Apple’s Steve Jobs gets a lot of kudos for publishing his email address publicly (and occassionally responding to strangers). It’s excusable if most corporate CEOs aren’t ready for that, but today AT&T has demonstrated the flaws of the opposite approach.

A customer emailed AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson twice to ask for a phone eligibility upgrade. In response, he was threatened with a court order. Needless to say, AT&T no longer has that customer. But Stephenson is getting a lot more emails. And surprisingly, AT&T has yet to respond in a constructive way.

AT&T customer Giorgio Galante sent Randall Stephenson two simple emails over the course of two weeks. After the first went unanswered, he sent a second, outlining his eminent decision to leave the company. Galante wrote:

“In general I’ve not been the
happiest AT&T customer
(ahem…tethering was promised to be available in early 2009 and finally
AT&T is getting around to offering it as an option.) You’re bumping
your ETFs to $325 for new contracts as of 6/1. Not only do I spend $80 a
month with you on the iPhone, but I also throw another $30/month at you
with my iPad 3G.

Android is now becoming a compelling
option, and Sprint is
rolling out their 4G network. I’ve contacted your customer service
department and they’ve stated there’s nothing they can do to change my
new phone eligibility date. Fair enough – customer service reps rarely
have the authority to make the right business decision.

If you want to keep my $110/month
flowing, bump up my eligibility
date. Otherwise I will go to Sprint and no longer require any of your
services (3G iPad included since the HTC Evo is a hotspot for up to 8

That one got a response, from a member of AT&T’s executive response team who left Galante
a voicemail:

“I want to first
thank you for the feedback. Going forward, we need to warn you. If you
continue to send email to Randall Stevenson, a cease and desist letter
may be sent to you.”

Galante decided to leave AT&T. But he also sent the exchange to Engadget, and now AT&T is dealing with a lot more angry customers. Hundreds of people have commented on Engadget’s post. Many of them claimed to have emailed Stephenson directly, hoping to flood his inbox. And almost 12,000 people have listened to the voicemail that AT&T left for Galante (which he posted on his blog).

AT&T already has a reputation for bad customer service. This week, the company’s decision to do away with unlimited data plans riled more than a few techies. But this response is inexcusable. It’s one thing if Stephenson didn’t want to directly answer a customer’s email. But at the least there should be someone at AT&T who could handle the task.

Reasonable complaints about service issues are not means for legal action. Perhaps a company like AT&T has grown so accustomed to complaints that it has become jaded about these issues. But that is a problem.

AT&T may not have wanted to deal with this customer’s particular issues. But now they’ve encouraged even more people to be disgruntled. The fact that they have yet to apologize or even address the issue proves that they may not even learn anything from the entire affair.

Image: Engadget