT members and market
users demand and deserve world-class technology and service, and
we are receiving neither from MCI WorldCom,’ according to
Donovan. He seemed especially peeved that MCI WorldCom had
personally given him assurances of the network’s reliability days
before the crash and then discouraged him from switching to a
backup network because the problems were ’minor and temporary.’
The outage continued for days after those assurances.
Local Chicago media seemed especially harsh. After the company
announced that the problem was caused by Lucent Technologies
software, The Chicago Tribune (August 22) accused MCI WorldCom of
trying to avoid responsibility.
Although Lucent accepted responsibility for its role, media
reports continued to focus on MCI WorldCom bearing the brunt of
The coverage of chief executive Bernard Ebbers’ apology and
compensation plan frequently raised the customer dissatisfaction
issue. Some customers, including CBOT, saw the compensation plan
as inadequate and were reported to be considering legal action
and changing data network providers.
The Washington Post (August 17) conveyed grim assessments of the
company’s handling of the outage. ’This thing has gone from
unbelievable to unbearable to now unforgivable,’ said one
The media published only a handful of sympathetic comments.
Insight Market Research, a telecom consultancy, provided
constructive pointers on how to handle such a crisis. ’Keeping
the customers informed is essential ... if you ignore the
customer or mislead him, there’s little tolerance for these
problems’ (Chicago Tribune, August 14).
Many media outlets appeared to share CBOT’s views that ’this
wasn’t just a failure of MCI WorldCom technology, it was a
failure of MCI WorldCom customer service as well’ (Washington
Post, August 17). To learn from this experience, MCI WorldCom
should make sure its customers are not kept in the dark.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can
be found at www.carma.com.