Did AT&T Really Threaten A Customer With Legal Action For Emailing Feedback To CEO? [Updated]

from the customer-service-hall-of-fame dept

You may have heard the stories recently that Steve Jobs seems to regularly respond directly to emails from customers — often making certain points that he knows will be spread throughout the press. However, if you have a complaint about your iPhone, you can send it to Jobs, but apparently you shouldn’t send it to AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson. Someone sent over the story of a guy named Giorgio, who was upset enough about the new data plans that he sent an email expressing his displeasure directly to Stephenson (whose address he apparently got from the Consumerist blog).

Now, to be clear, the email was a bit gripey, complaining about the new plans, and announcing his plans to switch to a different phone and different provider. In response, however, it appears he got a phone call from someone at AT&T telling him that if he emailed the CEO again, AT&T would issue a cease & desist against him. From the recording:

“I want to first thank you for the feedback. Going forward, I need to warn you that if you continue to send emails to Randall Stephenson, a cease & desist letter may be sent to you…”

For what? That’s not explained. I can’t think of any legal basis for such a cease & desist letter. Honestly, the whole thing seems so outrageous that you have to wonder if it’s a hoax. If it turns out to be true (and please, please, someone tell us that this is a hoax) then it reflects incredibly poorly on AT&T.

Update: Well, now it’s been confirmed by AT&T that they actually did make this threat. A PR person working for AT&T (but not an AT&T employee) contacted us with your typical bland PR statement, issuing an apology, and saying “this is not the way we want to treat customers.” But it is how you treated your customer… and, notably, nowhere in the statement does the PR person explain why AT&T responded this way to a customer.

The full statement is:

We are apologizing to our customer. We’re working with him today to address his questions and concerns. This is not the way we want to treat customers. From Facebook to significant customer service channels, AT&T strives to provide our customers with easy ways to have their questions addressed.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “Did AT&T Really Threaten A Customer With Legal Action For Emailing Feedback To CEO? [Updated]”

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Overcast (profile) says:

Re: Randys Contact Info

Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO
rs2982@att.com (direct)
phone: 210-351-5401 (direct to his secretary)
fax 210-351-3553
alternate phone: 210-821-4105 (headquarters, press 3, ask for Mr. Stephenson’s office)
175 E. Houston
San Antonio, TX 78205

Perhaps the surprising part – is that he too, uses AT&T.

Anonymous Coward says:

many companies do not appreciate individual clients emailing their ceo directly, especially if the ceo’s actual email isn’t made public. i think they are being very polite at this point, as i am sure no ceo wants to spend their entire day looking at individual consumer’s issues and replying to their emails personally. if anything, it looks like the email may be part of a campaign by the consumerist to mail bomb at&t’s ceo, which would certainly make a c&d letter not out of line.

Simon says:

Re: Re:

Dear AT&T, please feel free to us the below as a starter:

Response options, ranked by smartness

1 Reply, addressing concerns
2 Reply, with generic “thanks for feedback”
3 Fwd to relevant business unit exec telling *them* to respond.
4 Fwd to relevant business unit exec to do what they want with.
5 Fwd to customer service
6 Read but delete email
7 delete email

99 Threaten sender with legal action

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not out of line? Really? And the judge that will have to grant the order will do so based on… the threats it contained? Oh wait, no threats.

Oh, well it must be the harassment… huh? He’s a customer discussing issues related their corporate relationship?

Well, perhaps the language was inappropriate. No?

I’m sorry, what point were you making again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As I am certain no customer wants to have the unlimited data option removed from his choices of data plans for his iphone.

What should a customer do? I’d complain to someone who can change things.

If the CEO is not concerned about customer satisfaction with their product please suggest something he should be concerned about?

Overcast (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the CEO is not concerned about customer satisfaction with their product please suggest something he should be concerned about?

Yep, Bingo.

