• United States

Customer service VP at WorldCom sees brighter days ahead

Mar 10, 20035 mins

Welcome to the life of WorldCom’s Sonny Evans, who recently spoke with Network World Senior Editor Denise Pappalardo about how his department has – and has not – changed during all of the tumult since last summer.

Your company is in bankruptcy, under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and mentioned in the same breath with Enron as an example of corporate malfeasance. Your customers are nervous if not unhappy. And your job is senior vice president of customer service. Welcome to the life of WorldCom’s Sonny Evans, who recently spoke with Network World Senior Editor Denise Pappalardo about how his department has – and has not – changed during all of the tumult since last summer.

Are there things that have changed within customer service since August?

One of the biggest things is the focus on the customer. We are streamlining our product portfolio and contracts. . . . There’s a big focus on the small to midsize business organizations. Field customer service and sales folks were assigned to higher-end customers in the past. Now customer service centers are assigning all those customers to individual reps. We’re calling them. We’re touching base trying to tell them about new products and services. . . . Virtually every customer has someone assigned to them.

Streamlining WorldCom’s products and contracts, are those new initiatives?

They’ve been ongoing. Rarely do we have many problems with customers. The biggest issue they bring up is with their invoice and the presentation of their invoice. Depending on the product set they have, the invoices can get complex. We’re making a concerted effort to streamline and simplify the products from a marketing standpoint with a strong commitment to improving the billing process and invoice presentation.

Have inquiries from customers about WorldCom’s financial health increased?

Specific questions that come in are service-related and billing-related. In July and early August there were some questions about the company’s situation. Any questions specifically regarding our financials were forwarded to investor relations. But we don’t get questions like that any longer.

Has WorldCom put its customer service agents through training on how to deal with questions about the bankruptcy?

There has been training. Early on, there were daily updates. Now we receive updates on an ongoing basis from [CEO] Michael Capellas on our Web site regarding his 100-day plan, including milestones.

How challenging is it for WorldCom to operate its customer service department with fewer employees?

It really hasn’t been too challenging. We focused on streamlining processes and procedures; we realigned common work tasks from several major centers. There were multiple things such as repair that were at numerous locations. We’ve looked at streamlining that process and bringing it into fewer locations. We’ve done the same with our call-center activity. . . . There’s no way we are going to compromise our service with reductions. We understand the customer is the cornerstone of customer service and everything that we do.

Even with the 10,000 layoffs? Aren’t customers asking how their service will be affected?

I don’t believe there has been an impact from a negative standpoint. If anything it’s better than it has ever been. There are not a lot of questions that we get from customers about degradation in service. Most of the customer feedback is that service has never been better.

How is it better when there are fewer people supporting the network and the company? You talk about streamlining operations. Is it that you’re just operating smarter now?

You have to look at where these people were reduced. Financial-type organizations have had reductions. Customer service has had some reductions. But we had a lot of folks out there in a lot of different locations, and at one point there were more sales channels than there are today. We realigned the customer service organization with fewer sales channels. We had some duplicate functions. There were multiple order-entry folks out there. The same with provisioning, the same with customer service, and a lot of those things have been collapsed and consolidated.

What is the philosophy within your department? Is the attitude much different?

I don’t think the attitude is that much different. The customer service organization has always been driven to do whatever it takes to take care of the customer. There is policy and procedure, but we use them as more of a guideline. It’s not ‘you don’t step outside of this box.’ If they make a mistake, so be it. They learn from it, and we move on.

Do you think you have one of the toughest jobs in telecom?

It’s a tough job, but it has always been a tough job to try to be the best in the industry. I’ve been with the company for 18 years, and the focus I’ve had has always been on the customer and the focus from the company has always been on the customer.