'We Blew It': AT&T CEO Apologizes for Response to Customer's Email

by James Eng /  / Updated 

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

AT&T’s top executive admits the company committed a major faux pas when it responded with cold legalese to a longtime customer’s suggestions for improving Internet and wireless services.

CEO Randall Stephenson, in a letter Wednesday to the Los Angeles Times, said AT&T "fumbled” the response to the customer, Alfred Valrie. AT&T provided a copy of the letter to NBC News.

"We blew it, plain and simple — and it's something I've already corrected," Stephenson wrote.

AT&T didn’t say how it "corrected" the situation.

The kerfuffle began after Valrie sent an email directly to Stephenson, suggesting that AT&T could improve customer satisfaction by offering unlimited data for DSL users and 1,000 text messages for $10 a month.

Instead of a simple “thank you for your suggestions” reply, Valrie instead got a letter from AT&T’s Thomas A. Restaino, a lawyer who handles intellectual property issues, according to a business column published Tuesday in the Times. After thanking Restaino for being a lifelong customer, according to the column, Restaino then wrote:

"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.

"Therefore, we respectfully decline to consider your suggestion."

Related: Experian Says Info from 15 Million T-Mobile Records Hacked

Valrie told the Times columnist he was caught off-guard by the impersonal and legalistic response.

"I just wanted to give him something to mull over," Valrie was quoted as saying. "I never thought I'd get a letter from a lawyer."

Stephenson on Wednesday admitted the company goofed big time.

"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," he wrote.

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

Related: Sprint to Drop Two-Year Contracts, Following T-Mobile and Verizon

AT&T rival T-Mobile, never one to refrain from stirring the pot, was quick to jump into the fray. Its flamboyant CEO, John Legere, chided his AT&T counterpart and said he would personally welcome suggestions from AT&T customers.

"AT&T obviously does not like to hear from its customers, but the Un-Carrier does so we’re stepping into the void," T-Mobile said in a press release. "AT&T customers, or ANY wireless customers, can always tweet @JohnLegere or email him directly at John.Legere@T-Mobile.com with ideas and thoughts to keep improving the wireless industry. That will never change!"

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.