But I guess if AT&T’s CEO is ‘too good’ for customer service issues, I guess we should take that as a hint. Less customers means less customer service issues to bog down his precious time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

when you get out of school and into the job world, you will discover that the ceo, presidents, and often the vice presidents of larger companies just dont have the time to deal with individual customer cases. it is the reason they have this department full of people, called customer care or customer support. the ceo cares about customers, but in a larger and overall way, not in any true individual manner. how many support calls do you think at&t gets a day? should the ceo answer all of them? the customers email is just part of a snarky complaint campaign, and the reply is just a polite reminder that this isnt the way to get things handled.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Law

> many companies do not appreciate individual clients emailing
> their ceo directly

Them not liking something hardly gives them grounds for legal action. In order for legal action to be taken, the guy has to be violating some kind of law and communicating with the head of a company with whom he has a business relationship doesn’t cut it.

Giorgio Galante (profile) says:

Not a hoax...

I was as surprised as anyone to get that threatening voicemail. That’s the only reason I contacted Engadget. I would have gone quietly to Sprint / HTC Evo had they even simply ignored my email altogether.

I sent the Engadget editor every email correspondence I’ve tried having with Mr. Stephenson as they wanted to make sure I’ve never been belligerent/threatening/etc towards AT&T’s CEO.

Jay (profile) says:

I can see it now...

It begins… People will spread this story (myself included) and eventually the CEO will discuss how he did not want people calling him directly.

All he had to do was answer one call. Now he’s made to look like a corporate idiot who doesn’t understand the frustrations of his customers. To actually have someone call to say that they’ll basically order a Cease and Desist letter after having to call twice is just a poor choice.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

Re: I can see it now...

answer one call?

he didnt even have to do that… who honestly expects the CEO of any large corporation to actually respond to anything these days?

had he simply ignored it all, no one would have thought twice about it. but this? this is someone sending a clear message to their customer base that they hold you all with the utmost contempt and care only for how they can squeeze every last penny possible out of you.

Garrett says:

I think this reflects poorly on the whole culture of that company, and indirectly on other “old school” corporations.

The conventional wisdom (or at least mine) is that Steve Jobs might be a controlling, egomaniacal prick, but at least he understands what his company is doing day to day. If someone told me Randall Stephenson doesn’t use a single AT&T product, and just sits in an office spouting buzzwords about market caps and mindshare viability while looking at his stock options, I would not doubt it for 1 second.

True or false, this news doesn’t change that perception one bit.

Jay (profile) says:

After careful consideration, I’m going to wait to discuss this story. We’ll hear from AT&T shortly regarding it, I’m sure. But it’s almost similar to the recent “Flesh search engine” story I read recently in China where people go to embarrass and mock those that they believe have been corrupted.

It’s one side of the story, I need both then the truth may be evident somewhere in between.

OldGeek says:

Good Morning!!!

Well if you remember AT&T was bought by Cingular which was a rebranding of Southwestern Bell Wireless. They have never cared about customer service, they’re only goal is to make money any way they can. And the Apple fanboys are doing a wonderful job of increasing they’re bank account, irregardless of service.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Good Morning!!!

“usage Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however.”
FTF both of you.

Overcast (profile) says:

Re: Corporate plans will not change.

Corporate plans will not change. So the “riff raff” get to get the shaft, while corporations get to keep their data plans in tact, and yes, for new plans, we get to keep our unlimited data usage.

Actually, at my company – we get a choice between a few providers. I, for one, did not choose AT&T. I’ll forward this around to let others know – how much AT&T’s CEO ‘cares about the customers’.

big al says:


well the question…is it real has not been answered…

as a ceo incoming emails are a direct input from your customer base… not from those 15 “yes” men who feed you your information.. telling what they think you want to know.

by having no reply does not feed the flames to more publicity good or bad.

if it’s true,then a word that a treating phone call has been recieved, to the police,might take this to a different level.

