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

by James Eng /  / Updated 

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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!"

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