from the CYA dept
Whatever you do, don’t give AT&T any suggestions. The company’s simply not listening at this time, sorry. That’s the message AT&T sent one self-professed happy AT&T customer who recently wrote to the company to offer a few ideas. The loyal quadruple play customer (wireless, broadband, voice and TV) wrote a very polite e-mail to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson making a few suggestions. As the e-mail notes, the user didn’t expect a reply, they were simply sharing their thoughts on how AT&T might make its customers happier:
“Hi. I have two suggestions. Please do not contact me in regards to these. These are suggestions. Allow unlimited data for DSL customers, particularly those in neighborhoods not serviced by U-verse. Bring back text messaging plans like 1,000 Messages for $10 or create a new plan like 500 Messages for $7.
“Your lifelong customer, Alfred Valrie.”
There are, of course, multiple possible responses to this pretty harmless scenario. You could send the user a polite form letter with a signed, glossy glamour shot of Stephenson in an alluring pose. You could send the user a short, polite e-mail thanking the user for their thoughts and maybe include a $5 bill credit. You could ignore the letter entirely and go about your day nibbling on the NSA’s earlobe. AT&T, in its wisdom, apparently decided that its best path forward was to forward the letter to the company’s legal department, whose first instinct (being the legal department) was to cover AT&T’s ass:
Stephenson…referred Valrie’s email to AT&T’s legal department, which unleashed Thomas A. Restaino, chief intellectual property counsel. Restaino thanked Valrie for being a lifelong customer. Then he adopted an adversarial tone. “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.”
Really? Suggesting that maybe AT&T stop imposing usage caps is a recommendation to “adopt, analyze, develop, license or purchase third-party intellectual property?” Effectively, AT&T’s saying it will field no consumer recommendations. What, exactly, is the temperature in that icy, inhuman bunker, fellas? AT&T proceeds to inform the Times that the reason it treats all of its customers like potential enemies is because some folks sue AT&T claiming ideas were stolen:
“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 explained. “That’s why our responses have been a bit formal and legalistic. It’s so we can protect ourselves.”
Seriously? You chose to treat a happy customer with some relatively innocuous suggestions like an adversary on the off chance he might sue AT&T over an ingenious plan to not impose usage caps on DSL lines? Doesn’t that clash just a little bit with AT&T’s professed code of conduct?:
“Our customers should always know we value them. We fairly represent our products and services to them. We listen to our customers, and challenge ourselves to find new ways to offer the best solutions available to help them communicate efficiently, sustainably, and safely.
Yeah, or we refuse to field any suggestions whatsoever and hint at legal action at the slightest breeze. This was a satisfied customer who was reaching out to AT&T and providing an opportunity for positive brand engagement, an opportunity AT&T has apparently squandered several times in the past:
“AT&T missed a huge opportunity with this customer,” said Andrea Godfrey Flynn, an associate marketing professor at the University of San Diego. “They may have jeopardized a long-term relationship and could end up driving him to a competitor.”
This isn’t the first time AT&T has stumbled in this way. In 2010, the company apologized after threatening legal action against a customer who had griped in an email to Stephenson about not qualifying for an iPhone discount.”
Maybe, just maybe, that’s why as a phone company, AT&T’s customer satisfaction scores are so atrocious? Of course AT&T, being a pampered duopolist, doesn’t really give a shit what you think. It doesn’t have to. Companies in competitive markets need to make an effort at fostering brand relationships. AT&T, in contrast, is a legacy turf-protection machine, so hardened from protecting the status quo with its armies of lawyers it sees enemies in the wind and is utterly incapable of having a human-esque chat.
Whatever. As the old non-existent saying goes, one company’s obnoxious tone deafness is another, hungrier company’s marketing opportunity. T-Mobile was quick to issue a press release making fun of AT&T’s version of customer interaction:
“The entire Un-carrier revolution began by listening to customers. It?s where we get our best ideas, and I want everyone to keep sending them my way at John.Legere@T-Mobile.com,? said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. ?It absolutely amazes me that Randall would tell a lifelong customer to basically go away and talk to my lawyers. I interact with customers on a daily basis so I can hear their ideas firsthand. It?s called living in the 21st century.”
— John Legere (@JohnLegere) October 13, 2015