2 cents worth

big al says:


well the question…is it real has not been answered…

as a ceo incoming emails are a direct input from your customer base… not from those 15 “yes” men who feed you your information.. telling what they think you want to know.

by having no reply does not feed the flames to more publicity good or bad.

if it’s true,then a word that a treating phone call has been recieved, to the police,might take this to a different level.

2 cents worth

sehlat (profile) says:

What doesn't AT&T appear to understand here?

Like every corptocracy these days, they’re very big on marketing. Their ads scream “We’re the best you can get.” etc. etc.

So how do they miss the fact that good customer service is the most valuable marketing they have? Advertisements will get customers to look, but good customer service will keep them loyal. And word of mouth like this, as others here have noted, is doubleplus ungood.

domino (profile) says:

Data plans

Even the current customer that is NOT a corporate account gets grandfathered in on current unlimited data plans, as I am one of those and it won’t change on my account.

Sometimes I think 95% of the people in this world have nothing better to do than find something to complain about with large service providers. I don’t care what company you do business with, they all have their faults and will all piss off someone. It is inevitable………..Verizon, Sprint, At&T, T-Mobile, power companies, cable companies, etc. etc. Why doesn’t anyone get pissed off about the crap that WalMart does…………..nope – they can do ANYTHING, including buying million dollar life insurance policies on their employees and hope they die so they can collect. Why no uproar there????!!! HECK NO………”they are cheaper” well look at the bullying they do to their product providers to see what they do to bring you “cheap” prices. You think you’re getting the same exact product all the time?? think again.
Wake up people!!

Ziro Opinion says:

Re: Data plans

You’re an idiot.
This article is about a CEO offering a C&D over a customer complaint email and how it is a bad PR move.
This knucklehead probably uses Outlook with an Exchange server and he can easily create a rule to forward all incoming email from this guy to the consumer complaints department.
The CEO’s actions really do display contempt for his customer base.
Yes, every provider has issues and they all do some crappy things but a C&D letter for registering a complaint and looking for satisfaction.

hithere (profile) says:

Re: Data plans

I am not sure that is accurate. I know plenty of people who are in an uproar about Wal-Mart AND they refuse to shop there. In my opinion that is how you show companies that customer service should come first. When they are no longer receiving your money, they might start listening; but as long as you are paying their bills they see no reason to change anything.

RIck Z says:

Handled all wrong

So he sent a snarky email requesting that they change his upgrade date. He received a polite phone call saying they could not – sorry. So he sent the CEO an email saying – change my date or I’m leaving. What did he expect? Some tips for next time: ask politely without including complaints about the service; contact a manager or supervisor – not the CEO; take no for an answer.

arfnotz says:


About 3 years ago I got crammed by Southern Bell. They signed me up for a modem and internet I did not want. Was able to get as far as the VP of Broadband marketing’s secratary, and leave personallay give her a long bloody discussion of why I was unhappy. I was also able to find the name of the company that actually made the call (which orginaltedin canada) and complain to them and file a complaint with the florida dept of agriculture which handles consumer complaints.

Actully recieivng a Cease and desist letter could be turned into a major publicity headache for the sender. Just be sure to never ever use threathingi language.

While a CEO certainlyhas better things to do than listen to my problems, he is responsible for everyon eunder him,andif you suceed in annying him for 15 minutes, he just might change things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmmm, better check my secret email address, maybe someone from the board has a question…”What, who does this guy think he is complaining to ME! Doesn’t he know WHO I AM! Gloria, cancel my massage and my tailor this morning, GET SOMEONE FROM LEGAL IN HERE RIGHT NOW! I’ll teach this uncouth cretin a lesson, or I am not Randall Stephenson C-E-O BY GOD!”

