A couple of years ago we were caught up in a MCI Group experience familiar to many American consumers, a practice telcos employ here called "random billing". We worked it into our vocabulary.
This vast deregulated spiders web, a wholly owned subsidiary of Worldcom, employs many such consumer tactics, the most popular of which is called slamming - changing your rate plan without your knowledge, but they have many more tactics to demoralize and fleece American customers too.
But it was only when it happened again, and we wrote about it, that we began to appreciate the extent of MCI's power over consumers. Then, something extraordinary happened. Thanks to the reach of The Register, MCI's staffers - the folks who are asked to employ such tactics - got in touch with us to tell their side of the story. Their stories paint a picture of modern call center hell.
Although we followed through and spoke to staff at length, and gained a vast amount of detail on how MCI implements its plans, and outsources its operations, nothing quite has the power of their initial contact with us. So we've left much this unedited, although all the names have been changed.
On the surface, it was a thriving billion dollar business. But by the time you've read these extraordinary emails, you'll be forgiven for concluding that in the name of competition, America is truly at war with itself.
I work with the guy who blocked you, in a High Toll department.
You have no idea the evil we do on a regular basis.
Or rather, the corporation does. I couldn't even begin to explain it. This is only temporary for me. I try to not involve myself in the evil we create.
I mean, how is it ethically possible to charge one person up to forty (yes, 40) times as much for a service than someone else just because they have some stupid $10/mo calling plan? The worst type of criminals don't carry a gun, they take your money legally.
Please don't use any of this against me.
I do need my poorly paying job at the moment.
I read about your experience with MCI in The USA Register. As it happens, I work in the call center that took your call. I just wanted to let you know that the block has been lifted, however you still do not have an international calling plan selected. I suggest that you get a hold of customer service as soon as possible to get a plan selected or you will run into this exact same problem in about a week or so.
Dear Mr. Orlowski,
I just finished reading your article about MCI and their evil, vile ways.
Unfortunately, I am an employee of the High Toll Department, and I first learned of your MCI experience while at work. A fellow who spends time online, found your article and brought it to the reps attention. Oh sure, we found it not only to be cleverly written, but also scornfully truthful. It was a bit more sarcastic than admonishing, but I couldn't disagree with anything you wrote. It was honest and gave a clear picture of it from a customer's point of view.
I too wrestle with the things that MCI does against society. It preys on the ignorant, the illiterate, the gullible, and the meek.
Those who don't stand up for themselves, end up paying alot more for their phone usage than those who can logically put two sentences together and "read between the lines". I wish more people were brazen like yourself to write to the populace and inform them, no.....warn them of shady business practices BELOW board......Below the belt schemes to wrench the hard worked dollar out of America's pockets.
For instance: The rate plan you were on......it is called MCI8. When you moved, MCI relies on the Local carriers to make sure you get hooked back up to MCI. But, the mci8 plan is a generic plan, which is designed to force customers whose accounts are set up by the local carriers to bill HIGH.
Domestic calls are between 25 - 30 cents per minute, instead of 5,7 or 9 cents per min as most discounted rate plans. Since MCI claims not to be into crystal ball reading, they don't know what the customer will bill at, but they quickly make sure they have an account at least, so they can bill at some pretty high prices till it gets "noticed".
That is where the High Toll dept comes in. We review accounts for such things. Yes, we do some good, and try to catch fraud, or "bad debt risks" before they become TOO big of a problem, but they still can go on for a month or more till caught by our notorious High Toll computer "Artificial Intelligence". In your case, we would/should have simply asked "Sir, have you had an MCI account previously that I can look up to establish this billing history?" If you had, then most likely, customer services would have been able to warrant giving you a re-rate for the international calls to date. Since it was NOT addressed or asked, you had to sustain a High Toll block, until Customer Services could assist you.
Another thing they do is vendor out ALL of the major departments. (Except for Customer Services, but we all know why they are NOT open as last as we are......MCI won't pay for them to stay on the clock so long) The collection dept, as well as our dept and many others are all vendored out to companies who pay us much, much less per hour than what they are actually getting paid for what we do for "liability" reasons.
Another favorite of mine are the Sales people.
