AT&T's Stephenson: We 'blew it' by responding to customer's suggestion with letter from lawyer

AT&T (NYSE: T) CEO Randall Stephenson admitted that the company "blew it" by responding to a lifelong customer who suggested changes to Stephenson on AT&T's wireless and broadband services by sending him a letter from one of its top lawyers.

Stephenson

"At AT&T, our top priority is to treat our customers to a premium experience every time they interact with us, and our consistent award-winning service demonstrates we usually get it right," Stephenson wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, which first publicized the customer's letter.

"Unfortunately, we don't meet our high standards 100% of the time," he said.

Alfred Valrie, 35, a resident of El Sereno, Calif., in the Los Angeles area, emailed Stephenson and suggested that AT&T offer unlimited data for DSL customers, particularly those in neighborhoods not serviced by its U-verse service, and bring back text messaging plans like 1,000 messages for $10 or create a new plan like 500 messages for $7.

According to the LA Times, Stephenson referred Valrie's email to AT&T's legal department. Thomas Restaino, AT&T's chief intellectual property counsel, thanked Valrie for being a lifelong customer but then adopted a sharper tone in his response. "AT&T has a policy of not entertaining unsolicited offers to adopt, analyze, develop, license or purchase third-party intellectual property ... from members of the general public," Restaino said. "Therefore, we respectfully decline to consider your suggestion."

Stephenson said in the letter that in responding that way, AT&T "fumbled a response to our customer Alfred Valrie, who sent me a suggestion for improving service."

"We blew it, plain and simple," he said, "and it's something I've already corrected." It's unclear what changes AT&T has made to its policies.

AT&T spokeswoman Georgia Taylor said the response to Valrie was intentional. "In the past, we've had customers send us unsolicited ideas and then later threaten to take legal action, claiming we stole their ideas," she told the LA Times. "That's why our responses have been a bit formal and legalistic. It's so we can protect ourselves." Taylor said AT&T "will take a look at our processes to see where we can do better going forward."

The whole kerfuffle earlier this week spurred T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) CEO John Legere, who regularly uses Twitter to respond to customers' queries and suggestions, to have the carrier put out a press release letting customers know that they "can always tweet @JohnLegere or email him directly at [email protected] with ideas and thoughts to keep improving the wireless industry." 

T-Mobile also set up a new email address and said "AT&T customers can also send comments, concerns and genius ideas to [email protected] or even better use #IdeasforRandall on Twitter and send @JohnLegere your ideas with the hashtag!" T-Mobile said it will keep the best ones and send Stephenson -- and his lawyers – "all the ideas we've already fixed."

"It absolutely amazes me that Randall would tell a lifelong customer to basically go away and talk to my lawyers," Legere said in a statement earlier this week before Stephenson sent his letter to the LA Times. "I interact with customers on a daily basis so I can hear their ideas firsthand. It's called living in the 21st century."

For more:
- see this Los Angeles Times article
- see this NBC News article 

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