DaveInCalifornia (profile) says:

AT&T U R fools

I can see the anger here. AT&T is not very smart, and at the same time quite slimey. They should have known this change was going to peeve the tech crowd (Not smart for PR). Then this happens, kinda like pooring gas on the fire.
“A PR person working for AT&T (but not an AT&T employee)” wow, how slimey. So they’re using non-employees (contactor I assume) to contact angry customers and then make their threats. Did they completly forget what PR stands for? I worked for a large tech firm once, they hired contractors to do the internal IT, saves loads of cash you see as these contracters were willfully underpaied; maybe this is the reason? Or is this so they can later say “well yeah but it wasn’t really us”. So angry about a silly email. please. I guess they don’t know of email blacklists… AT&T, I’ll give you a hint here, your making lots of money, shut up already!

GonzoBobH (profile) says:

Good Morning!!!

BobH: It IS a word, albeit nonstandard usage — but, a word still.

irregardless – 3 dictionary results
ir·re·gard·less   [ir-i-gahrd-lis] Show IPA
–adverb Nonstandard .
1910–15; ir-2 (prob. after irrespective ) + regardless

—Can be confused:  irregardless, regardless (see usage note at this entry ).

—Usage note
Irregardless is considered nonstandard because of the two negative elements ir- and -less. It was probably formed on the analogy of such words as irrespective, irrelevant, and irreparable. Those who use it, including on occasion educated speakers, may do so from a desire to add emphasis. Irregardless first appeared in the early 20th century and was perhaps popularized by its use in a comic radio program of the 1930s.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.
Cite This Source | Link To irregardless
Word Origin & History

an erroneous word that, etymologically, means the exact opposite of what it is used to express, attested in non-standard writing from at least 1870s (e.g. “Portsmouth Times,” Portsmouth, Ohio, U.S.A., April 11, 1874: “We supported the six successful candidates for Council in the face of a strong opposition. We were led to do so because we believed every man of them would do his whole duty, irregardless of party, and the columns of this paper for one year has [sic] told what is needed.”); probably a blend of irrespective and regardless . Perhaps inspired by the double negative used as an emphatic.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source
ir·re·gard·less (ĭr’ĭ-gärd’lĭs)
adv. Nonstandard

[Probably blend of irrespective and regardless .]
Usage Note : Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

Pixelation says:

Re: Good Morning!!!

“Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone”

So if I say I’d like to “debone” your girlfriend, what I mean is…

As to the AT&T rate change, my girlfriend is happy about the change since it will save her money. Me, I refuse to waste my money with companies that overcharge for their services.

M.Sheikh says:

ATT telling wrong statement

I m really disappointed with att service. I started ATT service 7 months months ago.
When i called the service department in march 2010.The offer me internet & phone service.
I wanted the high speed internt 6M or higher but ATT represent said the area i live they
provide maximum 1.5M. I started att service in march 2010 & att sale representative told
me there is no contract if you don’t like the internet service or the speed you want then
I can cancel it anytime & att started taking Internet charges out from my credit card.After
7 months I called att to ask them if they have high speed internet service available in the area i live.
Att said not yet so i canceled my service & att cancel service department canceled the the service & said.
I have some refund left which att ‘ll send back & i received some amount back to my card.
After 2 months i got charge from att $120.00 on my credit card.
I called att collection department & spoke to Michal Cambel according to him he is supervisor for this department.
He said they charge $120.00 because of early cancellation fee.I said there was no contract when i got the service
& att representative said if i m not certified with service so i can cancel it anytime that’s why i canceled but he said
it was a contract.We can’t do anything about it. I called the att service depart as a new customer to find out what
they say when someone start new service with att & the att sales representative said exact same statement
what he told me 7 months ago.”There is no contract & if you are not certified, you can simply cancel it & there ‘ll no extra charges”.
ATT is lieing with there customers & telling wrong statement when someone want to has there service & once they get service they put
them under contract & if customer stop the service then att charge cancellation fee &
say when you got the service we might had some other plans & now we have some different
plan.I m going to leave this feedback on internet also i have businesses & i m going to
switch my internet service for all my offices with someone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

