MEDIA: Media Watch - MCI WorldCom takes crash course in spin control

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.

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

re-established.



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

public dissatisfaction.



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

industry analyst.



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.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in