They will sing you ANY song to get you to sign up. Even if the High Toll Dept has a block, or has deactivated your account previously, Folks who can't have long distance with a prepaid carrier, or who haven't paid the outrageous deposit fee - as they are a bad debt risk - are promised by these MCI-employed telemarketers that they can use the calling card from home, and are told lies about the rates and so forth. These types of alarms are quite popular in the High Toll department, as they are always and without prejudice blocked.
We don't allow Calling Card Calls from the home telephone number as it is a possible fraud. If people use MCI calling card to "get around" a block for Long Distance placed by the local carrier, it is considered fraudulent use of our Calling card and against the policies of MCI.
So, the calling card is the ONLY way for some of these gullible folks to make calls won't last very long - but long enough to run up $100 or $200 worth of calls BEFORE it is caught and then blocked. These customers were promised tall tales by the telemarketers just to get the commission, NONE of which is true......and are told it would ONLY be 7 cents per min with 200 free minutes per month.......are actually paying 1.25 per call and .89 cents per minute. How is that for business practices? They perpetrate fraud, so the High Toll department can swoop in and catch it. But NOT prevent it however, as some people actually are forced to pay it. Rather, get bullied into paying it.
[We can corroborate this - the High Toll department invited us to pay a bogus bill]
Another. The sales team will set up an already blocked customer with a new account, sending them two more outrageously priced calling cards. The customer is either too ignorant, or was told by sales that they were blocked already, but they will "unblock" them if they sign up today. So they send them two more calling cards, which is the ONLY way to makes calls from home now, since their telephone line has already been restricted by the High Toll department. Which in turn, comes up for review in the High Toll dept, as "Calling Cards from Home". Who immediately smell fraud, and proceed to prove it by showing that the customers previous account was blocked by the High Toll dept… thus adding now to the customers "debt" to MCI.
Who says Crime doesn't pay?
It is my desire to see more people take a stand like yourself. I want more people to call their Attorney General or Power Utilities Commission. I stand by and watch as customers get royally screwed.
MCI hires really incompetent people for their customer service positions and vendors out entire departments to companies who have incredible turnover rates. In turn, the employees who work for vendored companies HATE it and have to deal with insufferable people who are just trying to have the ability to call their loved ones or run their business. Does this seem sensible to any Logical thinking person? Incidentally, you need to call those idiots at customer service again, as you still have the MCI8 plan rate, and NOT the international plan rate you SHOULD be on.
Good Luck, and *thanks* for taking a stand.
And this was only the beginning.
Ed told us much more specific detail about the plans used by MCI Worldcom, and the relationships between its outsourced satellites.
(The MCI staff's predictions came true: even after being promised that we were on the international plan, we were billed at the old exorbitant rate. And received follow-up calls from the "High Toll" department querying our excessive phone usage.)
What we didn't realise is that over hours of phone calls, we hadn't actually been speaking to an MCI employee. MCI outsources its operations to two companies:- GC Services and Nationwide Credit. Both declined to answer our calls.
We had the same epiphany trying to get a Compaq notebook repaired. After days of frustration, one day the call center greeted us "Hello, Dell!"
She then cheerfully admitted that she worked for neither Compaq nor Dell, but a huge outsourced operation that handled both company's customer service.
So who works for whom? 'Brad' and 'Edgar' admitted to being college students with day jobs to fund their degrees.
" Just trying to get thru school and make a better living for myself," wrote 'Edgar'. But many are single moms, too.
It's based on sweatshop economics: MCI bills GC or Nationwide Credit for a 'warm body'. Both outsourcers target for low-wage areas, and pay vastly different wages, we discovered. MCI adds a third on top of the $8.50 to $13.00 staffers said they were paid.
The many conscientious Americans who responded to our article - all of whom were risking their jobs in doing so - displayed the same black humor. It's a scam, they admitted, and we're all being fleeced. And the shareholders turned a blind eye while profits were being reaped. With their colossal debts, it's difficult to see what can put the broken telcos back together. But it's even harder to see how in the name of deregulation, we ever put up with it in the first place. ®
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2002/06/27/financial1910EDT0411.DTL">SBC Ameritech files complaint against MCI for slamming in Illinois