I want at&t to offer a decent flip phone made by motorola like the razor. Motorola makes the stature I9 but at&t only wants to push data plans and I phones on all the customers they don’t want to offer the plain phones. they want to push the junk stuff on us.They lost my business just as soon as I can switch with out losing to much on all my different plans my upgrades don’t match now to stop right on the spot

Alex says:


I sent an email to Mr. Stephenson a couple of minutes before i found this blog. If i do get a letter from ATT’s legal team, i will definitely switch carriers. I ensured i wasnt rude in any way but did voice my technical issues i’ve been experiencing with ATT for 2 months now. I dont understand why he cant just forward these type of concerns to designated dept heads and have someone from each group reach out to the individual rather than going as far as sending legal documentation. This is ridiculous.

MikeA says:


The letter was not a bomb threat, so that part of your post is just simply ridiculous. As for CEOs, they are running the show. The Buck stops with them. If they right their ship properly, properly train their people, and provide simple and effective mechanisms for addressing and resolving customer concerns, then they can spend their time being more strategic. If, however, they are MBS morons who are simply following a formula from one of their text books and have no mechanism to address customer concerns, then they should expect their customers to go to the top, rather than waste days or weeks speaking with company beurocrats.

MikeA says:

What doesn't AT&T appear to understand here?

It’s simple. Cell phone service is a commodity these days. The market is equally split and there is no customer loyalty. People will constantly jump from provider to provider for more services at a more affordable price. AT&T and the other cell companies understand this. They are all the same and the game is no longer to grow their business by market share, but to lock in as much future income on a long term contract a possible, which they can claim on their books today to keep their shareholders happy. They are simply resorting to the lowest common denominator, Much like politics and the way Washington is broken. What would shake things up is a start-up company that had enough capital to offer good coverage with simple contracts and simple terms. However, the status quo companies (of which AT&T is one) would use all their power to keep such a company from becoming reality.

Mike A says:

Data plans

Up until the beginning of this month, I was on one of those grandfathered plans. AT&T throttles down the data on unlimited accounts (so your data stream is running as slow as a snail). The company you are defending has a contract with you saying that they will give you unlimited data, but then they limit that data by throttling it down (even though there is nothing in your contract saying it was legal for them to do this). So you keep defending them as they are ripping you off. Trust me, the AT&T people who read your post are rolling on the floor and laughing.

MikeA says:

Handled all wrong

So if you threaten a company that if they don’t get their act together you will no longer give them business, and they can order a cease and desist? Really? That is your logic? BTW, have you ever tried talking politely to the drones at AT&T? Have you ever tried asking for a manager or supervisor? If you did, then you would know that the canned response is “Supervisors don’t take calls from customers. You can leave your number and they will call you back in 24-48 hours.” Of course, they call back about 30-days later. You, my friend, have obviously never dealt with this company.

MikeA says:

grammar and spell check arrogance

Agreed. Why do people nitpick at grammar for blog comments? Don’t they know we are blasting these things out on miniature keyboards. There will be typos. When someone is foolish enough to attack my grammar, then I attack back. Since most people are grammatically challenged, they simply attack grammar based on their spell checker. Those who do that to me find that I respond by attacking real grammar and sentence structure that doesn’t show up on a spell checker.

Anonymous Coward says:


If the CEO does not want to be contacted. The company should set-up a support system for their products that actually works to resolve issues and listen to their customers. I am looking up his information right now because I have a persistent issue with U-verse that has lasted a month. And I continue to be told by the support staff the team that can help is not available at this time. This is an unacceptable answer. And the company officers should be made aware of this situation.

Ron says:


Randall Stephenson is above his head! He has run this company into the ground because of his poor CEO management and because of his lack of management skills this company will be dissolved into many small companies.
The big losers in this will be the dedicated employees of a once great company the benefited the public as a whole.

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